If I asked you today what you believe good nutrition and a balanced diet look like, what would you tell me? Would you say that we should be eating foods from all of the food groups – meat/fish/eggs; breads and cereals; fruit and vegetables and dairy? Would you point me to the food pyramid? How about calories – would that be part of the equation called “balanced nutrition”?
Our ideas around nutrition have morphed over the years as we’ve explored all types of diets, many of which have left us frustrated and fat. Part of that is due to the fact that (you’ve heard me say this over and over again) diets don’t work. And, creating a “balanced diet” is entirely dependent upon whether we’re vegan, vegetarian, paleo, keto or heaven knows what. It seems that balance is in the eye of the beholder … so let’s take a look at some of the basic facts about nutrition and go from there.
Why is nutrition important?
The short answer to this question is that a balanced diet (way of eating every single day all year long) is vital for good health and wellbeing. Food provides our bodies with everything we need to grow and function properly. We know we need a wide variety of different foods to provide the right amounts of nutrients for good health. Nutrients is the operative word here, it’s the foundation of “nutrition”. When we enjoy a healthy way of eating it not only keeps us full of energy and vitality, it is also one of the great cultural pleasures of life. The foods and dietary patterns that promote good nutrition are pretty simple and quite basic – yet in today’s world, the simple and basic have been replaced with refined and unhealthy.
Nutrition Risk Factors
An unhealthy diet increases the risk of many diet-related diseases. Many of the major causes of death, illness and disability can be traced back to the way people “nourish” their bodies, in other words, their nutrition. Some of the diseases in which diet and nutrition play an important role include coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, atherosclerosis, obesity, some forms of cancer, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, dental caries, gall bladder disease, dementia and nutritional anemias. And this isn’t the entire list!
So, What Constitutes Good Nutrition?
It’s a fact that many people in Western countries are eating like crazy but they’re malnourished. Malnutrition happens when a person does not eat the right amount of nutrients. There’s a very simple fix for this … eat foods that contain the necessary nutrients to make and keep you healthy.
There are six main types of nutrients: carbohydrates, fats, minerals, protein, vitamins and water. We need to eat a lot of macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) and although we need lesser amounts, it’s important to ensure we’re getting enough micronutrients (vitamins and minerals and water).
It may come as a surprise to you, but carbohydrates are not needed by the body; however, most people eat a lot (often too many) of them. Complex carbohydrates are more nutritious than simple carbohydrates and they take longer to digest, staying in the stomach longer so the person has a full feeling for a longer period – think sweet potato, squash, peas and beans as well a whole grains. Protein, comprised of amino acids, is necessary for the building of cells and tissue. The most common sources for protein are milk, meat, fish, beans, and eggs as well as certain grains and vegetables.
Fat occurs naturally in some foods and saturated and trans-fat (the unhealthy kind) is found in abundance in processed foods (cake, chips, many breads, you get the idea). The combination of simple carbohydrates and bad fats is what makes and keeps people fat. The good news about healthy fats, like those found in certain oils, nuts, avocados and fish is that it is a magnificent source of energy. Our bodies need Omega 3 and 6 fats for good nutrition. As I’ve written in a previous blog, not all fats are bad.
To sum up, good nutrition is a balanced blend of macro and micro nutrients in portions that are moderate. That means you get to build your own diet based on your body’s nutritional needs. If you need help with that, book an appointment and let’s talk.