The whole topic of nutrition has been highly glamorised in recent years, partly down to social media. Whilst this is great in many ways because good nutrition is the cornerstone of wellness, it has left many people confused about what is right and what is wrong.
When it comes to a balanced diet there are a few simple rules which we can all follow to ensure we are getting the optimum nutrition we need.
Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, takes us back to the basics of daily nutrition.
What are macros?
As the name suggests, they are big, and in this case refer to the groups of food that we eat most of. Essentially, there are three macronutrients: proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Some people also talk about fibre as being another macro such is its important in overall health, although technically fibre is a carbohydrate.
Protein – essential building blocks for life
All macros form an essential part of the daily diet, so any restrictive diet is going to lead to nutrient deficiencies somewhere along the line. Protein is literally the building block of life. It is essential for every bone and muscle in the body, as well as producing hormones, neurotransmitters and supporting the immune system.
There are nine essential amino acids that must be eaten in the diet (there are other amino acids that are essential, but these can be produced in the body). These nine amino acids are found primarily in animal produce including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy and plant sources quinoa, buckwheat, and soybeans. If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet you should combine grains and pulses to get sufficient amino acids, although this does not need to be in the same meal.
Carbohydrates – energy and nutrient providers
Carbohydrates, including fibre, provide an essential energy source for our muscles and brain. Indeed, the brain requires around 30% of all carbohydrate the body intakes. Carbs are not all created equally in that slow releasing ones (essentially whole foods and fruits and vegetables) provide sustainable energy throughout the day. Conversely, fast release carbs primarily found in processed and refined foods give an energy boost then an energy crash due to their adverse effect on blood sugar.
Carbs are often maligned but this food group contains some of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet and are loaded with antioxidants, so the body is missing out if they are not being consumed.
Fat – protecting and sustaining
Another maligned food group is fat. However, fat provides the second energy source for the body, and it is essential for absorbing our fat-soluble vitamins vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K.
There is often confusion around good and ‘bad’ fats. Essentially, good fats are the omegas 3 and 6 which must be eaten in the diet as the body cannot make them. The omega 3s are crucial for hormones, joints, the heart, brain and eyes. Oily fish and nuts and seeds are your friends in this respect.
Monounsaturated fat found in avocados and olive oil is great for the heart and should be included in the diet. However, try to avoid the damaged fats; the trans fats found in margarines and refined foods. The body cannot deal with these and trans fats are known to raise cholesterol levels, so try to be aware of not overeating the foods that contain them.
Fruits and vegetables – overflowing with goodness
As nutritionists we talk endlessly about getting sufficient fruits and vegetables into the diet. Why? Because quite simply they are loaded with nutrients, especially the trace minerals that are so often deficient in the typical western diet. It is all about colour and variety and not over thinking it. Try to have plenty of colour on your plate at every mealtime.
There’s also confusion as to whether juicing is good or bad. Juices are a great way of getting more nutrients into the body. You might lose the fibre content, but juices are still loaded with nutrients. Try to include more vegetables than fruits in your juices or blends to keep fructose (a fruit sugar) content to a minimum.
Water – pure and simple
We talk about the body being around 80% water. Of course, this is not pure water because it is made up of solutes and everything within cellular tissue. However, the body still needs plenty of plain water to keep it sufficiently hydrated. It will quickly complain if dehydrated and you’ll feel low in energy, suffer brain fog, plus constipation may be problematic.
Our water needs vary depending on activity levels. However, as a general rule, if you are having around 1 ½ – 2 litres of water daily you will be doing ok, plus fruits and vegetables can count towards this target since they’re high in water.
The body’s needs are relatively simple so there is no need to overcomplicate diets; just try and stick to the basics for well-balanced nutrition.
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