In order for you to transform your eating habits and make it a life style change so it sticks, you need to understand the nuts and bolts of nutrition: what food is and how food affects you. When you grasp these basics, it will help you achieve your fitness goals, create healthy meals and loose body fat weight.
Food, all of it, is made up primarily of one or a combination of the macronutrients and micronutrients. Carbohydrates, proteins and fats are the three types of macronutrients, while minerals and vitamins are the micronutrients. In this article I am only going to discuss macronutrients.
Protein – Protein is in every cell. Your body uses protein to repair and build. Protein is the building material for your bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood. You use protein to make enzymes, hormones and other body chemicals. The body does not store protein; there is no reservoir to draw from when you need it. So it is required to be in your diet on a regular basis. To make things a bit more interesting, protein is made up of amino acids, without going into chemistry just think of protein as a train, and amino acids are the cars. There are 20 aminos, and our body can make 12 of them. There are 8 essential amino acids that it can’t make. You have to get them from a dietary source. Foods that contain all the amino acids are high quality protein sources. If you are a vegetarian you need to combine foods to make complete proteins, a common example is legumes and grains. It gets a bit trickier and a vegetarian diet can end up being heavy in carbohydrates.
Food choices for high quality proteins: meat, poultry, fish, eggs, soy and dairy.
How much protein do you need? Basically it depends on your body weight and life style. General rule of thumb is about ½ gram of protein per pound of body weight. But if you are on an exercise regime it can go up. As your body demands more material for building lean tissue so does your diet. Remember protein is the only macronutrient that promotes lean tissue growth. If you are exercising and looking to grow muscles and reduce fat then you need protein in your diet. But you don’t need to overdo protein either, protein does not build your muscles, exercise does!
Note: 1 gram of protein = 4 calories
Carbohydrates - the bodies preferred energy source, the gasoline of choice. All carbohydrates break down into sugar (glucose).
Carbohydrates are mainly broken down into complex or simple. Simple carbs are quick to be absorbed from intestine into the bloodstream, causing a rapid rise in blood glucose. Example being hard candy, cookies, soft drinks, white bread, dates, raisins, melons, grapes, beets, corn … This can come in handy at times when you need more energy quickly. Of course it’s better to get your sugar from fruits or vegetables because they also come with fiber, vitamins and minerals. If you are trying to cut down on your sugar intake, keep in mind the “healthy ones “ have the same affect on your blood glucose levels as a candy bar or soft drink.
Complex carbs break down slower, releasing glucose gradually into the bloodstream. Food examples include oatmeal (one of my favorite foods), beans, many vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, greens, whole grains.
The glycemic index provides a more accurate account of carbohydrates and their affect on the blood sugar levels. On a scale of 0 to 100, raisins and lollipops are higher on the scale then broccoli. So how does this affect you? Simply put, eating high glycemic carbs causes a rapid raises in your blood sugar levels. Then as you know what goes up must come down. When your sugar levels drop-guess what? You are hungry again. It happens fast. This causes an eating frenzy which results in more calories taken in during the day than are burned, that, my friend is the bottom line to weight gain.
Carbs don’t make you fat, poor dietary choices do.
Note: 1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories
Fat – Not all fat is bad, the good fat is good for you it is required for a healthy diet and to lose weight! There are basically two categories of fat - saturated and unsaturated. The unsaturated good fats are also known as the essential fatty acids; they usually come from plant sources and are liquid at room temperature. The essential fatty acids are the omega 3, 6 and 9 that you have heard about. You can get these from seeds and oils made up of safflower, sesame, flax, hemp, avocados, canola, olive and almond. You want the majority of your fat to come from these sources. This is very important for optimal health. The saturated fats or hydrogenated are the ones that won’t help you lose weight. These are the ones that do cause high cholesterol. These fats are solid at room temperature. They commonly come from beef, veal, and pork, dairy products made from whole milk, palm oil and coconut oil. Foods like most commercially bought cookies, crackers, and anything fried are usually not good news for your diet.
Note: 1 gram of fat = 9 calories
Balance –Now you know that your calories come from protein, carbohydrates and fat, you need to know the balance. The answer is done in percentages and referred to as nutrient ratios. Here is a good place to start. If your goal is to burn off some body fat and build more lean tissue - a “baseline” of 30% Protein, 50-55% Carbs and 15-20% Fat. Based on a 2000 calorie a day diet this is 600 calories of protein, 1000-1100 calories of carbohydrate and 200-400 calories of fat.
I suggest that you start with a pad a paper and write down what you are eating. Don’t start a “diet”! Just start with some knowledge of your nutrition, and then start applying what you learned here. This will give you the long lasting results you are looking for. It’s really that simple!