Most health experts recommend eating a balanced, healthy diet. However, exactly what is a healthy diet?
The basic components of a healthy diet include:
- Protein (fish, meat, poultry, dairy products, eggs, nuts, and beans)
- Fat (found in animal and dairy products, nuts, and oils)
- Carbohydrates (found in fruits, vegetables, pasta, rice, grains, beans and other legumes, and sweets)
- Vitamins (vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K)
- Minerals (calcium, potassium, and iron)
- Minerals (calcium, potassium, and iron)
What Are Calories?
A calorie is a unit of energy-producing potential equal to this quantity of heat that is stored in food and released upon oxidation by the body. Of these six nutrients, only carbohydrates, proteins, and fats provide calories. A calorie is a measurement, just like a teaspoon or an inch. Calories are the amount of energy released when your body breaks down food. The more calories a food has, the more energy it can provide to your body. When you eat more calories than you need, your body stores the extra calories as fat. Even low-carb and fat-free foods can have many calories that can be stored as fat. Alcohol is not a nutrient, yet it also provides calories. Manufacturers of food are required to label their products with calorie guides.
Calories of various products are determined through direct Calorimetry–that is, the measurement of the amount of heat evolved or absorbed in a chemical reaction or change of state. Energy-producing food is digested in the stomach and small intestines and eventually allows the body to build up muscle proteins, cleanse itself, strengthen bones and stabilize itself. Resting metabolic processes, as well as growth mechanisms, require energy, thus consume calories. Those persons committed to maintaining proper weight often perform calorie counting. While most people require a daily calorie intake of 1,000 to 4,000 calories, depending on exercise, gender, lifestyle and age, the average person’s caloric diet ranges from 1,500 to 2,400. Ingesting high-calorie foods without adequately exercising results in calorie storage equal to fat storage.
What Are Proteins?
Proteins are nutrients that are necessary to the building, maintenance, and repair of body tissue such as the skin, the internal organs, and muscle. They are also the major components of our immune system and hormones. Proteins consist of substances called amino acids — 22 are considered vital for health. Of these, the adult body can make 14; the other eight (called essential amino acids) can only be obtained from what we eat. All types of foods contain proteins, but only fish, meat, poultry, eggs, cheese, and other foods from animals that contain complete proteins, meaning they provide the eight essential amino acids. Your daily diet must contain enough protein to replenish these amino acids. So, if you are vegetarian and do not eat food from animal sources, you need to eat a variety of plant proteins in combination to ensure that you get enough of the essential amino acids.
Amino acids that provide plant protein are:
- Whole grains
The new dietary reference values for protein for adults are 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. This translates to about 0.36 grams of protein per pound. Over the course of a day, the average person’s diet includes almost double the protein needed to help maintain a healthy body. Using the chart below, you can easily calculate how much protein your body needs to maintain a healthy well-balanced diet.
Below is a list of foods that contain a large amount of protein:
Fish and Seafood
Seafood is one of the best sources of protein because it is usually low in fat. Fish such as salmon is a little higher in fat but it is the heart-healthy kind: omega-3 fatty acids.
Stick to the white meat of poultry for excellent, lean protein. Dark meat is higher in fat. The skin is loaded with saturated fat, so remove the skin before cooking.
Milk, Cheese Yogurt
Not only are dairy foods excellent sources of protein but they also contain valuable calcium. Choose skim or low-fat dairy to keep bones and teeth strong, prevent osteoporosis and enhance weight loss.
Eggs are one of the least expensive forms of protein. The American Heart Association says normal healthy adults can safely enjoy an egg a day.
One-half cup of beans contains as much protein as 3 ounces of broiled steak. Plus, these nutritious nuggets are loaded with fiber to keep you feeling full for hours.
This great and versatile white meat is 31% leaner than 20 years ago.
Twenty-five grams of soy protein daily can help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease. Combine soy protein foods like tofu with a healthy low-fat diet.
Lean beef has only one more gram of saturated fat than a skinless chicken breast. Lean beef is also an excellent source of zinc, iron and vitamin B12.
Protein on the Go
Grab a meal replacement drink, cereal bar or energy bar. Check the label to be sure the product contains at least 6 grams of protein and is low in sugar and fat
Are Certain Types of Fat Good For Your Body?
A certain amount of fat in the diet is good and necessary to be healthy. Adults should get 20%-35% of their calories from fat. However, nutrition experts agree that most people should eat less fat than they currently do. Research shows that excessive intake of fat — especially Trans fat and saturated fat — and cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease. Eating too much fat can cause excess body weight since a gram of fat has about twice as many calories per gram as carbohydrates and proteins. There are 9 calories per gram of fat compared with 4 calories for protein and carbohydrates.
