One of the ways to keep our bodies healthy is through the food we eat. With all the diet fads out there, it’s difficult to determine what is right for us. Our minds are bombarded with so many other things to think about that we might forget to take care of the body’s nutritional needs. We get focused on family, work, school, money, electronics, social media, appointments, and the list goes on. The United States is in an obesity epidemic which is one example of how many of us have lost touch with our bodies. Living in the age of information gives us a unique opportunity to learn how to create a healthy and fulfilling life. That probably isn’t what we’re asking Google and Siri to search for. So, here’s the simple version of nutrition.
H2O. We are composed of 50-60% water. This means, if we don’t drink enough water, we will dehydrate the organs and vital functions begin to fail. The body gives off water constantly through breathing, sweat, saliva, and #1. All the body’s tissues and cells require water to do their jobs which means water needs to be replaced constantly. Typically, 80% of the water we consume comes from drinking fluids and 20% comes from the foods we eat. How much should we drink at a minimum each day? Take your current body weight in pounds and divide it in half to equal how many ounces of water to drink. Ex., a 150-pound individual should drink 75oz of water.
The key ingredients hidden in our food that makes for healthy nutrition comes in the form of macronutrients, micronutrients, and minerals. Macronutrients are comprised of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals which are made up of elements found in nature. Foods will have varying proportions of nutritional value, so it is important to know how much is in different foods to see if you are fulfilling the daily recommended values for your body.
Carbohydrates account for a significant fuel source and are found in many foods. Not all carbs are created equally and come in the form of sugar, starch or fiber. Sugars don’t offer any nutritional value, but are sweet and enhance the flavor of food. Starches like potatoes, rice, or wheat have sugars and deliver some nutrients. Fiber forms the bulk of some foods which is either soluble or insoluble to our digestive systems. This helps control cholesterol levels. Carbohydrates are also divided into simple and complex categories. The simple carbohydrates are broken down by the body more quickly than complex ones. They offer a quick burst of energy. Complex carbohydrates take longer to metabolize in the body which allow for a slowly released source of fuel.
Proteins are the building blocks of many cells in our bodies, especially muscle. Next to water, protein accounts for a significant portion of body composition. We can find protein in meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, beans, peas, nuts and seeds. There has been a recent trend in the food industry to offer more protein supplements for everyday people. You can find protein supplements in powder, shake, or bar form in most food stores. The total amount needed per day varies based on your sex, activity level, and age.
Fats play an interesting role in our diet. Did you know that the brain is the fattiest organ in the body? Eating omega 3 fatty acids support brain function. Some fats are good and some are bad. Well, the good ones are usually found in vegetables, nuts, whole eggs and fish. Vegetable based liquid oils don’t have cholesterol which has earned them the title of “good fats” (olive oil, vegetable oil, or coconut oil). The bad ones will be hydrogenated oils or trans fats which have no nutritional value and cause elevated “bad” cholesterol. Animal fats have a little bit of mixed reviews on whether they elevate cholesterol as once thought. The Keto diet is catching attention for endorsing eating fats and restricting carbs to achieve ketosis in the body; a process that burns more fat.
The vitamins our body needs can be easily spelled out. The 13 essential vitamins to the body are vitamins A, B (8 types), C, D, E, and K. If the body lacks a certain vitamin it can cause health problems. The tale of vitamin C and scurvy is a great historical example. Minerals are needed in small amounts and play an important role in how the body functions. The main ones include calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, sulphur, chloride, sodium, and potassium. To an even lesser amount the body needs iron, copper, iodine, manganese, zinc, cobalt, fluoride, and selenium. The best way to get all the vitamins and minerals your body needs is through eating a variety of nutrient dense foods with the addition supplements. The daily requirements of vitamins and minerals (as well as all other nutritional factors) may vary depending on your sex, age, body mass, activity level and pace of life. The harder you work, the more nutrients the body will need to maintain higher standards than the FDA daily recommended value (%DV).
When you read a nutritional label you will see how many calories a food item has. Calories are a measure of energy. This is an important value to understand because of its role in weight management. For us to maintain our current weight we will need to consume the same amount of calories we burn for the day. Free apps like My Fitness Pal can help effectively monitor calorie, nutrition and activity level.
The bottom line on nutrition: hydrate and consume a well-rounded diet that you believe is ideal to power you through living your life. Consider taking trusted supplements for their benefits and convenience needed to keep up with the demands of this day and age.
Author Tom Naro is a doctor of physical therapy and owner of My PT located at 108 Congamond Rd. #120 Southwick MA.