Do you remember your school’s health teacher or parents going on for what seemed like hours about the food pyramid and a balanced diet? Good, because I’m about to tell you they were half right. A balanced diet is important for your health and fitness. But there is a little more to a healthy and well balanced diet than just eating the ‘ideal” number of serves of certain food groups and counting calories. It’s also about what sources of food the calories come from. Here, I’d like to give you an overview of balanced nutrition without going into school teacher or parental mode.
What are Calories?
Calories are a unit of energy obtained from nearly everything we eat or drink each day.
When we want to lose weight or increase lean muscle mass, we need to know how many calories we are giving our body and what foods those calories are coming from. To help you understand it better, consider the table below. It only contains the Macro-Nutrients we need each day, because the Micro-Nutrients like vitamins and minerals have a near zero caloric value.
1gm of proteins = 4 calories
1gm of carbohydrates = 4 calories
1gm of fats = 9 calories
Proteins are the premium building blocks for your body. Because of this, they should form a large part of your diet. A person who is moderately active should aim for 25-30% of their daily calories from proteins and up to 40% for people involved in heavy physical work or sports like bodybuilding.
Try to include proteins in every meal you have throughout the day the day. This can actually help you eat less and control cravings,because protein rich foods digest slowly. This helps to make you feel fuller for longer and reduce between meal snacks.
Great sources of proteins are meat, fish, poultry and dairy products (watch out for the fat content). Also legumes and some nuts. Be careful with the amount of nuts you eat though because while they are high in protein, they’re also very high in fat and calories.
Carbs have been painted in a poor light recently and it’s mostly been unfairly so. (thanks Paleo gurus)
Carbohydrates are our body’s naturally preferred energy source, especially during exercise or physical work. They only become a “problem”, when our diet has more carbs in it than our body needs for energy each day causing the excess carbohydrates to be stored as fat.
Carbohydrates don’t just provide us with energy, they provide fiber and other nutrients important to our overall well being and should make up around 40-50% of your daily meals. Good sources of carbohydrates are: wholegrain breads and pastas and brown rice which are high in fibre, meaning you feel full for longer, fruits and vegetables.
A couple of important things to consider here are: Try to stay away from processed grains like white breads, pastas and white rice. The processing which they undego robs them of important nutrients and leaves them higher in sugar than a serving of wholegrain the same size.When it comes to fruits and vegetables try to choose the varieties high in fiber and / or water content such as apple, pears and watermelon and veges like lettuce, cabbage and celery. These are low in calories and high in fibre and will help you feel full for a longer period of time while not impacting too heavily on your calorie budget for the day.