There are certain things that we need to have in order to function properly. Depending on where you are, these are guidelines are known as RDA (Recommended Daily Amounts) or just nutritional guidelines. Either way – they lay out a roadmap of the nutrients, minerals and vitamins that you should be getting every day.
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(Here is an explanation of the units used)
Without good nutrition, our bodies and our minds will not function properly. We will grow sick and eventually, we will die. Heart disease, stroke, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and some cancers are some of the many health issues linked to poor diet.
On top of this, having a poor diet and not engaging in enough physical activity can cause us to gain weight or become obese. Weight gain and obesity bring their own diseases and health issues to be dealt with. At the end of the day – we are what we eat. Evidence has shown that death from any cause could be reduced by about 16 percent (men) and 9 percent (women) with proper diet.
In 2005, the United States Department of Agriculture published its Dietary Guidelines. The USDA recommends nine servings (4.5 cups) of fruits and vegetables daily on a 2,000 calorie a day diet. Fresh, frozen, canned or dried whole fruits, as well as 100% fruit juice and pure fruit juice smoothies, provide the daily fiber we need. Keep in mind that juices or smoothies only count as one portion daily, regardless of how much you drink.
When it comes to vegetable choice, the colors are important, especially dark green, red and orange, which are valuable sources of Vitamin A, C, E, foliates and potassium. Eating these vegetables can have great effects on our health.
Whole grains are an important source of fiber, calcium, magnesium and potassium. Some ideal sources are popcorn, rice, rye, barley, multi-grain breads, potatoes, plantains, sweet potatoes and yams. During refining, most of the bran and some of the germ is removed from whole grains. This means that much dietary fiber; vitamins and minerals are lost in process. Be aware of your fiber intake and you will be able to live a much healthier life.
Refined grains are enriched with folic acid, as well as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and iron before being processed into foods. Eating as little as 3 ounces of whole grains daily reduces your risk of several chronic diseases and may help with weight maintenance. Unfortunately, even though beer is made from grains, it has little nutritional value, but can be high in calories depending on its alcohol and sugar content.
You should consume 3 servings of milk and milk products daily. One serving is one cup of milk or yogurt, 1.5 ounces of cheese or 2 ounces of processed cheese.
Milk products, such as yogurt and cheese, contribute to bone mineral content and density in our skeletons. Fat-free, low-fat and lactose-free milk and milk products also supply the calcium we need.
Meat and other proteins
The fourth food group includes meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, tofu, mycoprotein, textured vegetable protein, beans and lentils. This group provides protein, fiber and iron. Beans and lentils generally lack zinc and provide no vitamin B12 unless fortified. Foods from this group should be eaten in moderate amounts. Frying should be avoided.
Fats are sources of energy and allow our bodies to absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K and carotenoids. They are also used to construct cell membranes and regulate many biological functions. A healthy source of omega-3 fatty acids is fish and shellfish. The good news is that studies have shown a link between the consumption of fatty acids in fish and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
Plant fats are derived from soybean, olive, canola, corn, sunflower and safflower oils, walnuts, and flaxseed. It is suggested that in order to remain healthy, less than 10 percent of our total calories should be from saturated fat. The recommended daily total fat allowance is between 20 and 35% of daily calories for adults, 30 and 35% for children 2 to 3 years of age and 25 and 35% for children and adolescents 4 to 18 years of age.
It’s essential to start reading food labels to find the foods that are lowest in saturated fat, trans fats and cholesterol. If we continue to eat badly and end up putting on weight in certain places of the body – they could even be predictors of possible future diseases.
While in the US we do our best to adhere to the nine servings (4.5 cups) of fruits and vegetables, the UK runs a similar campaign called ‘5-a-day’, which aims to get everybody to eat at least 5 full fruits or vegetables every day. It’s taken on so well that most producers print ‘1 of Your 5 a Day’ on produce that qualifies.
This includes smoothies, fresh fruit juice and large containers of juice from concentrate, however, and takes no account of calorie content or nutritional value.
In order to be certain that you’re eating enough fruit, you want to eat at least five large fruits every day. Avoid too much citrus, as this can give you indigestion.
If you manage this, you should be getting more than enough Vitamin C, B, and D, and plenty of Iron and Potassium (from bananas).
The USDA recommends that we eat Nutrient-dense (ND) foods. These provide large amounts of vitamins and minerals and few calories. Low ND foods provide calories but little in the way of nutrients. Unfortunately, most of the snack foods we crave fall into this category.
The solution is to consume ND foods and only a few foods or drinks with added fats, sugars or alcohol. Unfortunately this also means you have to cut way back on salty foods. It’s all for the best though – the healthier you eat, the healthier you’ll be and the better quality of life you’ll have.