What is proper nutrition?
Proper nutrition means a diet that fulfills all the body’s nutritional requirements. Your body needs an adequate amount of energy, vitamins, and minerals to function and fight against infections. Without proper nutrition, your body is more prone to infections, disease, less growth, and low performance. Children who don’t get enough nutrition experiences less growth and development, low academic and sports performance, weak immune system, and tend to develop unhealthy eating habits in adulthood.
A well-balanced diet can provide proper nutrition to our body. A balanced diet includes fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, lentils and legumes, low-fat dairy products, lean meat, poultry, fish, and unsaturated fats.
Know the basics
- Calories: Calories are the amount of energy we obtain from food. This energy we use for important daily functions done by our body, such as reading, talking, walking, and laughing. On average, a person needs 2000 calories a day for maintenance and proper functioning. This amount depends on age, sex, weight, height, and physical activity level. A Male needs more calories than a female. A person who does exercise needs more calories than a person who does not. A well-balanced diet should provide adequate calories with proper nutrition. Foods that provide less or low nutrition and more calories are called empty calories. Some of the empty calorie foods are cakes, cookies, donuts, ice cream, fruit juice added with sugar, energy drinks, and sodas.
- Carbohydrates: They are called carbohydrates because chemically, they are formed by carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. American Diabetes Association reports that carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for the body. One gram of carbohydrates provides 4 Kcal of energy. Carbs don’t only provide fuel to the body but also prevent protein from being used as energy. According to the National Institute of Health, the recommended daily amount of carbohydrates for a healthy person is 135 grams. Carbohydrates, like other macronutrients, can be obtained only from diet. Your body cannot produce carbohydrates of its own. Carbs intake can vary from person to person, but between 45% to 65% of total calories. Carbs can be classified into good and bad carbs. Simple carbs are obtained from highly processed foods such as white flour, white rice, sweets, and sodas. These foods are high in calories and offer less nutritional values. On the other hand, complex carbs are good carbs and should be consumed on a daily basis. Primary sources of complex carbs are whole grains, brown rice, lentils, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.
- Protein: Proteins are building blocks made up of many amino acids linked together. Our body needs dietary proteins to supply amino acids for the growth and maintenance of cells and tissues. Protein is vital for muscle function and stability. According to The European Food Safety Authority, an adult should consume at least 0.83 grams per kg of body weight proteins daily. Protein can be obtained from plant-based sources such as lentils, legumes, nuts and seeds, and animal-based sources such as meat, dairy, poultry, and fish. An adequate intake of protein is essential for cell and tissue growth; that’s why it’s incredibly important during periods of rapid growth and development such as childhood, pregnancy, and breastfeeding.
- Fats: Fats are a major source of energy. One gram of fats provides 9 Kcal of energy. They help absorb vitamins and minerals. Fats are needed in building cell membranes and sheaths surrounding nerves. It is essential for muscle movement, blood clotting, and inflammation. To support your health, you need some fats in your diet on a daily basis. Some fats are good, and some are bad and should be consumed in moderations. Good fats include monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats can be obtained in higher concentrations from olive, peanut, and canola oils, avocado, nuts, and seeds. Sunflower, corn, soybean, and flaxseed oils and fish are high in monounsaturated fats. Omega 3 fatty acids are one of the most important polyunsaturated fats. According to a study by HSPH faculty, people with higher blood omega 3 fats are linked to a lower risk of premature death. Saturated fats can cause no harm if eaten carefully. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a 10% daily intake of calories from saturated fats. In the United States, the most significant saturated fats sources are pizza, cheese, whole milk, butter, meat and meat products, cookies and doughnuts, and other mixed fast food dishes. Trans fats are also known as bad fats. They are made by a process called hydrogenation, heating liquid vegetable oils in the presence of hydrogen gas and a catalyst. Trans fats can be responsible for coronary heart disease, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and stroke. They can raise the LDL level in the blood, which is bad cholesterol, and cause inflammation. The common sources of trans fats are bakery items, French fries, fried chicken, red meat, frozen pizza, mayonnaise, margarine, shortening, and microwave popcorn.
- Vitamins and Minerals: Vitamins and minerals are considered essential nutrients and known as micronutrients. They can be found in trace amounts in every food but influence our health effectively. They help our bodies performing various functions. They boost the immune system, help in bone and muscle development and growth, repair cellular damage, and heal wounds. Failing to get these trace amounts of nutrients from food can lead to different diseases such as scurvy, blindness, rickets, and heart disease. A well-balanced diet with more fruits, vegetables, lentils, and fish can benefit our body in different ways such as strong bones, strong muscles, strong teeth, improved immune system, and preventing congenital disabilities.
Your body needs proper nutrition to live healthily and function properly, both physically and mentally. You can achieve your nutrition goals by eating a balanced diet with more fresh and plant-based foods and less processed foods. A healthy and clean diet will prevent you from various diseases and health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension which are leading death causes in the world.
Written by: Talha Ahmad Clinical Dietitian