Fat comes from compounds called fatty acids or lipids. Depending on their chemical structure, these fatty acids are called monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated, or Tran’s fats. Tran’s fats and saturated fats are the unhealthiest fats to eat. Tran’s fats are formed when manufacturers turn liquid oils into solid fats, such as with shortening and hard margarine. Tran’s fats can also be found in many foods, including crackers (even healthy-sounding ones), cereals, baked goods, snack foods, salad dressings, fried foods, and many other processed foods. Problems with too much dietary fat can also come when 10% or more of your daily calories come from saturated fats such as those found in meats, high-fat dairy products, and butter and foods cooked or made with hydrogenated fats. Consuming Tran’s fats in any amount is not good for you at all. These habits may lead to high blood cholesterol levels and heart disease if you are not careful.
What Are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are sugars and starches, which provide energy for humans. There are two types of carbohydrates, simple and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are found in fruits and the body more easily digests dairy products. Simple carbohydrates are often found in processed, refined foods such as white sugar, pasta, and white bread. Complex carbohydrates take longer for the body to digest. They usually found in vegetables, whole grain bread and pasta, brown rice, and legumes. Foods with unrefined grains, such as brown rice, retain complex carbs, unlike refined grains, such as white rice. This is because the refining process removes some of the grain’s fiber and nutrients. Eating a serving of whole grain cereal such as oatmeal will fill you up and give you longer lasting energy than a bowl of sugary cereal due to the way the body processes and uses the carbohydrates.
The body needs a certain amount of carbohydrates to function properly, and insufficient intake may cause fatigue, muscle cramps, and poor mental function. Even though carbohydrates are an important part of our diet, the body can produce energy from fat and proteins alone. This is only Ok for a short period. Avoiding all carbs can be detrimental to your body. Many low-carb diets are considered healthy, but if taken to the extreme, they can be very hazardous to a one’s overall well-being. It is important to remember that “low-carb” does not mean that you cut out all carbs from your diet. Be sure to eat a reasonable amount of the right type of carbs to keep your body healthy so it runs properly.
What Are Vitamins?
Vitamins are natural substances found in plants and animals. Your body uses these substances to stay healthy and support its many functions. There are two types of vitamins: water-soluble and fat-soluble. There are 13 vitamins essential to the body. The 13 vitamins are divided into two categories:
Your body easily absorbs water-soluble vitamins. Unlike fat-soluble vitamins, they do not have to be absorbed using bile acids. The fluids used to digest fats. Your body does not store large amounts of water-soluble vitamins. Your kidneys remove the water-soluble vitamins you do not need and they come out in your urine. Because the water-soluble vitamins do not remain in your body long, we must consume them daily. Although taking large doses of these vitamins is not necessarily dangerous, it may be wasteful as the body eliminates the leftover water-soluble vitamins in the urine.
Water-soluble vitamins are:
- Vitamin C
- All the B vitamins
- Fat-soluble vitamins are:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
The body more easily stores the fat-soluble vitamins. Thus, you do not need large amounts of these vitamins since excess amounts can be toxic and cause a variety of problems.
What Are Minerals?
Minerals, like vitamins, must come from the diet; the body does not make them. Many minerals are vital to the proper function of the body. Minerals should be consumed in relatively large amounts (such as calcium, potassium, and iron.) Others, like trace minerals (zinc, selenium, and copper), are only needed in small amounts to maintain good health.
How Does Water Promote Health?
Although it has no food value, water is essential to our survival. It keeps the body adequately hydrated. Water is the most plentiful substance in the body, accounting for 55%-65% of body weight, but because the body cannot store water, we must constantly refill our bodies with water. What Makes Up a Healthy Diet?
A healthy diet should consist of:
- 45% to 65% carbohydrates
- 10% to 35% protein
- 20% to 35% fat, with no more than 10% saturated fat and a small amount or no Tran’s fat.
The Food Pyramid makes it easy to imagine just how much of each food type you should eat. Each section of the pyramid represents a food group; the size of the group corresponds to the number of suggested servings. The base of the pyramid represents the grain group. These are carbohydrate-rich foods like bread, cereal, rice, and pasta. You should eat six to 11 servings per day of these foods.
The next tier of the pyramid includes vegetables and fruit. You should eat three to five servings per day of vegetables and two to four servings per day of fruit. These are good sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. The next level is protein, like dairy products, meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts. You should eat two to three servings per day of foods from the milk group and two to three servings per day of foods from the meat, egg, bean and nut group. The top level of the pyramid is fats, oils, and sweets; you should use these carefully.
The pyramid calls for eating a variety of foods to get all of the nutrients you need, and, at the same time, the right amount of calories to maintain a healthy weight. If you are watching your weight, eat the minimum number of suggested servings. If you need to gain weight, eat the maximum number of servings. Keep in mind as to what constitutes a serving. Most serving sizes are smaller than you think. Be sure to read the food labels carefully to determine the accurate portion size. Also, try to choose nonfat and lean foods as often as possible. For example, choose nonfat or 1% milk instead of 2% or whole milk; lean meat instead of fatty meat; and bread and cereals that are not processed with a lot of fat.
