Healthy eating is more than just tracking your calories or avoiding certain foods. It involves making long-term changes to your lifestyle that include following a well-balanced diet and engaging in regular physical activity.
Eating healthy and nutritious foods can help you reduce the risk of diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and cancer.
Learn about healthy eating principles, tips, and more.
7 nutrients needed for balanced nutrition
Protein is used to make vital chemicals in the body, such as hormones and enzymes, that help build and maintain muscle tissue and provide you with energy.
Because your body is constantly building, breaking down, and utilizing protein, you must eat enough protein daily to replenish what you have used.
Nutritionists recommend getting up to 30% of your daily calories from lean sources of animal or plant protein, such as soybeans, chicken, fish, and eggs.
Carbohydrates are another macronutrient the body uses as fuel.
Nutritionists recommend getting around 40%-55% of your daily calories from whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits instead of starchy carbs and sugars found in baked goods and sweets.
Your body requires trace amounts of healthy fats. However, the average American diet is typically high in total and saturated fat and lacks good fats, such as those found in fish, nuts, olive oil, and avocados.
Because fats are a concentrated source of calories, most nutritionists suggest restricting your fat consumption to 20%-30% or less of your daily calorie intake.
4. Vitamins and minerals
Many of the chemical interactions in your body involve vitamins and minerals, which are crucial for various functions. Eating a balanced diet with a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement can help you get essential vitamins and minerals in adequate amounts.
Plant-based foods contain phytonutrients that are responsible for the bright colors of various fruits and vegetables. Phytonutrients can boost immunity, repair damaged cells, and prevent disease.
Fiber promotes healthy digestion and encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Excellent sources of fiber include whole fruits and vegetables, grains, and beans. If you cannot obtain the required 25 grams of fiber per day, fiber supplements can help.
Because the body is 70% water, maintaining hydration is crucial for overall health. Your body needs plenty of water to carry nutrients to cells and eliminate waste products. Water also helps regulate body temperature and lubricate joints and tissues.
The standard fluid requirement is 8 glasses (240 mL) of water per day. Water is best, but plain tea can also help you achieve your daily fluid requirements.
What are macronutrients?
Macronutrients are nutrients your body needs in larger quantities: carbohydrates, fats, and protein. These three macronutrients perform several roles, including:
- Creating and maintaining muscles
- Stimulating growth and development
- Supporting immune system health
- Protecting organs from injury
- Giving energy to the central nervous system
Foods are broken down in the digestive system into smaller components that are absorbed and then delivered to cells where they can be used or stored for energy. Cellular respiration is a mechanism that uses three macronutrients to make adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the major source of cellular energy.
Every macronutrient delivers energy in the form of calories:
- Carbohydrates: 4 kcal per gram of carbs
- Fats: 9 kcal per gram of fat
- Proteins: 4 kcal per gram of protein
- Carbohydrates are the body's main source of energy, accounting for the majority of caloric intake.
- Healthy sources of carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, grains, and dairy products.
- Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that supports good digestion, manages blood sugar (glucose) levels, and may protect against chronic diseases, such as type II diabetes and heart disease.
- Fats provide the body with a substantial amount of energy and are required for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
- Fats have the highest energy density of the three macronutrients, providing roughly 9 calories per gram.
- Meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, oils, nuts, seeds, and avocados are good sources of dietary fat.
- Protein is made up of amino acids and serves as the building blocks of the body, playing an important role in tissue formation and repair.
- There are 20 different amino acids, of which 9 are considered essential because they cannot be produced by the body and must be obtained from food.
- Protein can be found in meat, chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy products, as well as in many plant-based foods, such as beans, legumes, soy (tofu and tempeh), nuts, and seeds.
How many macronutrients do you need?
The amount of macros you need depends on your age, sex, height, weight, activity level, and underlying conditions.
According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the recommended daily macronutrient breakdown for adults is as follows:
- Carbohydrates: 45%-65% of daily calorie intake
- Fats: 20%-35% of daily calorie intake
- Proteins: 10%-35% of daily calorie intake
Many diets are intended to restrict or boost your intake of certain macronutrients with the goal of weight loss or other health benefits. Consulting a dietitian can help guide you through dietary changes to make sure you are meeting your nutritional needs.
What are micronutrients?
Micronutrients include vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that help with multiple critical functions, ranging from nervous system function to bone strength. Micronutrients are required in considerably smaller amounts than macronutrients and have important roles in the body:
- Physical and mental development
- Preventing disease
- Catalyzing important metabolic reactions
- Building proteins
- Strengthening bones
- Maintaining electrolyte balance
- Breaking down toxins
- Healing wounds
- These are organic molecules that have a range of activities in the body and assist chemical processes.
- Most of these cannot be produced by the body and must be obtained from food.
- Minerals are elements found in soil, water, plants, and animals that consume plants.
- Minerals regulate bodily fluids and carry oxygen to various parts of the body.
- These are natural chemicals found in plants that work with other nutrients to promote good health.
- Phytonutrients help lower inflammation and protect the body from disease.
What foods are rich in micronutrients?
- Calcium: Milk, yogurt, spinach, sardines
- Zinc: Beef, cashews, garbanzo beans, turkey
- Potassium: Bananas, spinach, potatoes, apricots
- Vitamin C: Oranges, peppers, broccoli, bananas
- B vitamins: Beans, seeds, nuts, whole grains, meat, dairy, eggs, mushrooms
- Vitamin D: Fortified foods such as milk, sunlight exposure
- Iron: Meat, fortified cereals, leafy greens, beans, nuts, seeds, raisins, olives, seaweed
- Copper: Seafood, beans, nuts, seeds, mushrooms
- Magnesium: Dark leafy greens, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, dark chocolate
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9 tips for healthy eating
- Be balanced: When it comes to healthy eating, balance is key. Instead of entirely eliminating certain foods, consume everything in moderation.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables: Even if fruits and vegetables are not among your favorite foods, try to eat more to maximize their nutritional benefits.
- Focus on portion control: Keep track of how much you are eating to make sure you do not eat more than you need.
- Vary your options: Including a wide variety of foods in your daily diet can help you get a wide variety of nutrients.
- Start your day right: Start your day with a balanced and nutritious breakfast. Make sure you add complex fiber to your diet along with protein.
- Choose healthy snacks: Stock up on fruits, nuts, and seeds to reach for when you feel like a snack during the day.
- Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water (at least 2-3 L a day) can help you prevent overeating and encourage the removal of wastes from your system.
- Plan ahead: Do meal prep in advance to make sure you have access to healthy foods and avoid skipping meals.
- Consider supplements: If you feel like your diet is still lacking in nutrients, talk to your doctor about supplements.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Healthy Eating. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-eating/healthy-eating.htm
Healthy eating and diet. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/healthy-eating
Eat Right. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/eat/
My Nutrition. https://mynutrition.wsu.edu/nutrition-basics
Macronutrients & Micronutrients. https://www.pomona.edu/administration/dining/health-wellness/macronutrients
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