These are just general nutritional guidelines. Since there is variation between individuals, there are individual needs. These suggestions should create a healthier life for most people; however, some people will have to consult a nutritionist for a diet to fit their needs. Also, it should be noted that being in good health does not equal being the media's image of beauty. Most people cannot fulfill the Super-Model or Super-Ripped image that's often seen in advertisements or on TV. In fact, some people are most healthy when they are carrying a higher-than-average level of body fat recent scientific evidence suggests that being slightly over-weight (not over-fat) may, in fact, be more healthy than being average weight or underweight.
Please remember, these nutritional guidelines are not a weight loss guide, although many people will lose weight if they are followed. These are guidelines for more healthy living, and that means eating this way should improve your energy levels, your immune system, your ability to heal, and your mood! It is all to important to emphasize this point: eating and exercising correctly will do you no good for being healthy if you are not happy with the genetics you were born with, in other words, you may carry additional body fat naturally and it's unhealthy to try and lose it. Since mental health is as important as physical health it is vital to realize that you need to be happy with yourself! While exercise is very important to good health, to get into optimal shape a proper nutrition regimen must be mantained. As the old cliche goes, "You are what you eat" more specifically, your body is fueled by what you eat, and your body is built and repaired by the macronutrients you eat. Like any responsible car owner knows, if you put dirty lead-based fuel into your car or build it with bad parts it runs less smoothly, and the car is more prone to failure than if you use unleaded fuel or good parts. This is a great analogy to the human body, if you eat dirty foods, your body will not perform as well as it could and it will be prone to illness and injury.
The human body is designed, or has evolved to run well on certain fuels. Unfortunately, McDonald's french fries are not it. When considering the environment which our ancestors lived in, it is easy to see what types of foods our bodies are meant to be fed. For example, the carbohydrates that they ate were mostly berries, nuts, beans and legumes. All of these are very high in fiber and low in sugars. In contrast, the typical western diet is low in fiber and high in sugars. Low-fiber diet is believed to cause many health problems, including chronic constipation, hiatal hernias, intestinal infections, colon cancer, and digestion problems. High sugar diets are believed to be the leading cause of adult onset diabetes as well as obesity. These problems are almost entirely absent in "hunting and gathering" cultures that eat much like our ancestors ate.
Our ancestors also hunted or fished for meat. Unlike farm raised animals, hunted animals and fish are much more lean, or have less fat. Fat is not necessarily a bad thing and the human body needs a certain amount, and recent research suggests that plant fat (oils) and fish fats are extremely healthy; however, animal fat or saturated fat is unhealthy in large quantities and is one of the leading factors in heart disease and obesity.
In fact, our ancestors most likely got their fat intake mostly from plants. The unsaturated fats in plants have been found to increase metabolism, and improve the efficiency of food as a fuel source. This is much like what an octane booster does in a car, it helps to break down the fuel into a usable source while wasting less of it.
Like a car, the human body needs many things to run well. The engine in the car needs to have clean oil, it lubricates the engine and allows it to use fuel more efficiently. In the human body, water does much the same thing. Adequate water intake (hydration) is vital for the human body to use its fuel. For all useful purposes, hydration specifically refers to drinking water and no other liquid. Other liquids contain impurities that can interfere with water intake, they can also be consumed, but drinking water alone is vital. A good rule of thumb in water consumption is to have 1 cup of water per 15 lbs of body weight. The water intake should also be spread throughout the day, and is easy to attain if you drink a glass or two of water with every meal.
It is a good idea to eat at least 5 meals a day. These shouldn't be the standard sized meals, but smaller meals. Eating about as much calories as you eat in 3 meals spread over 5 or more meals a day keeps the body fueled. Unlike a car, the body runs better when it is constantly fueled. This is because our body is more advanced than a car, and it will store the energy as fat instead of using it, depending on the conditions it is given. That happens to be (not counting the time asleep), for the average male, more than 4 hours without a meal, and for females, more than 3 hours without a meal.
All meals do not have to be created equal. A meal can consist of a 120 calorie energy bar, or it can be a 400 calorie sandwich. The important thing is to stop eating when you feel satiated (no longer hungry) instead of stuffed (full), and to eat the right kinds of food.
