As you progress with a new fitness plan, you will start to think more about your diet. You will reach your goals faster, and build a stronger body, if you’re eating good quality foods. Foods can be classified into three broad categories, all of which we need in order to be healthy. The key is to eat them in the right proportions because we can gain weight when the balance gets skewed. The three categories, or macronutrients, include carbohydrates, fats and proteins. The amounts of each that you need to eat each day depends on your age, your gender, and your level of physical activity. A rough guideline to follow is:
50% of your daily calories from carbohydrates
30% of your daily calories from fats
20% of your daily calories from protein
These numbers can be adjusted depending on your fitness goals, but are a good place to start. Let’s look at each macronutrient a little more closely.
Carbs come in the form of sugars, fibers and starches. Carbs make you feel full after eating and contribute to digestive health. Carbs get a bad name because some of them can contribute to weight gain. However, some sources of carbs are more healthful than other sources. We need about 130 grams of carbohydrate a day.
Sugars can occur naturally, like in milk or fruit, or they can be added during processing. Fibers come from plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes (peas and beans). Adults need 25-30 grams of fiber daily, preferably from real foods and not from a supplement. Starches are found only in plants. We think of them in foods like potatoes, corn, wheat, rice and other grains.
2. Fats (or Lipids)
Fats come in different forms, some good and some bad. Good fats give us fuel for energy in most cells in the body. Bad fats increase our risk for high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. Fats are either saturated or unsaturated.
Saturated fats, which are solid at room temperature, come from both plant and animal sources. Saturated fats are found in red meats, poultry, and dairy products like butter, cheese, ice cream and milk. Unsaturated fats also come from both plant and animal sources, and are liquid at room temperature, like most vegetable oils. The two types of unsaturated fats are polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. Polyunsaturated fats include omega 3’s, and can be found in salmon, safflower, sunflower and soy oil. Monounsaturated fats can be found in nuts, olive oil and avocado.
Trans-unsaturated fats, or just trans fats, are the most dangerous fats because they raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower your HDL (good) cholesterol. The process of hydrogenation alters the chemistry of the food to increases the shelf life, taste, and texture of many processed foods. It also contributes to heart disease. Trans fats can be found in coffee creamer, fast food, frozen pizza, processed baked goods, refrigerated dough products and margarine. It’s best to avoid these foods entirely. They promote inflammation in the body, which is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and many other health conditions.
Proteins are one of the body’s building blocks. They are found throughout the body in muscle, bone, skin, hair, and most other tissue. As a general rule, women over the age of nineteen need 46 grams of protein a day. Men over the age of nineteen need 56 grams of protein a day. Sources of protein include beef, wild game, poultry, fish and shellfish, eggs, dairy products, nuts and seeds, legumes and soy.
--Dr. Kate Kennedy, ND