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Beginner's Guide to Healthy Nutrition

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 3 8

Find Healthy Nutrients in Fruits and Vegetables

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Healthy nutrition and healthy diets are important for good health. The task of choosing the proper foods for good health is easier if one has the basic and simplified information for separating healthy and unhealthy foods. One factor that makes this task difficult is that healthy and unhealthy foods are components of each of the major food groups. To simplify the information on healthy and unhealthy foods, this presentation is focused on food groups. The six classes of foods presented here are not the same as the standard food groups seen in the food pyramid, but they help to simplify the recognition of the healthy and unhealthy foods:

  • Fats and oils

  • Sweeteners

  • Carbohydrates

  • Fruits

  • Protein and amino acids

  • Vegetables

It is important to recognize the qualities that make foods healthy or unhealthy in each group. For both the beginners and experienced health-conscious dieters, it is very important to recognize that good oils and fats are indispensable for good health. It is also important that the dieter pay more attention to the management of foods from the first three groups (fats and oil, sweeteners and carbohydrates). In this presentation, more attention is directed to these three groups because they pose more problems for dieters.

General Characteristics of a Healthy Food

In today's dietary “jungle”, healthy foods are often equated with foods that help you to lose weight. This view is incorrect and myopic. It may even lead to unhealthy nutritional practices. Therefore, weight loss is not a primary factor here for assessing the merits of foods. It must be pointed out, however, that healthy foods will help you to maintain a healthy body weight and a physiologically sound body. The three basic points used here to assess the health-supporting qualities of foods are:

  • Does the food support or improve the normal physiology?

  • Does the food impair the body's energy metabolic machinery?

  • Does the food produce significant toxicity or impair the body's ability to maintain good health?

A Balanced Diet is not Synonymous with a Healthy Diet

Although some health-conscious dieters tend to equate a balanced diet with healthy nutrition, this equation is invalid. A diet comprising of a variety of harmful foods may be balanced, but it will not provide a healthy nutrition. In our present environment where pesticides, food additives and adulterants take the center stage in our culinary concerns, it is easy to see the mistake of equating a balanced diet with a healthy nutrition. It is also important to recognize that some toxic substances in foods can be harmful at very low concentrations.

Fats and Oils

Consumption of fats and oils requires more guidance than any other food group. This group contains foods that strongly support good health and those that are extremely harmful. Trans fats (hydrogenated oils) and long chain fatty acids are unhealthy. Trans fats are the worst foods in this group. Trans fats are arguably the worst foods in all food groups. Most fats that are solid at room temperatures are trans fats. They should be avoided. Note that there are significant exemptions to this generalization. Coconut oil, a health-promoting oil, is an example of such an exemption.

The good fats and oils are the unsaturated oils (such as alpha omega 3 fatty acid), and the saturated short-chain and medium-chain fatty acids such as coconut oil. In general, most plant-based oils are healthy foods if they are not transformed into bad oils by hydrogenation or other refining processes. Some foods with healthy oils include:

  • almonds

  • walnuts

  • hazel nuts

  • peanuts

  • coconuts

  • flax seeds

  • avocados

  • shrimp

  • tuna

  • sardines

  • krill

Sweeteners

Sweeteners are a group that is poorly managed by most people. In the past few decades many health-conscious individuals have abandoned good sweeteners for the worst ones. Some made this change with the expectations of losing weight, unaware that they were actually promoting obesity and body fat. The epidemic of obesity of modern times may be a reflection of this bad choice in sweeteners.

The best sweeteners are the unrefined, naturally occurring sweeteners such as honey, maple sugar and stevia. The unhealthy sweeteners are artificial sweeteners and refined sugars. Among the unhealthy sweeteners, artificial sweeteners are the worst in terms of body fat production. The low caloric values of artificial sweeteners help to effectively mask their adepogenic effects (fat making effects). The mechanisms for their adepogenic effect are not fully understood, but it is suggested that artificial sweeteners may disrupt the hunger control mechanisms so that you end up eating more food. It has also been shown that they can lower insulin sensitivity, a change that promotes sluggish metabolism and increased fat synthesis and storage.

Carbohydrates (Carbs)

The management of carbohydrates in a healthy diet is not as problematic as managing fats and sweeteners. The bad carbs are carbs with high glycemic index values. These are usually the refined carbs. When you consume these high glycemic carbs your plasma insulin level will go up sharply. This can lead to obesity if the insulin spikes are frequent or sustained. In general, bad carbs tend to adversely affect the energy metabolic machinery and your body's energy management system. Some of the adverse effects of refined carbs can generally be controlled by including adequate amounts of dietary fibers in the diet.

