Nutrition

The Basics of a Healthy Diet: What to do & What not to do

Today’s article answers the most frequently asked question about nutrition: “WHAT THE HELL DO I DO??”


Getting started on a healthy diet is the hardest part. The word “diet” probably already has a negative connotation in your head due to the restricted and unhealthy diets created and promoted in our society. All “diet” really means is your way of eating; the word has nothing to do with restricting food. Your diet can consist of all-you-can-eat cookies and cake which will lead you to a heart attack (not a joke) or your diet can consist of various fresh and whole foods which will lead you to optimal health and living.  



Back to the Basics  


So you want to be healthy again? Forget about restricting calories for now. There are two important nutrients that you want to focus on: macro & micro nutrients. Macros are your proteins, carbs, and fats. These are important to consider because your body requires a certain amount of each to function properly. Did you know that your brain alone uses roughly 400 calories from carbohydrates? Carbs are your body’s main source of energy. This means that you naturally require more carbohydrates in your diet than any other macro nutrient. Fats & proteins are also crucial for functioning and maintaining energy, but a minimal amount is required from your diet to fulfill your body’s needs.  

Be careful when lacking any of these macronutrients, as it can be damaging to your body’s functions, even sometimes beyond repair. For example, have you ever wondered why some people’s hormones are all out of whack when going on crazy diets? Or why some people lack concentration and mental energy? What about girls who lose their period? The nutrients you provide your body are what keeps it functioning. These examples are things that can happen when you lack certain nutrients in your body and unfortunately they happen all too often. A woman who loses her period for too long may force her body into a premature menopausal state, in which you’ll permanently lose your ability to have children.   The RDA suggests that your daily diet (intake) is 10-35% protein, 20-35% fats, and 45-65% carbs.  


Micronutrients consist of your vitamins and minerals and are found within your macronutrients. These are things like calcium, iron, or vitamin C. They help your body function on a cellular level with things like fighting sickness, repairing damage, and even converting the food that you’re eating to energy. Vitamins and minerals have different requirements than macronutrients. For example, you will be fine if you don’t hit your macronutrient count exactly as the RDA suggests for optimal health, but if you’re off on your micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) then this will do the real damage.   Micronutrients have upper intake levels, meaning if you go above this, it will affect how your body functions and even lessen the affectivity of other micronutrients. It can even cause death due to toxicity. Most cases of this are when people take vitamins or minerals when they already have a sufficient amount in their diet. Ever wondered why you’re supposed to ask your doctor before taking any supplements? This is why.   Just as there are upper intake levels, there are also deficiency levels. This is when you’re lacking a micronutrient in your diet and it begins to take effects on your health. This will have the same or worse affects as going above your upper intake level. Unfortunately the average American diets have become so poor that we’ve had to fortify, or add unnatural vitamins and minerals, to certain foods to keep our people alive.  

Does this all sound scary? Don’t let it be. Take initiative. Here are some tips regarding your diet to repair your health.  


What to Do


  • Slowly eliminate the empty calories from your diet. If you’re drinking two sodas a day, cut it down to one, then over a couple of weeks transition to fruit infused or plain water. This will prevent you from going over your caloric needs and leaves more room for nutrient-filled foods.
  • Add a variety of different colored fruits & vegetables to your daily diet. This is a good way to get in all of your micronutrients without worrying about going above or below the requirement. Although many foods provide more than one vitamin or mineral, there is usually a higher value of a certain micronutrient in each food. These plants typically give off a certain color. For example, the color orange in a papaya or an orange may be due to the presence of Vitamin C.
  • Choose 100% whole grains for the complete nutrients from products. For example, brown rice would be a whole grain while white rice is not. White rice was once a complete grain until the outer shell of the grain (which provides all the micronutrients) was removed during processing. This in turn leaves white rice to be more of an empty calorie.
  • Eat both complex carbs and simple carbs daily. Complex carbs are your whole grains and simple carbs are your fruits and vegetables. How you portion them is based on your preference. A good rule of thumb is to have complex carbs in all of your main meals.
  • To hit close to the RDA for macronutrients, make carbs your main source of fuel in every meal while adding slightly smaller portions of protein and fats.
  • Follow my free downloadable grocery list for a list of high quality foods for your diet.



What Not to Do


  • Constantly choose fast food. Instead: prep your meals
  • Go to the grocery store on an empty stomach. Studies show you tend to buy more junk food when doing so.
  • Worry about eating something unhealthy. Instead: realize that when your body is in optimal health, eating empty calories or junk food every once in a while will not throw off your health. Your body is able to restore itself easily when in a healthy state.
  • Restrict certain macro nutrients from your diet. This only causes more health issues when your purpose is to restore health. Certain diets such as those which promote the lack of carbs or fats in your daily intake may cause serious health issues if done over a long period of time. These diets are not what are causing weight loss: it’s the deficit in calories. Instead: if you want to lose weight in a healthy manner, do so by balancing your macros, not eliminating them.
  • Trust all sources that are guiding you on your diet. Yes, including this one! Instead: make sure that your sources are credible & find more reliable sources that back the information. To start, you can use these sources I’ve provided below to get more information on starting your healthy lifestyle!

Sources

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: https://goo.gl/yu0DLH

Understanding Nutrient Requirements: https://goo.gl/NX0kkO

Nutrition 5th Edition book: https://goo.gl/P4E2DX  


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Lexes O'Hara

Lexes O'Hara is a personal trainer and nutrition coach. Her work philosophy is to teach her clients to, "train, eat, and live like a bad ass." Certifications include NASM CPT and FNS.