To a very large extent, your health is defined by what you eat; there’s no doubt about that. But eating well has different meanings to different people. For many of us, whenever we are told to eat well or to eat healthy, we find ourselves in a quandary because we’ve often heard eating well is eating less of fats and sugar while other times, we’ve heard eating well to be eating more of certain foods. Really, you shouldn’t be uncertain about what good nutrition is. As described by the World Health Organization, good nutrition is a composite of eating adequate, well-balanced diet and regular exercise (link to exercise article). But then what is an adequate, well-balanced diet? Let’s take a look at what this is all about.
To fully exhaust the meaning of an adequate, well-balanced diet, we will consider some less-spoken-about details of an adequate, well-balanced diet using six letters, A, B, C, D, M and V.
A for Adequate/Adequacy
For every food you eat, there may be some amount of carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals in that food. Your body requires a certain amount of each of these nutrients for proper function of your body’s systems and processes. Should you eat foods that supply less than what your body needs, you will be in deficiency of that nutrient. It is of great importance to eat foods that provide your body with adequate amounts of nutrients. This is quite a difficult thing to do sometimes as a lot of factors, such as sex, age, body weight, height and physical activity level, determine how much of a particular nutrient your body needs. Sex has an influence on how your nutrient needs because generally, men and women have different physiologies; their bodies work differently so men tend to have more muscle mass than women. So the amount of nutrients that would be adequate for a woman may not be adequate for a man. Studies have shown that as you grow older, your energy requirements decrease while your protein requirements may remain the same or in many cases may increase because more protein especially in old age contributes to better bone health.
With your weight and height, your body mass index (BMI) can be calculated. The BMI is an indicator that shows how you are heavy for your height or light you are for your height and based on that, your nutrient needs can be estimated. Generally, people who are more physically active may require more of certain nutrients than those who are less physically active.
To help make things a bit easier, most packaged food products with food labels on them provide information on how much of your body’s nutrient needs can be met by the food item. Often, this is presented as a percentage of the daily nutrient needs of an individual that requires 2000kcal/day.
B for Balance
Good nutrition requires that you eat meals that contain energy-giving foods, body-building foods and protective foods. Energy-giving foods are foods which supply energy to the body and such foods include sugar, bread, pasta, cakes, biscuits, roots and tubers (cassava, cocoyam, yam, potatoes, taro, etc.) and grains and cereals (maize, wheat, oats, millet, barley, rice, amaranth, rye, quinoa, etc.) supply the body with the energy needed as well as some fibre which is necessary for easy bowel movement and the prevention of certain cancers. Fats and oils are also suppliers of energy. Sources of fats and oils are margarine, butter, lard, groundnuts, palm nut, cod liver, soybean and other oily seeds. Fats and oils are also necessary for the transport of some vitamins in the body. As the body performs its normal processes, it goes through some sort of wear and tear so it is important to include body-building foods in your diet to provide your body with the building blocks needed to replace and repair worn-out tissues. Body-building are mainly foods that provide proteins. Examples of such foods are milk, eggs, meat, beans, fish, poultry, etc. Protective foods, just as their name suggests, protect the body from illnesses. Such foods are rich in vitamins, minerals and high quality proteins. Protective foods may also contain antioxidants (chemicals that prevent the cells of the body from ‘corroding’). Examples of protective foods are citrus fruits (such as orange and tangerine), vegetables (such as carrots, cabbage and sweet pepper), eggs and milk.
Eating a balanced-diet would provide your body with adequate amounts of nutrients which would foster normal growth and development as each of these nutrients would be present to play their roles in the body.
C for Calorie Control
It is important to control your intake of calories. Calorie is a unit of measuring energy. The energy in food is often expressed as calories. The more energy-giving foods you eat, the more calories you supply to your body. To help avoid becoming overweight, your energy intake must be equal to your energy expenditure so that your body does not store up excess calories as fat. What this means is that you have to expend whatever energy you get from the food you eat through the body’s normal processes when at rest, exercise, physical activity and mental activity. When your energy intake is equal to your energy expenditure, you’re said to be in energy balance; being in energy balance you to control your body weight. When your energy intake is more than your energy expenditure, you’re said to be in positive energy balance; this is where people start to gain weight. When your energy intake is less than your energy expenditure, you’re in negative energy balance; in this state, you begin to lose weight.
To help you control your intake of calories, include foods that are high in fibre to your diet. Foods high in fibre will make you full quicker and longer. Also, in humans, fibre is not digestible so it doesn’t add to your calorie intake. This is much better than starving yourself in an attempt to lose weight.
D for Nutrient Density
Foods that are nutrient dense are those that supply more than only calories. It is very important that you choose such foods because these will furnish your body with the needed nutrients for proper growth. Foods that supply only calories are often referred to as empty calories; they provide nothing more than calories. So instead of taking a bottle of a carbonated drink which is packed with refined sugar and very little to no other nutrients, you should take a fruit which provides natural sugars as a source of energy, fibre and enough vitamins and minerals which are essential for the normal functioning of your body. Eating a good balance of foods that supply moderate amount of calories and other nutrients is a way of maintaining a healthy body weight.
M for Moderation
The fact that a particular food is good for your health doesn’t mean you should abuse it. Eating too much of energy-giving foods or eating large portion sizes could result in obesity and other non-communicable diseases like diabetes and hypertension. Also, excessive intake of vitamins and minerals could cause nutrient toxicities leading to life-threatening conditions. For instance, it has been proven that though the orange pigment in carrots provides vitamin A, excessive intake of carrots could result in having an orange skin. Also, it is important not to overeat. Eat just enough to your fill not forgetting your energy balance so that your body doesn’t push the excess calories into storage as fat. Always be sure to practice moderation.
Additionally, some people who want to build muscles abuse the use of some protein supplements. It is important not to forget that too much of everything is bad. You may use these supplements but do it in moderation.
V for Variety
Variety is the spice of life. You have to eat a variety of foods to get all the nutrients from the various sources. It is advised that you eat different colours of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. These perform different roles in the body but fruits and vegetables contain these in different amounts. Eating only one type of fruit or vegetable will provide enough of only the vitamins and minerals that the fruit or vegetable is rich in. On the other hand, if you eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, you get an assortment of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which would perform their different roles to ensure good health.
Good nutrition must involve all the details discussed above; regular physical exercise, staying physically active during the day, ensuring the foods you eat supply adequate amounts of nutrients to meet your body’s requirements, eating balanced diet, controlling the amount of calories you eat and consuming nutrient-dense foods as well as eating an assortment of foods in moderation. Practising these consistently over time will promote good health.
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[DOWNLOAD] A simplified PDF version (SUMMARY) of 6 Letters to Consider for Good Nutrition for easy reference when you need it.