The right kinds of food are conveniently provided by the US Department of Agriculture in their recent revision of the food pyramid. In this revision, the different food types are better separated. Such as, whole wheats (high fiber, low sugar) are separated from white grains (low fiber, high sugar), and lean meats (poultry, tuna, lean beef) are separated from fatty meats (most red meats, bacon).
In the new food pyramid nutritional intake is as follows:
- Whole Grains - Eat at most meals, no limit
- Plant Oils - No limit
- Vegetables - In abundance
- Fruits, 2-3 times daily
- Nuts and Legumes, 1-3 times daily
- Poultry, Eggs, Fish, 0-2 times daily
- Dairy or Calcium, 1-2 times daily
- Red Meat - Eat sparingly
- White Pastas, Potatoes, White Rice, Sweets and White Breads - Eat sparingly
As you can see, the new food pyramid covers many of the principles covered in the "body as a car" section. First, it emphasizes whole grains and vegetables which are high in fiber and low in sugars (aka complex carbohydrates). It also suggests our octane booster, or the plant oils. It shows to rarely eat starchy foods, like white pastas; this is because they contain a lot of sugars (aka simple carbohydrates) which are correlated with diabetes and obesity. As with most things, there are some exceptions in the food pyramid left out most likely for simplicity. For example, it focuses on high-fat, high-calorie nuts as protein sources, ignoring the use of leaner cuts red meat of which contain less fat than poultry and for which no health problems have been proven, and suggests that the consumption of no non-dairy animal products is healthy, when in fact such a diet tends to be lacking in iron
Ideally one should not aim to lose weight (lowing your BMI) but rather to create an ideal body fat percentage (see table below) based on there age, build and individual needs. Aside from fatty tissue, the majority of one's weight comes from muscle tissue(s), bones, and organs (body composition is the percentage of "other stuff" to fat within the body). Losing muscle mass is not a very good idea especially when trying to reduce body fat percentage. If one is trying to become healthy the more muscle mass you have, the more energy you expend even while resting, as well, muscle mass helps to protect your body from injury, thusly having adequate muscle mass can assist in maintaining a healthy body composition. As a positive side-effect, requiring more energy to sustain, which, in turn the body can draw from stored body fat and give you a "thinner" look. It is important to remember that safe fat loss should not involve the loss of more than 1-2 pounds (0.5-1kg) per week. In most cases, if one is losing weight very rapidly (more than 2 pounds or 1kg per week), then most the lost weight is due to lost water. In this case, the lost weight is very easily replaced once you rehydrate yourself.
As well, losing more than 1-2 lbs per week is counter-productive. In addition to the fat that's lost is atrophy of muscle (losing protein within the muscle fibers thus decreasing the mass of muscles), and losing muscle mass lowers your metabolism and causes the body to go into "starvation mode" in which it stores food as fat more easily. This might result in weight loss, but it will also result in a higher percentage of body fat and worse overall health. It will also be temporary, and will most likely result in greater fat and weight gains.
It should be mentioned again though: weight loss should not be an important factor in a healthy lifestyle. The only concern should be good health and being happy. Being in good health requires proper exercise and nutrition of the body and the mind. To achieve this is to change your lifestyle which is not just "going on a diet". It requires learning about nutrition and exercising, making goals and a plan for those goals, and following through with them.
One last thing to wrap up the basics about nutrition: sunshine. Sunshine is a must: it has been proven to improve mood, prevent depression, and produce vitamin D! In fact, there is no way to get an adequate amount of vitamin D from food alone, you must be out in the sun to produce it. Sunlight chemically reacts with your skin to make vitamin D.
Though contrary to popular belief, being outside in the sun "unprotected" is healthy for you in small doses. These doses range from between 10 and 45 minutes a day, depending on your skin tone and UV index. The rule of thumb is, the darker your skin tone, the more time you need to spend in the sun for adequate vitamin D production. Of course, remember that prolonged exposure to the sun unprotected is dangereous, and for anything longer than this time period you should wear sunscreen.