Nutrition advice is everywhere. It is conflicting and so confusing. What should you eat?
The answer is simple. There are 3 things all humans need from food. If you structure your diet around meeting these 3 basic needs then your goals of shredding fat, gaining muscle, preventing/treating metabolic disease, and/or just being healthy are likely byproducts.
So, clean your nutrition knowledge slate and let’s start with the basic truths about human nutrition. It is simple, but it’s not always easy. This article presents the facts. Learn them, because what you know about nutrition is the foundation on which to base your nutrition choices. Arm yourself with sound nutrition knowledge.
This what you need to know:
Humans NEED 3 things from food - called Essential Nutrients. They are essential because the body does not make them. We must obtain them from food. Essential nutrients are necessary for sustaining life functions such as growth and development, cognition, and energy production.
Essential vitamins and minerals
Vitamins and minerals are involved in hundreds of functions in the body. For example, they are crucial to bone health, healing wounds, and bolster your immune system, converting food into energy, and repair cellular damage. There are 21 essential vitamins and minerals listed in the table to the right. They found in a wide variety of foods: fruits and vegetables, meats, dairy, eggs, nuts, and seeds. Vegans and vegetarians should consider a B-complex supplement as B12 and other B vitamins are found in animal products.
Essential amino acids
Amino acids are the backbone of proteins. This means that in the chemical makeup of protein, amino acids are vital. Proteins are molecules in every cell of the body and are necessary for proper cellular function, rebuilding, strengthening, and repair within the body. Since amino acids are the backbone of the protein molecules, they are crucial to the production and function of proteins in the body. There are 9 essential amino acids - histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
When it comes to meeting amino acid needs, think in terms of protein. Animal products such as meat, dairy, and eggs as well as quinoa and soybeans are the richest source of protein because they are complete proteins. They contain all essential amino acids. Other food sources such as vegetables, peas, beans, and grains contain at least one essential amino acid but not all, therefore are incomplete proteins. These foods must be paired with another amino acid source to produce a complete protein (red beans and rice, bread and peanut butter), aka complementary proteins.
Essential fatty acids
That’s right, fat is essential for life. No only does fat add flavor to foods, it is a necessity for survival. There are different types of fat – saturated fat, unsaturated fat, trans fat to name a few. There are only two essential fatty acids: omega-3 (linoleic acid) and omega-6 (alpha-lenolenic acid). These are unsaturated fats.
Sources of omega-3 fatty acids include seeds (e.g. flax, chia and hemp), walnuts, and oily fishes such as herring, salmon, mackerel and trout. Sources of omega-6 polyunsaturated fats include most plant oils (e.g. soybean, sunflower, safflower), seeds, nuts, grains and non-hydrogenated soft margarines.
Both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are essential to numerous functions in the body, however they do not have the same effects. Omega-6s are believed to be proinflammatory while omega-3s anti-inflammatory, both crucial to the immune system. However, omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids compete for metabolism in the body. Too much omega-6 negates the effects of omega-3. Most Americans consume too much omega-6, which thought to trump the effects of omega-3s leading to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other metabolic diseases.
The bottom line for essential fatty acids:
Avoid vegetable oils high in omega-6 (and the processed foods that contain them).
Eat plenty of omega-3 rich animals, including something from the sea at least once or twice a week.
If needed, supplement with an omega-3 source like fish oil.
What to do with this information?
Structure your diet around meeting these 3 basic needs.
Think in terms of macronutrients – protein, fat, and carbohydrates (actually vegetables and starch).
Protein: Consume 20-25% of your daily calorie intake from protein. This is approximately 90-120g for women and 110-175 for men per day (higher end if you are highly active, lower end if you are sedentary and wanting to lose weight). This 4-8oz (weighted raw) meat per meal if you eat 3 meals a day. Get as much of your protein from pure sources such as grass-fed meats, fish, eggs, and quinoa.
Fats: have 1-2 servings per meal. The best way to get healthy fats is to cook vegetables in butter, olive oil, or coconut oil, eat fatty fish a few times a week, and snack on nuts and seeds. Focus on getting most of your fats from sources high in omega-3 fatty acids such listed in the previous sentence. Take a fish oil supplement if you are concerned about your omega-3 consumption.
Vegetables. Have vegetables at every meal. Cook them, eat them raw, however you like them. Vegetables are packed with essential nutrients, fiber, and add volume (not calories) to your meal.
Starch. This includes foods higher in carbohydrates: fruits, starchy vegetables such as potatoes and butternut squash, grains such rice, pasta, bread, and processed foods such as pop tarts, cereal, cake, and cookies. Eat starches before/during/after exercise and choose real food sources of starch such as fruits and vegetable sources.
One meal at a time
Design your plate like the pie chart below. Choose from the foods listed or branch out and find other non-processed sources of protein, fat, vegetables, and starch. Bottom line, find healthy meals you love, are easy make or access and go by the formula below. This will allow you to develop consistent healthy habits.
Simple Cooking Formula
Check out the simple cooking formula for quick and easy meals!