The quality of your diet helps to determine from day to day whether you have a high level of energy, whether your hair and skin are healthy, and whether your teeth and bones are strong. Even though you may never have experienced prolonged hunger, the foods you habitually choose may provide such a poorly balanced diet that you are in a state of chronic and dangerous undernourishment.
The elements of good nutrition are easy to find in the foods we eat every day; the problem is to obtain them in sufficient quantities and in the right combinations. For example, while we all know the advertised value of apples in keeping the doctor away, no reasonable person expects to live on apples alone—or on whole wheat or packaged ‘high protein’ breakfast substitutes.
Instead the sensible person tries to attain a balance and is aware of the necessity of combining foods from the four main food categories: the milk group, the meat group, vegetables and fruits, and breads and cereals.
The milk group consists of milk and everything made from it, such as cheese, ice cream, and yogurt. The meat group also includes fish, poultry and eggs, as well as dried beans, peas and nuts as alternates. Fruits comprises citrus fruits, apples, peaches and berries among others. Vegetables include such foods as yellow squash, carrots, turnips and green spinach. Breads and cereals, ideally made from whole grains, include noodles and rice.
What is Food Made of?
Foods are composed of the same chemicals that make up our bodies. But when we talk about diet, we classify foods according to the kinds of nutrients they provide that are essential to our bodies’ growth and health. These nutrients comprise protein, carbohydrates, fats, minerals and vitamins.
These are the basic substance of our bodies, the stuff out of which every cell is built. When eaten in foods, protein also provides energy. Foods vary in the amount and quality of the protein they contain. Top-quality protein with the essential amino acids, is of animal origin: meat, fish, eggs, milk. But dried beans, peas and nuts rank almost as high. Bread, cereals, and some vegetables also provide protein but in smaller quantities.
More commonly known as starches and sugars, carbohydrates provide the body with energy and heat. Digestive juices convert these foods into glucose, the form of sugar found in the blood. Glucose is used by the body’s cells as the fuel for all cellular activity. Carbohydrates also supply needed bulk or roughage in the form of cellulose, the fibrous material present in many vegetables.
Fats are a super-concentrated source of energy, giving more than twice as much as either carbohydrates or proteins. Many foods that contain fat also supply vitamins A, D and E. Common sources of fats are butter, salad dressing, and cooking oils, most cheeses, nuts, milk, fatty meats and eggs.
Minerals required by the body include calcium, iodine and iron. Calcium is supplied by milk and milk products and is also present in certain vegetables such as turnips and mustard greens, cabbage and watercress. Iodine is found in produce grown near the seacoast and in iodized salt. The chief source of iron is liver, but it is also available in enriched and whole-grain cereals, lean meats, shellfish, dried beans and peas, green vegetables, dried fruits and egg yolk.
Other essential minerals include magnesium, phosphorus, sodium and potassium—all of which are found in a variety of foods.
Vitamins can be obtained from an assortment of common foods. There are a dozen vitamins that are essential to good health. A well-balanced diet should ideally supply all necessary vitamins, although many people take a daily multivitamin capsule as a supplement.
You hear a lot about calories in food especially in regard to diets that are designed to add or reduce weight. Calories are not nutrients but simply units of measurement that determine the energy value of food. One calorie, where used as a dietary unit, is the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water one degree centigrade.
High-calorie foods are usually rich in fat or contain large amounts of carbohydrates or protein that have the same number of calories per gram.
Your body requires a certain number of calories in order to function efficiently. If your diet provides too few calories, your body will begin to consume its stored proteins and fats in order to supply the energy it needs. If you eat more calories than your system can use, however, your body will store the excess food as fat.
The amount of calories you need is determined by your body size and the kinds of daily activities in which you participate. A six-foot-tall footballer obviously needs more calories than a five-foot tall chess player. Men generally need more calories than women. Active children and growing teenagers must have them in abundance. But a 65-year old man usually needs fewer calories than he consumed when he was 45 years old.
If you feel that you are too heavy, or not heavy enough, you can adjust your caloric intake to compensate for the discrepancy. Check your ideal weight here and use the table below to see the number of calories you need per day.
|Age (Years)||Boys and Men (Calories per day)||Girls and Women (Calories per day)|
The Cholesterol Problem
Cholesterol is a fatty substance in the blood vessels. It is either manufactured naturally by the body or is obtained from animal and other fats (called saturated fats) in food. In excessive amounts, cholesterol can cause health problems.
The western diet consists of cholesterol-rich foods therefore an alarmingly high rate of heart disease occurs in the western world. For example, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.
The close relationship between cholesterol and heart disease is accepted by almost all medical authorities. They believe that hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis) is probably linked to excess blood cholesterol which deposits on the insides of blood vessels.
As the deposits increase, the passageways of the circulatory system gradually narrows, until the flow of blood is obstructed. When the cholesterol buildup occurs in an artery carrying blood to the heart, the end result is often a heart attack.
Your blood cholesterol level can be determined by a blood test. If it is too high, your doctor will prescribe a low-cholesterol diet. Because the diet of most people is far too rich in cholesterol-bearing foods, many nutritionists recommend that all of us restrict our intake of certain kinds of food.
The principal dietary villains are fatty meats and shellfish, egg yolk, and any food containing the fatty components of milk—whole milk, butter, cream, whole-milk cheese. Also implicated in cholesterol formations are the saturated fats: hydrogenated, solid vegetable margarine made from hydrogenated oils and coconut oil.
A low-cholesterol diet emphasizes lean meats, poultry and fish, all skim-milk products, and food prepared with polyunsaturated fats—oil made from corn, safflower seed, cottonseed, sesame seed, or sunflower seed.
Fortunately, those persons who follow a low-cholesterol diet accomplish more than just lowering the quantity of saturated fats they consume. Rich foods such as chocolate are eliminated because they contain these fats. Such sweet foods such as cakes and ice cream are avoided because of their egg content.
Therefore, the calorific total of a low-cholesterol diet is usually lower than that of an ordinary diet. This may result in a loss of excess weight and a lowering of the blood-sugar level that is important in reducing the risk of diabetes.
Overweight Can Be Dangerous
By definition, an obese person weighs 30% or more over his ideal weight. Even if you are not that severely overweight, you should be alert to the potential problems too much weight may cause.
The obese person may suffer from one or more of the following disabilities:
In fact, medical evidence shows that overweight shortens the life span. If you are overweight—and a medical checkup indicates no physiological cause—then you can assume that your excess weight is a result of an imbalance between the amount and kinds of food you eat and the amount of energy you expend in your physical activity.
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Sources and References
Dietary Protein and Muscle Mass: Translating Science to Application and Health Benefit by John Carbone and Stefan Pasiakos
Reader’s Digest Family Health Guide and Medical Encyclopedia: Eating Wisely and Controlling Your Weight
Physiology, Carbohydrates by Julie Holesh, Sanah Aslam and Andrew Martin
Vitamin and Mineral Status: Effects on Physical Performance by Henry Lukaski
The Secrets of the Mediterranean Diet. Does [Only] Olive Oil Matter? By Carlo Agostoni, Ludovica Leone et al
Calories by Eva Osilla, Anthony Safadi and Sandeep Sharma
Remnant Cholesterol as a Cause of Ischemic Heart Disease: Evidence, Definition, Measurement, Atherogenicity, High Risk Patients, and Present and Future Treatment by Anette Varbo, Marianne Benn and G. Nordestgaard
Obesity Epidemiology Worldwide by Cassandra Arroyo-Johnson and Krista Mincey