8 Nutrition Terms That Everyone Should Know
There are so many nutrition myths with conflicting information and this ultimate nutrition guide will give you what you need to know about the basics of nutrition so that you can begin to make better choices when it comes to your health.
There are eight nutrition terms that everyone should know and understand the basics of why they are important. If you do not understand macronutrient (macros), micronutrient, carbohydrates (carbs), lipids (fat), protein, vitamins, minerals and water and how they function in the body, you are missing a huge component of your health. Poor nutrition affects, among other things, how your body functions, your weight, and contributes to the development of chronic illness. Chronic illness comes up a lot, but it is becoming even more prevalent in younger people, which is why is important to be even more aware of what we are eating.
Click above to see my video regarding this topic
1. Macronutrients – the cornerstone of your diet
Macros is just a fancy term for carbs, fat, and protein; the things that we need to eat a lot of. Why is this important? Well if you do not have a good understanding of what you are putting into your body, how are you able to control your health? Usually it is not that we are not getting enough of these, but that we are not getting the right balance for our needs.
How to make sure you are getting the right balance of macros
These days tracking macros is super easy with all of the apps and websites that are available. In most tracking apps, the macro ratio will be generic, but you can adjust the percentages so that you can customize specifically for your needs and body type. Any time I have done a diet change for myself or for my husband, I spent 1-2 weeks sorting out my go-to recipes, portion sizes and making adjustments. It does not have to be a huge process. Break the transition down into smaller steps like taking one meal at a time and adjusting what you are eating to better serve your macro requirements. At least if you track what you are eating for 2 weeks you will have a better idea of what your diet is like and where you can do better.
2. Micronutrients – small things that pack a powerful punch to your health
Another fancy term, but this time we are talking about the vitamins and minerals that you consume. We need much smaller amounts of these but because they are so important in how the body functions, we need to eat a wide variety of fresh foods to get the correct amount. What you need to know is – the more fresh foods you eat, the less you have to worry about getting enough. The best way to do this is by shopping the perimeters of the store and having as little refined food as possible.
Should I supplement?
There are heaps of vitamins available at the supermarket and drug store. It can be overwhelming to know what to take. Unless you have a poor diet or have an issue with absorption or utilization, which you would discuss with your doctor, you are probably getting enough if you have a well-rounded diet. Usually the people who are most likely to take vitamins are the ones who need it the least. There are some tricks to absorbing more micronutrients but what you need to know now is just add in fresh fruits and vegetables, which do not have to be organic check out my cucumber water video, and you are well on your way to getting what you need.
3. Carbohydrates – make you fat (so they say)
Just as a disclaimer, the goal of this is to help people to be healthy for the long term. Studies show all the evidence that obesity, which is on the rise, is linked to chronic illness (link to https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1495620/). The purpose of this is not to fat shame, but to dispel the myth that carbs are bad for you or that you need to eliminate some carbs to lose weight. If you go to Google and type “do carbs” the first thing that comes up is “make you fat”. This is a hot topic that people do not really understand or else that would not be the first thing that comes up in the search engine. It is because of that that this myth needs to be addressed.
Why do we need carbs?
Humans need to eat carbs. Carbs come from plants and they are what give us energy. There are four categories of carbs, which are the following:
- Monosaccharides – simple sugars like fruit
- Disaccharides – simple sugars like milk
- Oligosaccharides – complex carbs like beans, cabbage, broccoli
- Polysaccharides – complex carbs like beans, grains, tubers (potatoes)
Simple sugars and highly processed sugary foods break down very quickly in the body and provide quick energy – that is where the sugar rush comes from. Complex carbs take longer to break down and usually the higher the fiber and less processed, the longer it takes to break down. Avoiding carbs may help you lose weight, but as that type of diet is not sustainable, once you go back to your normal diet you will gain the weight back and possibly more. The factors that cause weight gain are genetics, lack of exercise, and eating a diet that is unbalanced for your needs.
How much carbs do you need?
The recommendation is for carbs to account for 45-65% of your diet. Yes that is a lot of plants, but there are two other factors to look at. First is your body type sensitive to carbs, meaning will you gain weight more easily when you eat more carbs? The term for this is endomorph and if you are, you actually need less carbs to be healthy like 30-40% of your diet. Tracking what you eat in an app or website like MyFitnesssPal is worth the effort so that you can adjust your macro ratios. If you use resources like MyPlate (link https://www.choosemyplate.gov/MyPlate-Daily-Checklist), instead of giving you percentages, they will give you serving sizes based on your caloric intake. These are suggestions and may need to be adjusted to your body type.
What is the carb quality you are consuming?
Second, what is the quality of the carbs that you are eating? Are you eating white pasta or whole wheat? White bread or whole wheat bread? White rice or brown rice? Simply by substituting a better quality, less refined carb into your diet improves it. Remember an easy way to spot a better quality carb is to look at fiber content – the higher the better. Another reason why fiber is so important is that it binds to bile and is excreted. Bile is what carries excess cholesterol out of the body, which helps to reduce cholesterol in the body. As our body makes cholesterol, the more we consume the higher the risk for chronic illnesses that are associated with high cholesterol.
If you have a balanced workout plan with strength training and cardio, toned abs are not going to be about the exercises you do and everything to do with what you eat. As they say “abs are made in the kitchen”.
