Are you constantly confused about what you should be eating? The answer is probably “yes” as nutritional and dietary advice always seems to be changing. However, there are some basic nutritional concepts that you should know that will help you plan meals and snacks throughout the day—both for you and your entire family. And, do you have to stop eating a chocolate chip cookie on occasion? No! Learning these basic nutritional concepts helps you understand that it is okay to include special treats as part of your dietary circle of health and enjoy a variety of foods during the week.
Foods are grouped together based on similar nutritional properties so it is important to understand what the groups are and what is included in each one. The basic food groups for a healthy diet include vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, and protein.
Eat your fruits and vegetables. Heard that before? Of course you have, and it is excellent advice—your mother really was right.
Most people don’t drink enough water every day, but everyone should make an effort to do so. Water is essential for the body because it is in every cell, tissue, and organ, and it helps you stay hydrated particularly during prolonged physical activity or in hot weather.
Total fat intake should be between 20 and 35 percent of your total calories each day. Some fats are better for you than others and it is important to know the difference between Trans fats, saturated fats, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fats.
Carbohydrates are a major source of energy for the body and should be the major food source each day. Learn how the right carbohydrates fuel the system and contribute to overall health.
Protein intake should be between 10 and 35 percent of your daily calories. Most people eat more protein than they need each day, so it is wise to understand this food group and monitor your daily protein intake.
Want more information on your weight? Use the LifeSpan Calorie Calculator to determine how many calories your body needs in a day to maintain your current weight or make changes if you so desire. Based on the results you can adjust your eating pattern and physical activity levels as needed. Remember, eat healthy, and be active 365 days of the year!
The effects of sugar consumption are highly averse. Sugar isn’t just white, refined table sugar; sugar comes in many forms such as glucose, fructose, lactose and sucrose. Fruit, milk, honey, jam and maple syrup are all some of the sources of sugar in our diets. The average American consumes two to three pounds of sugar per week, and all that sugar has harmful health effects.
The glycemic index measures how foods affect blood glucose levels. Each food is assigned a numbered rating, and the lower the rating, the slower that food is absorbed into your body, providing a healthy, gradual infusion of sugars into the bloodstream. A high rating means that sugars are released more quickly, which stimulated the pancreas to secrete more insulin to lower blood sugar levels.
Sugar, honey, syrups and fruit juices rate high on the glycemic index. When you eat sugar, it causes your blood sugar levels to spike quickly, leading to increased insulin production. Higher insulin levels can inhibit the production of growth hormones and weaken your immune system. High insulin levels also contribute to weight gain, and, over time, the stress on your body can lead to diabetes.
Since the 1970s, doctors and scientists have known that vitamin C helps white blood cells kill viruses and bacteria. White blood cells must accumulate vitamin C in order to consume virus, bacteria or cancer cells. But glucose and vitamin C have similar structures, so when you eat sugar, your body’s white cells accumulate glucose instead of vitamin C, leaving less room inside the cell for it to accumulate the vitamin C it needs to fight off pathogens. Sugar, therefore, slows your immune system down.
The list of physical, mental and emotional disorders exacerbated or caused by the effects of sugar consumption is long. Sugar wreaks havoc with your body’s insulin levels, sending them up and down, up and down, and puts strain on your metabolism, so that, over time, excess sugar consumption can lead to diabetes. Sugars also contribute to weight gain, which can lead to cardiovascular disease, hypertension and arthritis.
It isn’t enough to stop putting sugar in your coffee and tea if you want to reduce the effects of sugar consumption in your diet. To limit dietary sugar, avoid processed foods and simple carbs. Products made with high-fructose corn syrup should be eliminated, and you should stick to fresh fruits and fruits juices.
If you have sugar cravings, that means your body’s blood sugar levels are low. Don’t reach for a sweet; instead, eat a protein-rich snack.
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