Our bodies are made up of protein. Protein is required for the building and maintenance of cells, tissues, and organs. When the body does not get enough protein, it can be difficult for it to heal. Unless you have an illness that impacts your ability to eat, you probably get enough protein. However, the key to staying healthy is getting high-quality, natural protein.
You may be asking what is the best natural protein. The egg is often described as one of the best natural protein sources. An egg contains histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine—the nine essential amino acids that the body requires. Meat, fish, and poultry are high-quality sources of natural protein. Choose lean meats and limit red meat consumption to a few times per month. Eat fish at least three times a week and enjoy poultry 2-3 times per week. Keep your consumption of protein healthy by adding plant-based proteins to your diet. Bean and legumes, nuts and soy are all healthy protein sources that may replace meat in some of your meals. Aim to get 10–35% of your daily calories from protein.
Carbohydrates often get a bad rap because they are thought to cause weight gain. While it is true that excessive consumption of junky carbs like candy, cookies and other calorie-laden sweets leads to weight gain, nutrition experts tell us that carbohydrates are the main energy source for the body. The key is to eat the right kinds of carbs. Healthy carbs are those that are nutrient dense, meaning that they offer beneficial nutrients that the body needs.
Among the healthy carbohydrates are whole grains such as oatmeal, brown rice, popcorn and whole wheat. These whole grains contain vitamins and minerals and have the cholesterol reducing benefit of high fiber. These are known as complex carbohydrates and do not raise the blood sugar as quickly as refined carbohydrates such as sugary snacks. Fruits such as apples, oranges, and bananas are also nutrient-dense healthy carbohydrates. However, people with diabetes should watch their intake of fruit because the sugars in fruit are metabolized quickly and can result in blood sugar rapidly. That being said, it is preferable that diabetics choose a healthy piece of whole fruit over a candy bar or cookie.
Say the term “fat” and people think of calories and weight gain, but not all fats are created equally. There are fats that are bad for us when eaten frequently, but other fats have some protective effects. Saturated fat, the fat that is solid at room temperature, is the kind of fat that clogs the arteries. Although many individuals enjoy the taste that food containing saturated fat imparts—think crispy bacon or a juicy rib-eye steak, these fat sources should be consumed in moderation. Trans fats, the fats typically found in some crackers, cookies, and cakes have a reputation for raising the bad cholesterol, so they too should be consumed in moderation.
Trans fats are derived from liquid fats that have been changed through a chemical process known as hydrogenation. Transfats behave like saturated fats in food but tend to be more shelf-stable. Regular margarine and shortening are examples of trans fats. The best way to reduce trans fat in the diet is to read ingredient labels and look for the terms “hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated” oils. Even if a label says “zero trans fat,” trans fat can still be present because if there are less than .5 grams in a serving, food manufacturers do not have to identify the amount of trans fat.
You can avoid the health risks associated with saturated fats and trans fats by choosing healthier foods like lean meat, poultry, and fish, eating more plant-based foods and choosing oils that are liquid at room temperature.
There are fats that are helpful to the body. These fats are beneficial to the heart, blood vessels, joints and may even offer some protection against Alzheimer’s disease. These fats are found in foods like nuts, avocados, and olive oils and are known as Omega-3 fatty acids. To give your body the advantage of Omega-3s, eat about 3 ounces of nuts such as walnuts each week, and get about four tablespoons of olive oil in the diet each day. Add diced avocado to salads or replace mayonnaise on sandwiches with mashed avocado.