How do you view food? If you have a healthy attitude about it, you likely treat food as a source of fuel -- no different than the gas with which you fuel your car.
You have a lot of decisions to make about the fuel you put in your car, just like you have many choices about the food you put in your body. Some choices can be disastrous, like trying to fill a car that runs on unleaded fuel with diesel, or cramming down a late-night sugary cake that consists of more calories than you need in an entire day.
You can also choose to fill your car with premium gas, which helps it run at peak efficiency. Unfortunately for us (and fortunately for car owners), nutrition is quite a bit more complicated than learning which fuel goes in your car. But with a little knowledge, you can begin to view food as a fuel for your body, and develop a healthy and happy relationship with the polarizing life source we all need to survive.
The Basic Food Groups
All foods are divided into different categories, known as food groups. In the early 1900s, when food science was still in its infancy, there were only really four food groups that scientists claimed we needed -- fruits and vegetables, dairy, meat, and grains. But as nutritional science has developed, so too has our understanding of the basic food groups and how the contribute to a healthy diet. Foods are present in food groups because they share the same basic nutritional properties.
Your recommended daily intake from each category helps your body receive all of the nutrients it needs within your recommended daily caloric intake to maintain a healthy weight. This doesn't leave a lot of room for additional calories, which is why it's so important to consume empty calories like junk food, sugary desserts and drinks, and alcohol in moderation.
Healthy sources of whole grains consist of foods like bagels, oatmeal, brown rice, popcorn, pretzels, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, English muffins, pita bread, and grits. Grains are an excellent source of natural carbohydrates, which your body needs to supply your muscles, tissues and organs with energy.
Minerals Present in Most Grains
Vitamins Present in Most Grains
Healthy fruits include pineapples, apples, grapes, oranges, grapefruit, ugli fruit, peaches, melons, mangos, pears, and cherries. If you're on a vegetarian diet, and thus not receiving the iron needed from protein sources like meat, fruits like dates, raisins, raspberries, and blackberries are a must for your regular menu as they are rich in iron.
Minerals Present in Most Fruits
Vitamins Present in Most Fruits
Vegetables are a low-calorie and nutrient-rich food source that should be a heavy part of everyone's diet. Healthy vegetables include carrots, broccoli, squash, potatoes, beans, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, collards, green beans, and peppers.
Some vegetables like avocados are also rich in dietary fat and satisfying meat alternatives for sandwiches and salads.
Minerals Present in Most Vegetables
Vitamins Present in Most Vegetables
Most of your daily intake of dairy products should consist of fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products to avoid too much fat in your diet. For example, reduced-fat mozzarella cheese made from skim milk is a healthy alternative to full fat cheddar and other cheeses. If you don't like the texture of skim milk, 1% milk has a much thicker texture and is still a healthy alternative to whole or Vitamin D milk. Healthy dairy foods include all low-fat or fat-free yogurts, milks, and cheeses. If you enjoy ice cream, be sure to watch your sugar intake. Many ice cream products branded as "low fat" are very high in sugar.
Minerals Present in Most Dairy
Vitamins Present in Most Dairy
Lean Meats, Fish, and Poultry
To maintain a healthy diet, favor white meats like chicken and turkey over red meats like beef and lamb, which can be much higher in fat. Healthy meat sources include all fish like anchovies, salmon, trout, perch, and tuna -- as well as poultry such as chicken and turkey. Look for leaner cuts of all meat to cut fat from your diet. For example, boneless chicken breast tends to be lower in fat than other types of chicken, like drumsticks or wings.
Minerals Present in Most Meats
Vitamins Present in Most Dairy
Legumes, Nuts and Seeds
Nuts, legumes, and seeds are a fantastic source of protein when meat is not available or part of your daily diet. They are, however, also high in fat. Look for nuts that are dry roasted without salt to keep excessive sodium and oils out of your diet. Beans are a good choice for those on a diet as their high fiber contents help to keep you feeling fuller, longer.
Minerals Present in Most Legumes, Nuts and Seeds
Vitamins Present in Most Legumes, Nuts and Seeds
Necessary Nutrients: Water
Water is necessary to keep every function performed by and in your body operating normally.
Depending on body size, your body contains anywhere from 55% to 75% of its mass as water and requires anywhere between one and seven liters of water ever day to fight dehydration.
Normal adults will lose around 10 cups of water from their natural stores, or consumed water, every day through excretion, breathing, sweating, and other normal bodily functions.
