ABCs of Nutrition: Eat a balanced diet

As I mentioned in my last post on weight loss diets, no clinical research has proven that cutting out or down on a macronutrient is advantageous for your health. In fact, the name macronutrient implies that your body needs it!

So why do without?

Protein can be converted to glucose to supply energy for the body. Your body uses protein to  build and repair tissues, as well as make enzymes, hormones and other chemicals. Another benefit of protein is in building bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood. High quality sources of protein include fish, poultry, beans, nuts and whole grains. Less desirable sources of protein are found in food products like hot dogs, deli meats and sausages, ones that can potentially lead to other health issues.

Your body uses carbohydrates as its main source of fuel, by breaking them down to simple sugars. There are three main types: sugar, starch and fiber. Common sources of naturally occurring carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, milk, nuts, grains, legumes and seeds. Though carbohydrates can get a bad rap when it comes to overconsumption, this is often in large part due to carbohydrates which are added to processed foods in the form of sugar and starches (e.g., refined grains). Keeping it natural means other health benefits such as fighting disease and controlling weight, through dietary fiber. Natural sources tend to have a lower glycemic index, too.

Dietary fat provides energy and also supports other body functions. Some types of fat promote good health, while others can wreak havoc if consumed in large quantities. It’s important to choose healthy sources, and eat them in moderation, too. Healthier sources of fat are monounsaturated,  polyunsaturated (found mostly in plant-based foods and oils) and omega-3s (found in fatty fish). Potentially harmful dietary fats are saturated (found mostly in animal-based foods) and trans fats (made mostly during food processing, such as butter or lard). For more information, check out my previous post, What the Fat.

Staying in balance

Consuming a recommended mix of macronutrients – carbohydrates, protein and fat – helps stabilize insulin levels and provide a more consistent level of energy throughout the day. The USDA provides a loose set of guidelines:

  • 45% to 65% of calories eaten should come from carbohydrates
  • 20% to 35% of calories eaten should come from fat
  • 10% to 35% of calories eaten should come from protein

If you don’t want to count calories and/or measure the number of grams a certain food contains, make sure you are not teetering on the macronutrient seesaw by having too much or little of a needed nutrient.

What about other good “stuff?”

There are many vitamins and minerals which are good for your health. Two biggies worth a mention are fiber and water.

Every system in your body depends on water, yet there’s no hard and fast rule to dictate how much water everyone should drink on a daily basis. Factors that influence water consumption include where you live, how active you are, and your overall health. According to the Institute of Medicine, an adequate intake (AI) for men is roughly 3 liters (about 13 cups) of total beverages a day. The AI for women is 2.2 liters (about 9 cups) of total beverages a day.

There are a myriad of health benefits from eating fiber, such as delaying glucose absorption, lowering LDL cholesterol levels and keeping you regular, yet there is no USDA guideline for how much a person should consume. The Harvard School of Public Health recommends that a person who eats 2,500 calories each day should get at least 35 grams of fiber daily. A person who eats 1,700 calories each day needs about 24 grams

What about the stuff you should limit?

Though there’s not an RDA or USDA guideline for sugar intake, the American Heart Association recommends men limit added sugar to 36 g, or 9 tsp., per day and women limit added sugar to 24 g, or 6 tsp., per day.

Though your body needs sodium to function properly, overdoing it can lead to health problems. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg a day — or 1,500 mg if you’re age 51 or older, if you are black, or if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.


Melinda Hinson