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Healthy Eating Basics
Today, this post covers the basics of a healthy diet/nutrition (in general – see note above). We also dig in a little deeper for both men and women.
Here are some highlights that you should consider when planning your diet.
Fruits and vegetables are a great source of antioxidants. These substances protect your body from damage due to free radicals which will can cause you to age faster and can break down your cells. Lots of colorful fruits and vegetables will help to neutralize the effects of these items on your body. So, fill up your plate, or at least half of it, with these foods.
Vitamins and Minerals
Whole grains, low fat dairy, lean meats, and fruits and vegetables all provide the vitamins and minerals needed for energy to fuel an active lifestyle. Our bodies aren’t very efficient at producing some of the nutrients needed to function properly, so we have to choose the right foods with the right amounts of nutrition.
Fiber is an important part of a healthy diet. Fiber helps regulate bowel movements, balance blood sugar levels, maintain a healthy weight, and lower cholesterol levels. The American Heart Association recommends 25 grams of fiber per day for a 2000 calorie-per-day diet. It supposed to be through food but the average American consumes around 15 grams of fiber each day. Whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and beans are good sources of fiber.
You can’t completely avoid fat. Most foods contain fat, and your body needs some too. But you need to choose healthy fats, not empty calories. Eating foods with key fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6 will help your heart and can lubricate your joints. A good option would be nuts like walnuts.
Americans typically eat too much salt each day (on average, more than 3400 mg/day). We typically don’t add a lot of this salt to our foods– it comes from processed and restaurant foods. The American Heart Association recommends 2300 mg per day. Cutting back on processed foods and reading the labels can help you limit your salt intake. Note: These limits may not apply to people who lose a lot of salt each day (i.e. athletes) or if you have a medical condition that may call for more salt intake. Talk to your doctor!
Instead of eating three large meals a day, eat smaller, healthy, well-balanced meals throughout the day. Eating six to eight smaller meals a day instead of three large meals will keep you energized throughout the day so you can maintain your active lifestyle. It will keep your energy up and metabolism high.
Eat before Exercise
Don’t follow the adage of waiting 30 minutes before you can swim. Eating prior to exercise will fuel your workout. But be smart about what you eat. You don’t want a big heavy four-course meal; it should be sensible. This way you aren’t hungry in the middle of your workout.
Remember to drink water throughout the day. An important part of nutrition is to remain hydrated, no matter what kind of lifestyle you live.
Tips for Balanced Nutrition in Men
The key to balanced nutrition in men is really quite simple. It’s what we all should follow. Eat at least three balanced meals a day, don’t skip breakfast (there has been recent discussion about this), and eat food from every food group at every meal.
Here are some essential steps towards good nutrition for men which provides the right nutrients.
Yes, carbohydrates are necessary to men’s health. This is the main source of energy for the body. You need to have some simple carbohydrates (sugar) and complex carbohydrates (starches). You should get approximately 60% of your calories from carbohydrates daily.
Generally speaking, the average man (31-50 years old) should consume 2,200 calories a day, meaning that 1320 of his calories should come from carbohydrates. Aim for more of the complex carbohydrates from things like fruits and vegetables, beans, whole grains, and dairy products.
This is essential for survival. Fat is needed to help absorb essential vitamins like Vitamin A, D, E, and K. You should have 20% or so (some sources suggest up to 30%) of your daily calories come from fat. Aim to make most of these unsaturated fats for energy. Try to avoid fats from butter, margarine, oil, and Crisco. Eat lean meats and fish like tilapia and tuna steaks. These contain healthy fatty acids of omega-3 and omega-6.
Be wary of processed low-fat options because the fat is usually replaced with refined sugar. Portion control is important, too — eating too much of a good thing is not so good!
Protein builds and repairs tissue. It’s of course good for muscles, but also skin, hair, and nails. There have been a lot of discussion about the amount of protein that should be consumed each day – it also varies according to activity level. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein has been set at 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. This is the minimum amount that should be consumed each day. To figure out what yours is, you could find your weight in kilograms (multiple your body weight by 0.36). That’s not that much protein, right?