Most of your body's need for water can be met through the beverages you consume, especially plain old water. However, water is also a major component of many of the foods we eat, such as watermelon, soups, tomatoes, and celery. An appropriate daily intake of water can assist your body in it's ability to perform several required functions and processes, including the following:
During certain times of the day, you may need to consume more water, especially if you live in a hot climate. Other times when you may need to exceed the recommended daily intake of water include when you are:
When meeting your daily water intake needs, remember to favor clean, fresh drinking water over caffeinated and sugary beverages like coffee and soda. Not only does soda contain sodium, but it also consists primarily of empty calories that your body doesn't need. Simply drinking water instead of a 20 oz. bottle of sugared soda can save you at least 240 calories. Caffeinated drinks can also increase your risk of dehydration.
Necessary Nutrients: Dietary Fat
Fat tends to get a bed reputation, but your body does need some fat during the day to help you absorb vitamins, fight wrinkles, enhance brain power, and reduce food cravings. Everyone needs some visible fat on their bodies to cushion bones and organs. Sitting in a chair without fat to cushion your bones would be an intensely uncomfortable experience.
Most people should limit fats to 20% to 35% of their total caloric intakes to maintain a healthy weight. Children ages two to three need slightly more fat in their diets -- ranging from 30% to 35%. Children and adolescents should aim for a minimum of 25% of their daily caloric intake as fat. Certain fats should be limited as part of your diet, like saturated fat found in many junk foods, fatty meats, and fried foods.
Necessary Nutrients: Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are the primary energy providers for your body. When you ingest carbs, your body converts them to glucose for use as fuel. Glucose is also a readily storable energy source -- your body will readily store excess glucose around your liver and muscles for later use. There are two types of carbohydrates available in foods, complex and simple carbohydrates.
Complex carbohydrates are starches in some vegetables like corn and potatoes, but primarily in grains, cereals, and breads. Most complex carb sources also include another valuable nutrient (especially for dieters) called fiber. Both soluble and insoluble fiber and healthy and necessary for bodily functions, and are present in whole wheat breads, oatmeal, most fruits, nuts/seeds/legumes, and barley.
Simple carbohydrates, like fat, have a very negative reputation. Unlike fat, the reputation that simple carbohydrates have is largely earned. While there are some healthy sources of simple carbs like fruits, dairy, and vegetables, the majority of simple carbohydrates in most peoples' diets come from foods with added sugar, or processed foods. When avoiding foods with added sugar, check for the following ingredients (which can even be sneakily present in many sliced breads):
Try to cut simple carbohydrates from your diet by drinking water instead of sugary drinks, opting for fruit instead of cakes or pies as desserts, and choose whole grain cereals for breakfast rather than those high in processed and refined sugar.
Necessary Nutrients: Protein
When you think of the nutrient protein, you probably think of body builders or exercise enthusiasts obsessed with huge muscles -- and that's not a difficult assumption to make with all of the marketing centered around protein shakes, powders, bars, and supplements. It would be easy to assume that most of us don't get enough protein in our diets. In reality, most people get plenty of protein from the foods they eat without realizing it.
And that's a good thing, as protein is a vital nutrient needed by your body -- present in every organ, cell, tissue and muscle in your body. 10% to 35% of your daily caloric intake should be made up of protein. There are two different types of protein available in food sources, complete and incomplete protein.
A complete protein is a food source that provides all of the essential amino acids necessary in your diet. Complete protein sources are from animals, like meat, eggs, and cheese. An incomplete protein food source contains some amino acids, but not all of them that your body needs. Foods like rice and beans are both incomplete protein sources, but together provide all of the amino acids necessary for bodily functions, effectively replacing a complete protein if necessary.
Necessary Nutrients: Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and Minerals are like the specialized workers of your body's "factory", each helping and assisting your body in being better able to perform the various biological functions required to support life and to combat diseases and viruses that attach the body. For example, vitamin D helps your body thwart a disease called rickets, while a lack of vitamin C can cause scurvy.
Many of the vitamins and minerals required to support good health are naturally produced within the body, with a few notable exceptions. For example, your body cannot produce calcium, a vital nutrient for bone density and health. Thus, calcium must be absorbed from food sources like dairy and proteins.
Supplements and multivitamins are readily available and can assist in ensuring that your body receives the nutrients required to perform the various bodily functions to sustain life. However, most people can expect to get all of the nutrition they need by consuming a well-balanced diet as supplements are never a good substitute for natural food sources.