However, you do not have to stay away from all foods that have fat, cholesterol, or sodium. It is your average over a few days, not in a single food or even a single meal that is important. If you eat a high-fat food or meal, balance your intake by choosing low-fat foods the rest of the day or the next day. Read the food labels on everything you eat to help you “plan” your fat, cholesterol, and sodium over several days.
Eating Healthy: The Different Food Groups
- Fat Oils and Sweets
- Milk, Yogurt, and the Cheese Group
- Dry Beans, Eggs, and Nut Group
- Vegetables and Fruit Group Starches,
- Grains, Pasta, Rice, Bread, and Cereal
The bread-cereal group
The bread-cereal group includes all bread and cereals that are whole-grain, enriched, or restored. All cereals are very high in starch, and they are good, generally inexpensive sources of energy. The fat content of cereal products generally is very low unless the germ is included. Whole-grain products contribute significant quantities of fiber and such trace vitamins and minerals as pantothenic acid, vitamin E, zinc, copper, manganese, and molybdenum.
Most vegetables are important sources of minerals, vitamins, and cellulose. Certain vegetables, such as potatoes, contribute appreciable quantities of starch. Large amounts of the minerals calcium and iron are in vegetables, particularly beans, peas, and broccoli. Vegetables also help meet the body’s need for sodium, chloride, cobalt, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and potassium. Carotenes (the precursor of vitamin A) and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) are abundant in many vegetables. Vegetables are useful as sources of roughage.
The nutritional value of fruits varies. Some fruits are composed largely of water, but contain valuable vitamins. The citrus fruits are a valuable source of vitamin C, and yellow-colored fruits, such as peaches, contain carotene. Dried fruits contain an ample amount of iron, and figs and oranges are an excellent source of calcium. Like vegetables, fruits have high cellulose content.
The milk group
The milk group includes milk and milk products, cheese, and ice cream. Milk is a complete protein food containing several protein complexes. It also contains important amounts of most nutrients, but it is very low in iron and ascorbic acid and low in niacin. Calcium and phosphorus levels in milk are very high. Vitamin A levels are high in whole milk, but this fat-soluble vitamin is removed in the production of skim milk. Riboflavin is present in significant quantities in milk unless the milk has been exposed to light.
The meat and meat substitutes group includes beef; veal; lamb; pork; organ meats such as liver, heart, and kidney; poultry and eggs; fish and shellfish; and dried peas, beans, and nuts. The meat group contains many valuable nutrients. One of its main nutrients is protein, but meat also contains cholesterol, which is believed to contribute to coronary artery disease. The minerals copper, iron, and phosphorus occur in meats in significant amounts, particularly iron and copper in the liver. Different meats vary in their vitamin content. The liver usually contains a useful amount of vitamin A. Thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin, all B vitamins, occur in significant amounts in all meats.
Other foods such as butter, margarine, other fats, oils, sugars, or unenriched refined-grain products are included in the diet to round out meals and satisfy the appetite. Fats, oils, and sugars are added to other foods during the preparation of the meal or at the table.
These foods supply calories and can add to total nutrients in meals. For many years the Department of Agriculture issued dietary guidelines based on four basic food groups—meat and meat substitutes, fruits and vegetables, milk and dairy products, and grains, including bread and cereals—and a balanced diet would include at least one food from each group in each meal every day. The Department of Health and Human Services recommended that people eat a variety of foods daily, including fruits; vegetables; whole and enriched grain products; dairy products; meats, poultry, fish, and eggs; and dried peas and beans. While recognizing that certain people (for example, pregnant women, the elderly, and infants) have special nutritional needs, the report pointed out that for most people the greater the variety of foods eaten, the less likely is a deficiency or excess of any single nutrient to develop. The report emphasized that people should increase their consumption of complex carbohydrates—fruits, vegetables, and other unrefined foods—and naturally occurring sugars.
It also recommended reducing the consumption of refined and processed sugars. It encouraged a reduction in fat consumption by decreasing a number of fatty meats and replacing foods that have saturated fats with those having unsaturated fats. A reduction in the sodium intake by decreasing the amount of salt added to food was also suggested. Research findings on nutrition, in the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services, changed the daily diet recommendations from the square of the four food groups to a food pyramid, with foods that should be eaten more often at the base, and those used less frequently at the top. The emphasis is on consuming less of the group’s meat and meat substitutes, dairy products, and oils and fats, and more of the bread and cereals, and fruits and vegetables. When properly followed the food pyramid teaches the use of a wide variety of food items, moderation in total food intake, and proportionality among the food groups to ensure adequate nutrient intake.