More on Protein
There was a meeting of nutrition experts (full disclosure: the meeting was set up by several meat, egg, and other groups) in 2013. However, the experts did publish a set of reports in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. These reports suggest that up to twice the RDA amount of protein could be appropriate as well.
Aim for 15-20% of your daily calories to come from protein. If you have a smoothie with milk, banana, strawberry, mango, yogurt, and peanut butter post-workout, that’s a good source of protein to help repair your muscles.
Don’t get upset – more protein doesn’t mean more meat. It just means incorporate more healthy protein with low levels of saturated fats and processed carbohydrates. If you increase your intake of protein-rich foods, realize that the overall composition of your diet will have to be adjusted to manage your calorie intake.
You will have to adjust things based on how active you are and whether you’re trying to lose or gain weight, but including carbs, fats, and protein in your diet is necessary no matter what your weight goals are.
Tips for Women’s Nutrition
As a general rule, women require less food to maintain a healthy diet than men. The percentage of the daily diet of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats are the same as noted above– of course, varying by weight or calorie intake. The exception is salt and fiber intake, which should be the same for men and women.
Here are some easy ways to help you measure out how large the meal portions should be for a woman.
- Carbohydrates like cereal, rice, pasta, or potatoes – Clench your fist; this is the portion size for carbohydrates.
- Proteins like meat, poultry, and fish – The protein should be the size of the palm of your hand.
- Popcorn should just be enough to fit in two cupped hands.
- Limit your baked goods to the size of two of your fingers.
- Butter and spreads should be the size of the tip of your thumb.
So, here are some suggestions for balanced meals throughout the day.
Kick-start your metabolism with protein. Be sure to include things like eggs, fish, lean ham, or low-fat dairy. Stay away from so many carbs in the morning. The protein will keep you full longer, helping you to eat fewer calories throughout the day.
Eating smaller meals throughout the day helps maintain your blood sugar levels. This doesn’t mean you eat more; it should be just a small pick-me-up. Some rice cakes spread with peanut butter and a banana are great for keeping your energy up.
Include starchy carbs and lean proteins in lunch. The carbs will provide you with energy to keep you from falling victim to the mid-day slump that many people experience. Choose carbs that will give you a steady rise in blood sugar, so avoid the sugar and white foods and opt for high-fiber whole grain options. Try rye bread with salmon, chicken, or dairy. Don’t forget the greens. Whole grain toast with baked beans is another good lunch choice.
Does your sugar tooth start to come out around this time of the day? Well, it’s a good time then to take care of that sweet tooth. But opt for fruit. A handful of dried fruit with some nuts are a good sweet and savory pick-me-up for a mid-afternoon snack. Combining dried fruits with nuts will help slow down the release of the sugar from the dried fruit, keeping you energized longer. Quick healthy snacks on hand like cherry tomatoes, grapes, and small vegetables will be great to keep in your fridge to grab as well.
It’s OK to have complex carbs at dinner. They’re low in fat, high in fiber, and help you relax in the evening. Have healthy fats like what you can get from salmon, mackerel, and sardines as well as nuts and seeds. Your body will use the fat overnight to regenerate and repair, which is great for healthy skin and hair.
Fill half of your plate with colorful vegetables, or a salad covered with a dressing made from flaxseed oil. Have meat, fish, or beans with brown rice or whole grain pasta.
Following these guidelines and making healthy choices throughout the day will keep you satisfied all day long, and ready to tackle a busy day.
This information provides some guidelines for a healthy diet to allow you to maintain good nutrition. Everyone is different with varying needs. Talk to your doctor or dietitian about specifics for you – based on your health and any medical issues including any specific diet you are interested in.
I have been vegetarian-adjacent several times in my life – not quite meat-free but close. Before my kids, my husband and I would eat vegetarian at home and not at restaurants (if we wanted). We have talked about moving in that direction again but since my transplant, I am leaning toward that again.
In coming weeks, I will have posts looking at different diets – looking for feedback from my readers. It should be fun!
Tomorrow – Bermuda pics!
Loving Life—The Reboot!
Note: This post is geared toward people who eat meat and don’t follow a specific diet which has additional guidelines (keto, Whole 30, paleo, etc.). There will be posts in the future that review some of those diets so if you are looking to make changes, you can have some information to start with.