A new year typically means new goals relating to your health and wellness. While having (and using) a gym membership is important, what is more vital to your health goals is your nutrition! Having a healthy diet is essential when it comes to weight loss and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
With that being said, you might be wondering, “WHERE DO I START?!” There are dozens, if not hundreds, of diets available, all claiming to be the best, most effective route to a healthy lifestyle. At Zija, we like to keep it simple. The purpose of this blog is to provide some basic nutrition best practices and help educate you about the core values of proper nutrition. From there, you can decide what foods you want to incorporate into your daily routine! Everybody is different, but on a basic dietary level, we all need the same fuel to get us through the day.
By definition, nutrition is the way food affects your body’s health. Food is essential. It provides vital nutrients needed for survival, and helps the body function and stay healthy. All food is comprised of two basic elements, macronutrients and micronutrients.
Macronutrients are proteins, carbohydrates, and fats:
- Protein is typically found in meats (beef, pork, chicken, fish, etc.), soybeans, dairy, and eggs. They provide the body with amino acids, which are needed to grow, develop, and maintain of body tissues like muscle. Protein provides structure to muscle and bone, repairs tissue when damaged, and helps immune cells fight inflammation and infection.
- Carbohydrates, or carbs, are found in foods like corn, beans, rice, potatoes, and bread. Carbs deliver energy and fuel to the body for activities such as walking, running, or moving heavy objects. Even at rest, your body needs carbs to perform vital functions such as maintaining body temperature, keeping your heart beating, and digesting food.
- Dietary fats, which are found in oils, nuts, seeds, milk, cheese, meat, poultry, and fish, provide structure to cells and cushion membranes to help prevent damage. Oils and fats are also essential for absorbing fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, a nutrient important for healthy eyes and lungs.
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals, which are food components that play important roles in cell metabolism and neurological functions. Vitamins aid in energy production, healing wounds, bone formation, immunity, and eye and skin health. Minerals help maintain cardiovascular health and provide structure to our skeletons. Here are a few examples of some specific micronutrient functions:
- Vitamin A aids with vision.
- Vitamin C helps wounds heal and the body’s ability to fight off bad bacteria.
- Calcium helps muscles and blood vessels relax, preventing cramps and high blood pressure. They are also a key structural component of bones and teeth.
- Iron helps blood transport oxygen throughout the body to support immunity and brain function. Healthy levels of iron also help to prevent anemia.
- Magnesium plays a role in over 600 cellular processes, including energy production and normal nervous system functions.
- Potassium can help balance blood pressure, fluid balance, and the function of your muscles and nerves.
Human beings need energy to survive—breathing, moving, and every other bodily function requires energy obtained from food. Calories are a measurement of how much potential energy a specific food possesses. Each type of food contain different amounts of calories, but you can guess how many calories a food has based on its macronutrient category.
- A carb has roughly 4 calories per gram.
- A protein has roughly 4 calories per gram.
- A fat has roughly 9 calories per gram.
Most people use calories as a way to track how much energy they’re consuming from food and how much they’re expending through exercise. While calorie counting isn’t always necessary, total calorie intake plays a crucial role in weight management and health. If you eat or drink more calories than you burn, your body will store those calories as new muscle or body fat. If you consume fewer calories than you burn every day, you will lose weight. Whether you should have a calorie deficit or surplus all depends on your goals. More often than not, people are looking to lose weight, which means consuming less calories.
One way to consume less calories is through food portion control. By controlling your portions, you lower your subsequent calorie intake, making it easier to avoid consuming too many calories. Here are a couple of simple strategies to help control your portion sizes:
- Use smaller plates and take a smaller-than-average first serving.
- Wait 20 minutes before you return for a second portion.
- Roughly measure portion sizes with your hand. An example meal that would fit most people would be 1 fist-sized portion of carbs, 1–2 palms of protein, and 1–2 thumb-sized portions of healthy fats.
The term “whole foods” generally describes natural, unprocessed foods with only one ingredient. If the product looks like it was made in a factory, then it’s probably not a whole food. Ideally, you should consume whole foods at least 80% – 90% of the time. Whole foods tend to be nutrient-dense and have fewer calories and more nutrients per serving. In contrast, many processed foods have little nutritional value and are often referred to as “empty” calories.
Foods to Include in Your Diet:
- Vegetables should play a fundamental role in most meals. They are low in calories, but full of important micronutrients and fiber.
- Fruits are a naturally sweet treat and provide micronutrients and antioxidants that can help improve health.
- Meat and fish are significant sources of protein. They are a staple in most diets, although vegetarian and vegan diets have become popular in recent years as well. If you are vegetarian or vegan, you can get protein through foods like seitan, tofu, edamame, lentils, chickpeas, beans, green peas, quinoa, soy milk, oats, wild rice, and nuts.
- Nuts and seeds are one of the best fat sources available and also contain important micronutrients.
- Eggs are often considered one of the healthiest foods on the planet—whole eggs pack a powerful combination of protein, beneficial fats, and micronutrients.
- Dairy products such as natural yogurt and milk are convenient, low-cost sources of protein and calcium.
- Starchy carbs like potatoes, quinoa, and sprouted bread are both healthy and nutritious.
- Beans and legumes are fantastic sources of fiber, protein, and micronutrients.
- Water should make up the majority of your fluid intake, along with low-calorie drinks like coffee and tea.
- Herbs and spices are often very high in nutrients and beneficial plant compounds. Using herbs and spices are also an easy way to flavor up a meal and add some variety to your cooking!
Foods to Avoid in Your Diet:
- Sugar-based products. Foods high in sugar, especially sugary drinks, can lead to more severe health risks like obesity or type 2 diabetes.
- Trans fats, also known as partially hydrogenated fats, are extremely processed and have been linked to serious diseases such as heart disease.
- Foods that are high in refined carbs. Foods like white bread are examples of a food that are low in nutritional value and are considered “empty calories.”
- Processed low-fat products. These are often disguised as healthy alternatives, but low-fat products usually contain a lot of sugar to make them taste better.
The easiest way to get the best for your body is to stick to what’s natural, and avoid all of the over-processed foods. Keeping a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, dairy, protein foods, and whole or enriched grains helps ensure your body has plenty of nutrients to use. Then, of course, there’s SuperMix to help fill in the gaps!
Hopefully you have learned a thing or two from this article that will help you get on track with your new health goals. Tell us what you’re focusing on this year! Whatever your goal may be, Zija is here to help!