4. Fat – Makes You Fat
As I mentioned in my Sugar article, fat has been given a bad rap over the years. Flawed research and incorrect marketing steered a whole generation of people towards bad health choices. Luckily, now we know better, but the remnants of this nutrition myth still linger on.
Where to start with picking better fats
Instead of thinking that you need to avoid fat, look at it as you need to eat a better quality of fat. One easy way to do this is avoid saturated fats – saturated meaning solid at room temperature like butter, cheese, and beef fat. If you are going to drink milk reduce to low or nonfat milk. We all should know by now to avoid trans fats so when looking at labels if you see the words “partially hydrogenated”, run. Good sources for healthy fats are fish, shellfish, dark green veggies, nuts, and avocados, which is one of my favorites.
Why we need it and how much
Fat works to help relieve inflammation and there are many chronic illnesses that are a result of excess inflammation in the body. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are all fat soluble so you need to eat fat with those in order for your body to be able to use them.
We need about 20-35% of our calories to come from fat and if you gain weight easily your consumption would be on the upper end of that. We eat a lot of salads in my house and of course we usually make our own dressing. Yes, real olive oil is expensive, but to begin with you should not be cooking with it because the smoke point is so low. Smoke points are the temperature in which oils begin to degrade and possibly produce acrolin, which is toxic. Cooking with high heat oils, like avocado oil, is better for that.
If you use olive oil as the base for your dressing you are getting a lot of healthy fats, which means a lot of health benefits. There are some brands, which have been shown to not actually be pure olive oil or extra virgin olive oil, so it might take some research and testing to see which one tastes the best and is the best quality. It is worth the time and money to find your go to brand.
5. Protein – You Can Never Have Too Much Of It
Just like the other macros, protein provides energy but one thing that the others do not provide is nitrogen. We definitely need protein in our diets, but how much is too much? The recommendation is that 10-35% of your diet should come from protein. If you gain weight easily again, you will be at the upper end of that, but if you eat too much the excess is stored as fat and it can leech calcium from your body as well. So, yes, there is such a thing as too much protein.
2 eggs = 12g
130g chicken = 40g
100g burger = 17g
Total protein = 69g
To give an example of what I might eat in a day, let us say I eat 2 eggs for breakfast, a chicken sandwich for lunch and then a 100g burger for dinner. That is 69 grams of protein. For the average person you need 0.8g/kg of bodyweight. My pre-pregnancy weight was 60kg.
60kg x 0.8g/kg = 48g
So you can see that very easily I am eating 21g more than what I need, which is a lot! And I have not counted the extra protein that may have been floating around from vegetable sources. For pregnancy, this extra amount would actually be fine as mothers to be need a higher amount of protein in their diets. If you are specifically trying to put on muscle that would change how much you are consuming and your eating patterns. For this guide I am talking about the average person who wants to be healthy and conscientious of their weight. Understanding your portion sizes is so important and yes it takes a little leg work in the beginning, but it is worth it so that you can better control your body.
6 and 7. Vitamins and Minerals – You Need to Take a Multivitamin to Get Enough
I grouped these two together because they go hand in hand as your body uses both micronutrients for many processes such as energy metabolism, which is how your body makes energy, fluid balance, which is important because your bodyweight is 50-70% fluids, antioxidants, vision, bone health, the list goes on. I could name every aspect of your body and there is a need for micronutrients.
An important role for vitamins & minerals
What I would like to talk about here is antioxidants. People throw around this term and I would like to make sure we are all on the same page about them. Free radicals occur naturally in the body and can also be from things like pollution, tobacco smoke and other inflammation causing agents. Unchecked free radical damage causes cancer and cardiovascular disease. Antioxidants are specific micronutrients that stabilize the free radicals and help prevent damage to the body from prolonged exposure.
The best way to get enough antioxidants
So if you eat a normal, well rounded diet, you will get enough antioxidants, aka micronutrients, to help prevent disease. Yes there are some people who need to take vitamins and they are usually directed to do so by their doctor. There are some brands that are quality controlled and have a USP (United States Pharmacopeial Corporation) symbol on them, but even that does not guarantee 100% quality. It is better to spend your money on fresh, whole foods than over the counter vitamins that may be of questionable quality.
8. Water – How Much Should I Drink?
Our final topic is water. I am pretty sure everyone has heard that you should drink eight-eight ounce glasses per day. I have a one-liter bottle that I always have around with me. This is about half of what I need at the very minimum. I also usually drink a smoothie, a glass of sugar free cranberry juice and a coffee, which all together gives me another liter of water, which is my eight by eight. Now, there is also water in fruits and vegetables so I am confident that I am getting enough fluids throughout the day.
Sometimes eight x eight is not enough
If you have additional activity, like working out, even more water is needed. Not enough water can lead to sleepiness, headaches, muscle spasms, and other more serious side effects so it is very important. Also it is a great way to curb hunger – often times when we feel hungry we are actually thirsty. Besides keeping a water bottle with you at all times, when you go to a restaurant and they put that free glass of water on the table, drink that first! Water is your friend and if you do not like the taste it is probably because you are used to drinking sugary flavored drinks. Add some lemon or other fresh fruit to it to give it a more interesting taste and, frankly, just drink it. Your body will thank you!
The bottom line…
This overview should get you going in the right direction with your health. Having the information is of course important, but acting on it consistently is how you will see long lasting change. Please leave a comment with any questions you have on diet and if you need help getting started with making a change Perfect Curl is always here to partner with you!