You’d be forgiven for being confused over what good nutrition looks like however as there is so much information from so many different sources available today. So in this article I’m going to break it all down for you by creating some simple guidelines on how to create healthy eating habits and, in turn, answer the question ‘what are the basics of nutrition?’
First Off, How Do We Define Good Nutrition?
If we look up the definition of nutrition, it is explained as “the process of providing or obtaining the food necessary for health and growth”.
Although short and to the point, this pretty much sums it up, but confusion sometimes occurs when we think about what is meant about ‘food necessary for health and growth’. If we were to expand on this a little more, we could elaborate on it further in order to be a little more exact by what we mean by ‘necessary food’.
A good definition of nutrition could therefore be something along the lines of: “healthy eating that takes into consideration factors such as portion control, regular and adequate consumption of both macronutrients and micronutrients that are made up of lean protein, whole grains, minimally processed foods, and low in saturated fat.”
Still a little confusing? OK, let’s break all of this down…
1. Portion Control, And Why It’s Important
It’s important for us to eat a healthy and balanced diet consisting of the right sort of foods in the correct amounts to provide our bodies with the energy and nutrients they need to function properly. Estimates suggest that an average man requires around 2500 calories a day and the average woman around 2000 calories a day, although the exact amount depends on a range of variables such as age, height, sex and whether or not you live an active lifestyle.
If you regularly consume more calories than your body needs, and you don’t burn these extra calories off through exercise, then over time this will lead to weight gain and potentially obesity. According to the World Health Organisation, worldwide obesity has tripled since 1975 and in 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults were classified as overweight, of which 650 million were classed as obese, meaning they were all eating too many calories.
Knowing how many calories to consume daily and trying not to go above this amount is a good start in making sure you’re not gaining unnecessary weight. You could either go by the averages above, or work out your ‘basal metabolic rate’ or BMR (the amount of calories your body requires to function) not taking into account any exercise. This can be easily done by using an online calculator. I personally recommend this one on calculator.net.
2. What Do We Mean By Macronutrients and Micronutrients?
The foods we eat can, in the most part, be split into three main categories – protein, fat and carbohydrates. Known as macronutrients, these are all things your body needs in relatively large amounts in order to function properly. If you’ve ever researched diet programs you may have seen that some diet plans put emphasis on one of these categories over the others, but for sound nutrition and maximum health benefits, a balance of all three is preferable.
Micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, are only needed in small quantities, however they are still important.
Here’s why a good, balanced combination of macro and micro nutrients are beneficial for our health.
Protein – the building blocks of the human body
Protein helps make up every cell in the human body, including hair and nails which are mostly made from it. It’s an important building block of muscles, skin, cartilage, bones and blood. The body uses protein to build and repair tissues, as well as to make hormones and produce enzymes and other body chemicals.
So how much is enough? If you’re not weight training with the goal of competing in the next WBFF Pro, then generally speaking boys and men can get enough protein from three servings (equating to about seven ounces) per day. For women and children between the ages of two to six- -years-old, two servings of around five ounces daily is sufficient.
Good sources of protein include lean meat such as chicken, fish, natural or Greek yogurt and nuts.
Carbohydrates – your body’s main energy sourceCarbohydrates are the number one source of energy for the human body. They assist in fuelling your heart, brain, kidneys and central nervous system, one example being fibre which aids digestion and helps maintain blood cholesterol at healthy levels.
You should aim to consume around 45 to 65% of your calories from carbohydrates, or between 225 to 325 grams daily – which is enough for most adults when following a 2000 calorie diet.
There are different types of carbohydrates but you should try to consume starchy carbs and, where possible, choose wholegrain or high fibre versions of potatoes, pasta, bread and rice. Other sources include oatmeal, quinoa, whole-grain breakfast cereals and legumes such as lentils and black beans.
