By CAREY STITES
A nutritious, well-balanced diet coupled with physical activity lays the groundwork for superior health. Healthy eating encompasses consuming complex carbohydrates, lean protein and heart-healthy fats along with vitamins, minerals, water and fiber in the foods you eat. Balanced nutrition helps you optimize your body’s daily functions, promote a favorable body weight and can contribute to disease prevention. Unsure where to start? Here are a few tips to get you started on your journey to better health and wellness.
Consume balanced meals
Complex carbohydrates provide slow and steady fuel. Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits and starchy vegetables contain fiber which helps to control sharp blood sugar spikes and lows which prevents you from feeling depleted and tired. Your body needs a moderate amount of carbohydrates to ensure adequate amounts of fiber and water to prevent constipation and dehydration. Good choices of complex carbohydrates include fruit, beans, whole grains and starchy vegetables such as peas and edamame beans.
Protein is the building block for bones, muscles, skin and blood in the body and is essential for both muscle and tendon repair. When your workouts involve resistance training, more protein is required to rebuild and repair for muscle growth and development. The amount consumed per kilogram of body weight varies from person to person and should be high quality and lean, such as chicken, lean beef, pork, eggs, nuts and fish.
Monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, flax seed oil, canola oil and avocados are the healthiest fats to consume. Monounsaturated fats have been linked to a decrease in heart disease and stroke. Strive to obtain fat calories from these healthier fats and oils than from unhealthy options such as lard or deep-fried foods.
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals will play an important factor in your mental performance and physical endurance. Your extra energy requirements will also mean that you will possibly require additional vitamins and minerals. Ideally, these should be provided from a healthy and well balanced diet of fresh and whole foods. A basic multivitamin can be used to bridge the gap between daily intake and requirements.
Fruits and vegetables provide a plethora of vitamins and minerals necessary for ideal body performance. For example, sweet potatoes contain one of the highest concentrations of vitamin A which plays a key role in immunity and vision; additionally, carrots are a great source of vitamin A. Vitamin C is an important antioxidant and immune system booster and can be found in sweet red peppers, oranges, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cantaloupe. Folate prevents birth defects and builds new tissue and protein within the body and can be found in dark leafy green vegetables such as spinach.
Dark leafy greens including spinach, kale and Swiss chard are high in calcium, potassium and magnesium. Calcium and magnesium promote healthy bones and teeth and are required for normal muscle, nerve and gland function. Mushrooms, carrots and potatoes are high in potassium which assists in proper nerve performance, blood pressure regulation and muscle contractions.
Water consumption is vital for everyone, but even more so when engaging in physical activity. A good rule of thumb is to aim for at least two liters, or eight cups, per day. Sugar-free water enhancers, sports drinks and fruit juices (to an extent), can be counted as fluids, but be warned that caffeine and alcohol do not, as these will dehydrate you. Water should be consumed evenly throughout the day to keep fluid levels up and your body evenly hydrated.
Up the Fiber
Fiber is good for us. Not only can dietary fiber lower cholesterol, it also helps keep us trim and feeling full. Our recommended total dietary fiber intake per day should be about 25-30 grams a day; currently, most Americans only consume an average of about 15 grams a day. With that in mind, the challenge is how to increase fiber painlessly into your daily diet. It is important to know how much fiber you currently consume; keep a tally of how much fiber you eat in one day and devise a plan to increase your intake if needed. When adding fiber to your diet, increase water intake as well and add fiber gradually to allow the gastrointestinal tract time to adapt.
Not only is fruit an excellent source of vitamins and complex carbohydrates, fruit contains an ample amount of fiber. Have fruit several times a day with your morning meal, as a snack or for dessert.
Additionally, enjoy your vegetables. Vegetables are low in calories and high in fiber. Sneak in vegetables at lunch, in soups, as appetizers and with dinner to increase fiber intake.
Balanced, nourishing nutrition coupled with regular physical activity is vital for optimal health. Filling up on the right foods can improve your mental health and enhance your physical performance on a daily basis.
Carey Stites, MS, RD, LD, CPT, is a registered and licensed dietitian working for Wellstone Health Partners in Harker Heights. Carey has been a practicing dietitian since 2001, with experience in both outpatient and inpatient medical nutrition therapy and sports nutrition. Carey is also an AFAA certified group fitness instructor and personal trainer; She has promoted health and wellness through presentations, classes, writing and cooking demonstrations all over Texas.