Developing and Implementing a Healthy Diet
A moderately active man should consume approximately 2,300 calories per day, while his female counterpart should consume approximately 1,800 calories per day. These numbers can vary based on your weight and level of activity, but for most people between the ages of 20 and 50 years old this is a good guideline. All calories come from one of three macronutrient groups: fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Despite what you may read no one single group of calories is better or worse than the next. Each macronutrient plays a significant role in human nutrition. The important thing is how you get your fill of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. You should get approximately 50-60% of your calories from carbohydrates, 30% from fat, and about 15% from protein. Deviating to far from this ratio is likely to leave your body deficient in many of the nutrients provided by each macronutrient group. The following is a breakdown of each of the macronutrients and how best to consume them. This should give you a good framework to build your diet around.
Carbohydrates are your body’s primary source of fuel. Of the three macronutrient groups carbohydrates are the easiest for your body to convert into energy. Carbohydrates play a vital role in the proper functioning of your body. Diets that recommend staying away from or minimizing the intake of carbohydrates are not only bad for your health, but just plain reckless. Any diet that recommends you cut off carbohydrate intake should be considered nothing more than a fad diet, without much merit in regards to your long term health. While you may see some short term weight loss with a diet that restricts carbohydrates, you will be starving your body of the nutrients it needs to function properly, while at the same time fighting a losing battle because starving your body of what it needs will naturally lead to endless cravings of what its lacking.
The key with carbohydrates, just like the other two macronutrient groups, is what kinds of carbohydrates you consume. The development in recent years of the glycemic index (GI) has helped monitor and track the breakdown and consumption of carbohydrates. Most carbohydrate foods now have a measurement on the glycemic index (GI) which breaks foods down based on how fast it increases your blood sugar level. While high-glycemic index foods are not necessarily bad and do provide quick boosts of energy, it is better to get your carbohydrates from low-glycemic index foods that provide energy in a slower more sustained manner. In general stay away from refined and processed carbohydrates in favor of whole grains, beans, vegetables and fruits, do your best to avoid any foods that contain high fructose corn syrup (or corn syrup as it is sometimes referred to as), and whenever possible substitute products containing white flour (rolls, breads, pasta, and other backed goods) with whole grains.
While carbohydrates have come under fire recently it is still fat that is probably the most stigmatized of the macronutrients. Yet despite the negative association of the word, getting the proper balance of fat in your diet is just as important as getting your protein and carbohydrates. Fat is the most nourishing of the macronutrients, offering you nine calories per gram instead of four each for carbohydrates and protein. Eating meals without fat is likely to leave you feeling hungry and unsatisfied. Not only that, fat is a large part of what makes eating so enjoyable. Fat does a great job in bringing out the natural flavor of foods and gives them a nice smooth texture in your mouth.
The ideal diet should contain a majority of its fat calories through polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, and as little as possible from saturated fats. Unfortunately this is the exact opposite of how most Americans consume their fat calories. Saturated fats (‘bad’ fats) are found in animal fat,butter fat, coconut oil, palm kernel oil, and palm oil. Diets high in saturated fat, along with high amounts of refined carbohydrates, lead to a number of health problems, most notably among them atherosclerosis and increased risk of heart attacks. Monounsaturated fats (good fats) are found in avocado oil, canola oil, olive oil, and peanut oil. And polyunsaturated fats (good fats) are found in corn oil, cottonseed oil, fish oil, flaxseed oil, grapeseed oil, safflower oil, seasame oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, and walnut oil.
A great source of fat for your diet is extra-virgin olive oil. Whenever possible prepare your foods with olive oil, in place of other oils, margarine, or butter. Olive oil provides mostly monounsaturated fat and adds a great flavor to your food. Preparing eggs, pasta and anything else you can cook in a pan is ideal for olive oil, as well as using olive oil to dip your bread in instead of butter. Do your best to never consume partially hydrogenated oils and trans fats. Nuts and avocados are also a great source of good fat, particularly walnuts which are a great omega-3 source. Add fish to your diet as another source of good fat and omega-3s. The benefits of fish are twofold because not only are you getting a great source of omega 3s and good fat, but you are likely to use it as a replacement for beef, which is a source of saturated fat. Lastly, try to incorporate soy products into your diet in place of meat whenever possible. Try a multitude of different soy products and see what you like. If you can swap even a couple soy products into your diet in place of meat you will be doing your body a great favor. Try Boca sausage in place of sausage links, tofu in place of chicken (especially nice on Asian foods), or soy milk in place of regular milk. The possibilities are really endless with soy, so it may take time to find out you like and you do not.
Few people in this age of affluence and modernity are lacking protein in their diet. However, most Americans are getting their protein from unhealthy sources. Americans tend to get most of their protein from animal sources that are high in saturated fats, such as beef and other dairy products. If you are following the guidelines laid out above for getting your carbohydrate and fat calories you are probably eighty percent of the way there as far as getting good protein sources. Many of the excellent sources of ‘good’ fats listed above are also excellent sources of protein, such as soy products, nuts, and fish. Legumes are another excellent source of protein to integrate into your diet. There are countless varieties of legumes, such as peas, lentils, white beans, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, and lima beans just to name a few, and all of them are a great addition to your diet. Beans taste great in burritos and salads, mixed with rice or vegetables, or as a base for a healthy soup. Eggs are also a great source of protein. Although many people shy away from eggs because of their high cholesterol content, an average of one egg a day is a good and healthy addition to your diet. But just like anything else, how you prepare your eggs is key. A couple eggs cooked in olive oil, with a couple pieces of hearty whole grain toast and a piece of fruit makes for an excellent breakfast to get your day started. Whereas those same eggs cooked in butter, topped with American cheese, and eaten with a couple pieces of white toast, jelly and a high sugar beverage contains an assortment of refined carbohydrates, saturated fats and simple sugars.