Nutrition, the study of food and its effect on the body, is a science that is relevant to everyone. Because of this, there is a lot of misinformation of what works and what does not.
With trending diets over the past several decades, a few important facts about nutrition have been lost along the way. To set the facts straight, put aside your thoughts on fad diets and review the following nutrition basics.
Six nutrients help our bodies grow and maintain good health. They are carbohydrates, fats, proteins, water, vitamins and minerals.
Water is the most important nutrient. In fact, we can only live about three days without water.
Carbohydrates, fats and proteins are called macronutrients. We need these nutrients in larger amounts, and all three contain calories. All three macronutrients are important to our health, and we feel our best when they are balanced together.
One idea that has resulted from fad diets is that calories are separate from macronutrients, which is not the case. A gram of carbohydrate or protein contains 4 calories, and a gram of fat contains 9 calories. The amount of calories in a food depends on how many grams of carbohydrate, fat or protein it contains. Vitamins and minerals are also very important nutrients in maintaining our health, but we need them in smaller amounts and they do not contain calories.
Calories are a measure of energy. Our bodies need calories to maintain our breathing and brain function. An individual’s calorie level is determined by their gender, age, height, current weight and activity level.
Calories also play an important role in growth and development. However, around 30 years of age, once we have stopped growing, our metabolisms slow down about 10% per decade. This means we do not need to eat the same amount of calories we did in our teens and early 20s. If we continue to eat the same amount of food simply out of habit, gradual weight gain will occur.
To learn how many calories you need, use a free online food-logging program to estimate your calories and track what you eat.
Variety, balance and moderation
Eliminating a nutrient can lead to dietary imbalances or nutrient deficiencies over time, and it is not a necessary approach to better health. Carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products. Overall, carbohydrates are an important energy source. They provide both soluble and insoluble fiber important for both heart and digestive health. Whole grains provide B vitamins and phytochemicals, and are a good source of iron. Every color of fruits and vegetables provides different antioxidants that reduce our risk of cancer and improve our cardiovascular health.
Fats improve the flavor and texture of food and give us better appetite control. Ideally, choose monounsaturated sources like olive oil, almonds or avocados. Omega-3 fatty acids, known to decrease inflammation, are commonly found in salmon and most white fish, walnuts, chia and flax seeds.
Finally, protein is important for maintaining a strong, healthy body, and it also helps with appetite control. Choosing lean proteins like chicken, fish, eggs, beans and small portions of nuts keeps fat intake controlled and provides a wider variety of nutrients.
Get back to the basics. A nutrition plan built on science works, and it will support your health for a lifetime.
Niki Kubiak is a sports-certified registered dietitian, competitive runner and owner of Niki Kubiak Sports Nutrition and Weight Loss.