We need good nutrition. Let's face it. We live in a society that does not exactly promote good nutrition. Poor eating is a major factor in our biggest health problems like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Good nutrition is poorly understood. However, it is not rocket science. Learning good nutrition is pretty simple. Let's start with a few basic concepts.
These are units of energy. Each calorie we consume will be either burned or stored for later use. By definition, it takes one calorie to heat one milliliter of water one degree Celsius.
Sources of Calories
The 3 basic sources are Carbohydrates ("Carbs" have 4 calories per gram), Proteins (have 4 calories per gram) and Fats (have 9 calories per gram). More on these below.
Click on Calorie Counter to help keep track.
We store our calories mainly in 2 places. Think of them as storage "tanks".
"Muscle Tank" - Energy is stored as "glycogen" for quick burning in the muscles. This tank increases with regular exercise and good eating habits.
"Fat Tank" - Energy is stored as fat for use in the future in case of famine. This tank increases with lack of exercise and poor eating habits.
We mainly use the "muscle tank" for our day-to-day energy needs. Most of us do not use up enough energy to dip into their "fat tank".
During regular exercise, we go through the energy in the muscle tank and then start tapping the fat tank energy.
We will refill our tanks in the order that they are emptied. If we are sedentary, our "muscle tank" will be smaller will fill very quickly. The excess calories will be dumped into the "fat tank". This results in unhealthy body function and higher risk of diseases (see the Weight Management Page).
With regular exercise and good nutrition, the size of the muscle tank increases and the fat tank decreases. This results in healthy body function and lower risks of diseases.
Good Foods and Bad Foods
Most people know what "junk foods" are (candy, soda-pop, french fries, pizza, burgers, hot dogs, etc). We know that we should mostly avoid them. But what makes them bad? Everything is made of carbs, fats or proteins. Read the food labels. The devil is in the details.
Good Carbs -("Complex Carbohydrates") These come from natural, unprocessed plant sources. This is the form that our bodies want. These are basically unrefined fruits, vegetables and whole grains. They are slowly absorbed from the bowel. We should have these with every meal. We should have 5 or more servings a day of fruits &/or vegetables and other "good carbs". They tend to be higher in fiber and have lower Glycemic Indexes.
Bad Carbs - ("Simple Carbohydrates") These started out in "good carbs", but had the good parts stripped out of them in a processing plant. They are sweet and taste good, but they are not what our bodies want. These are basically simple sugars, white rice and white flours (eg. candies, soda-pop, fruit juices, white breads, white pasta, cakes, cookies etc). They tend to be low in fiber and have higher Glycemic Indexes.
Good Fats - These are oils and come from vegetables, nuts, seeds and fish. They tend to be liquid at room temperature. They are listed as "Unsaturated Fats", "Polyunsaturated Fats", "Omega 3" or "Omega 6" on food labels (think of them as "unsaturating your arteries"). They still have 9 calories per gram, but in moderation, they are good for us.
Bad Fats - These come from land-dwelling animals. They tend to be solid at room temperature (think of butter, Crisco and meat fat). They are present in greasy foods like fries, burgers, pizza and fried foods). They are listed as "Saturated Fats" on food labels (think of them as "saturating" your arteries). They are bad for us.
- Cholesterol in food is only moderately bad. Eating foods high in cholesterol (like egg yolks and shrimp) increases your blood cholesterol only slightly. Cholesterol in the blood is made in the liver. We make more than we eat. This is why fasting does not affect your cholesterol blood test that much.
Really Bad Fats - These are listed as "Trans Fats". These started out as good fats (oils), but have been chemically changed into solids (eg. stick margarine ). On food labels, they may be listed as "partially hydrogenated" oils. They are often used in frying fast foods. Recently, food companies have been going back to good fats. Some states are banning them altogether.
How to Eat - Basic Rules
1. Have 3 modest, balanced meals a day plus healthy snacks. Do not skip breakfast.
2. Have "Good Carbs" with each meal (whole grains, fruits and vegetables).
3. Have a protein with each meal (eg. skim milk, a lean meat, nuts or beans).
4. Get your fat source from the "Good Fats" (vegetable oils, peanut oil, fish and fish oils).
5. Snack on fruits, vegetables and nuts.
6. Avoid "Bad Carbs" and "Bad Fats". Substitute good for bad:
-Use whole grain bread instead of white bread.
-Use skim milk instead of fatty milk (no, 2% milk is NOT low-fat). See below.
-Avoid breaded and fried foods. Use non-breaded, baked meats instead.
-Avoid sugary drinks like regular soda-pop and fruit juices. If you must, use diet soda.
-Use egg whites instead of eggs for cooking.
-Use liquid margarine or other vegetable oils instead of stick margarine or butter.
-Use fresh foods rather than prepackaged, processed foods whenever possible.
7. Use caffeine and alcohol in moderation or not at all. Use the Rule of 2's (no more than 2 servings a day).
8. Use a small plate. Psychologically, we feel "done" when the plate is visually empty.
9. STOP EATING WHEN YOU ARE FULL! (You don't have to be in "The Clean Plate Club")
"But I Don't Have Time For Breakfast!"
We hear this from many patients. We lead busy lives. We don't allow enough time for the essentials, like sleeping and having breakfast. But, skipping breakfast is associated with obesity and higher cholesterol. Without morning fuel, your metabolism slows down. When you finally do eat, your body will tend to put it in the "Fat Tank" (see above) for safe keeping instead of in the "Muscle Tank" for quick burning.
If you have "no time" for breakfast, then how about grabbing something like a Carnation Instant Breakfast Drink in skim milk and an apple for the road? How about a glass of skim milk and a banana? You have the time to eat. It just takes some planning.
A Word about Milk (2% is NOT low-fat!)
Milk is healthy in that it provides a good source of protein, calcium and vitamin D. All milks have the same amounts of these good things, regardless of their fat contents. Children under the age of 2 need the high fat content in milk for their rapidly growing brains (breast milk or formula for at least the first 12 months,then these or whole milk until age 2).
For people over age 2, the fat in milk is all "bad fat" (saturated fat). Remember, we want to avoid the bad fats. Many tell us that they drink "low-fat milk" and are referring to 2%. However, people don't realize that whole milk is about 3% fat. Therefore, 2% is NOT low-fat!
One cannot put more fat into whole milk without it turning solid in your refrigerator. 2% is not much better. The label 2% is technically "reduced fat", but only a little bit reduced. 1% has 60% less saturated fat than whole milk and half as much as 2% milk. Skim has NO saturated fat.
Recommended Nutrition Resources
For healthy recipes and deserts, please go to the AHA website's Delicious Decisions page.
For more detailed diet advice, please go to the CDC website's Nutrition for Everyone page.
For Nutrition advice for children, please go to Medline Plus's Children's Nutrition Page.
For Diabetes diet details, please go to the American Diabetes Association. See also our Diabetes Page.