Health Checkup: Eating Healthy

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10/30/2008

Despite what fad diets would have you believe, we all need a balance of carbohydrates, protein, fat, fiber and vitamins to sustain a healthy body. So what are considered good carbohydrates, fat and protein choices to eat on a daily basis?

CARBOHYDRATES — are foods that include starches, sugar and fiber. These foods provide the body with the fuel it needs to fight infection when sick and to provide energy for physical activity by breaking down into glucose, a type of sugar our cells use as an energy source.

Good carbohydrates include whole grains, fruits and vegetables. These are also called complex carbohydrates and are digested more slowly. This keeps your blood sugar levels from rising and falling too quickly, helping you to get full quicker and feel full longer. Fruits and vegetables are low in calories and are packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber. This is the one food group you should try eating with every meal, and which should be your first choice for a snack. The antioxidants and other nutrients in these foods help protect against developing certain types of cancer and other diseases.

Bad carbohydrates include white flour, refined white sugar, white bread and white rice. They digest so quickly that they cause spikes in blood sugar levels, both high and low. This results in feeling hungry sooner and gaining weight.

PROTEINS — are broken down during digestion into the 20 amino acids, which are the basic building blocks our bodies need to maintain our cells, tissues and organs. A lack of protein in our diet can result in slow growth in children, weakened immune response to infection and weakening of our heart and lungs.

Protein sources include meats, poultry, fish, milk, eggs, cheese and plant-based proteins such as beans and nuts. Meats and dairy products also contain bad fats which should be consumed in small portions, or substituted with healthier versions of these foods (see FATS).

FATS — are not necessarily unhealthy. It’s the type of fat that matters in addition to how much you consume.

The bad fats include foods with saturated fats, primarily found in red meat and whole milk dairy products. Substitute these with lean meats, skinless poultry, and low-fat or non-fat dairy products. Foods with trans-fat are also unhealthy, and are found in candies, cookies, snack foods and fried foods. Both types of fat raise the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. This is considered the “bad” cholesterol that increases your risk of coronary heart disease.

The good fats are the monounsaturated fats which are found in plant oils such as olive oil, canola oil and peanut oil. Other good sources are avocados and nuts such as almonds and pecans. Polyunsaturated fats are another good type of fat, and include fatty fish (such as salmon), fish oils, sunflower, corn and soybean oils and walnuts. Both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease. Also, certain polyunsaturated fats are believed to improve your mood and help prevent dementia.

Taking a multivitamin once a day that has 100% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of vitamins and minerals is important for all children, men and women. Nutritionists call multivitamins micronutrients to distinguish them from the macronutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins and fats. So a single multivitamin taken once a day provides all the micronutrients your body needs for the proper processing of macronutrients. Think of it this way: If macronutrients are the gas in your engine, then micronutrients are like the motor oil that keeps your engine running smoothly.

Please remember that this article is just an introduction into eating healthier, and your doctor may be able to provide you with a more detailed list of healthy foods for your daily consumption.