Fruits

Fruits generally support and promote good health. They are easily managed in healthy diets. Just eat them in moderation if they are not contaminated with harmful pesticides, food additives and contaminants. Some dieters often raise concerns about the sugar contents of fruits, but this concern is questionably grounded.

Most fruits have low glycemic index values. They generally do not produce spikes in the plasma levels of insulin which lead to body fat synthesis and storage. Some nutrients and elements in the fruits help the body to utilize the sugar without producing excess body fat. For example, dietary fibers (soluble and non-soluble fibers), help to slow down the rate of glucose absorption from the small intestine. This keeps the anabolic effects of insulin under control so that conversion of glucose to fat and storage of fat are minimized.

Protein and Amino Acids

Proteins and amino acids are an important and necessary component of a healthy diet. When consumed in moderation, proteins and amino acids do not pose health problems. In spite of this, it is good to recognize some of the attributes of quality proteins.

Quality proteins are proteins that contain all of the eight essential amino acids. Your body breaks down the consumed proteins to their amino acid constituents, and uses these amino acids to build human proteins. These proteins support the proper functioning of the body. Quality proteins are also called complete proteins.

The proteins that do not contain all of the eight essential amino acids are called incomplete proteins. If your body does not have adequate amount of essential amino acids to support the incomplete proteins in building human proteins, then the incomplete proteins are used for energy production or stored as body fat.

Quality proteins are abundantly found in animal sources of food; whereas, incomplete proteins are generally found in plant sources of protein. The non-animal sources of complete proteins are few, and they include quinoa (the supper grain), mushrooms and soy beans.

Vegetables

 Vegetables are high nutrient and low energy foods. They contain significant amounts of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and numerous other beneficial constituents. In particular, they contain dietary fibers, which can be viewed as the foundation of a healthy diet. They can be consumed in large quantities without adverse effects (provided that they are pesticide-free). Ranking the vegetables for their health benefits is complex. A better ranking is achievable if the vegetables are ranked in terms of how effectively they resolve specific health concerns such as:

  • Effects on vision

  • Effects on the immune system

  • Anti-cancer effects

  • Effects on hemopoisis (blood cell production)

  • Effects on cardiovascular health

This specific health effect-based ranking of vegetables, however, is beyond the scope of the work presented here.


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Comments

Feb 13, 2012 9:56pm
Aleo
Such an important subject, and well done on your featured article.
Feb 13, 2012 11:34pm
onwoc234
Thank you for the nice comment.
Feb 14, 2012 1:47pm
deyuan168
I wonder why the FDA still approves artificial sweeteners such as sucralose, despite there were studies out there to prove their harm to human wellbeing. Anyway, thanks for sharing this wonderful article!
Feb 15, 2012 10:21am
onwoc234
I also wonder about this myself. But I am hopeful that in time FDA will review and strengthen its guidelines for approving foods and food additives.
Feb 14, 2012 4:39pm
Klaask83
I really enjoyed the information in this article! Well written and very informative. I especially appreciate you including lists and examples, as well as speaking to the "dietary jungle," isn't that the truth! So much out there to learn to keep our bodies healthy! Thanks
Feb 15, 2012 10:28am
onwoc234
Thank you for the insightful comment.
Mar 2, 2012 9:17pm
WebAddict
Thanks for the tips!
Mar 3, 2012 9:33pm
onwoc234
You are welcomed. Thanks for reading the article.
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Bibliography

  1. Lee S Gross et al "Increased Consumption of Refined Carbohydrates and the Epidemic of Type 2 Diabetes in the United States: an Ecologic Assessment." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 79950 (2004): 774-779,.
  2. Asids. R. T. Hollman. "The Slow Discovery of the Importance of Omega 3 Essential Fatty." Nutr.. 128 (1998): 4275 - 4333.
  3. Dhingra R, Sullivan L, Jacques PF, Wang TJ, Fox CS, Meigs JB, D’Agostino RB, Gaziano JM, Vasan RS. "oft drink consumption and risk of developing cardiometabolic risk factors and the metabolic syndrome in middle-aged adults in the community.." Circulation. 116 (2007): 480 – 488.
  4. Pamela L. Lutsey et al "Dietary Intake and the Development of the Metabolic Syndrome The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study." Circulation. 117 (2006): 754-761.

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