Fats – supporting cell growthFats get an unfair ride when we talk about nutrition but are actually essential to help provide our bodies with energy and to support cell growth and regeneration. A moderate amount of body fat also helps to protect our internal organs and keeps us warm, as well as absorbing nutrients and producing essential hormones too.
There are four types of fat in the food we consume which include saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and trans fats. The ‘bad’ fats we want to try and eat less off are saturated and trans fats (such as butter, fatty meat and cheese) as they contain higher levels of calories and can raise bad cholesterol levels in the body. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, usually found in olive oil, nuts, seeds and oily fish, are the ones we want to try to consume more of as they help to lower cholesterol levels.
Try eating more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as walnuts, seeds, olive and soybean oils, and avocados, and try to decrease the amount of saturated and trans fat in your diet from high fat dairy, lard, and fatty cuts of meat.
Micronutrients – a colourful way to get essential vitamins and mineralsMicronutrients include all the vitamins and minerals your body needs. Vitamins help to produce energy, boost your immune system, and help with blood clotting, whilst minerals are important for growth, bone health, and the balance of fluids in your body, among other things.
Your body needs less of these micronutrients than macronutrients (hence the word ‘micro’) but the only way we can obtain these nutrients is from the food we eat as we cannot produce them ourselves. In terms of the difference between vitamins and minerals, vitamins are organic and made by plants and animals, whereas minerals exist in soil or water.
A good way to ensure you’re getting enough vitamins and minerals in your diet is to eat a variety of foods including fruit and green, leafy vegetables, eggs, milk, nuts, seeds, and whole-grain foods. Think of all the colourful fruit and vegetables you can – greens, reds, yellows, oranges, purples, etc, and you’re on the right track.
3. Consume Natural Ingredients Where Possible
You should always try to obtain organic foods if you can – that is food that hasn’t been grown using chemical fertilisers, pesticides or other artificial chemicals, especially when eating meat, grains and dairy. Also, try to avoid artificial flavourings, preservatives and colourings as these have little to no nutritional value and can be risky to your health if consumed in large quantities or over an extended period of time. Another good choice is to omit any highly processed or genetically modified food from your diet (if it didn’t exist when your grandparents were growing up then leave it out!)
4. Stay HydratedOften overlooked, but very important when talking about nutrition and your body, is consuming enough water.
Water plays a number of essential roles in our body including carrying nutrients from the foods we consume to the cells in our body and delivering oxygen to our brain via our blood supply. It helps us to absorb the important vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) we consume and flushes out toxins and waste, as well as regulating our body temperature.
Our bodies are made up of up to 60% water – the brain and heart alone are composed of 73% water – so it’s important we keep ourselves topped up regularly throughout the day.
Try to drink between six to eight glasses of fluid daily – water being the number one choice as it hydrates you without adding extra calories. You could also include unsweetened coffee and tea, sugar free drinks and unsweetened fruit juice – but try and keep these to under 150ml daily.
5. Stay Active And Be A Healthy Weight
Although not necessarily ‘nutrition’, remaining active and being a healthy weight is important to keep your body physically and mentally healthy. The food we consume goes a long way but it should go hand-in-hand with an active lifestyle. Exercise also helps to burn off any excess calories we might consume during the day – especially if you tend to stay seated for the majority of it – so look to include around 150 minutes of moderate exercise such as cycling or brisk walking per week, or 75 minutes of intense exercise such as swimming and running.
It’s PersonalThis article is littered with recommended amounts of macro and micronutrients, calories, water consumption and exercise which, generally, should suit the majority of us. But what’s important to remember is that it is also a personal thing.
Each of us has unique needs based on our gender, age, physical health, and how active we are, so what may be right for one person may be too much or too little for someone else. If in doubt it’s always best to consult a certified nutritionist or doctor to get a personalised program that will help you meet your specific needs.
However, do use the information here as a starting point and adjust as necessary. I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and got what you need from it, but if you do have any questions or you’re unsure on anything you’ve read, then comment underneath and let me know. I’ll be happy to help you out.