We all want to be healthy and stay young. In order to achieve this, it’s not just the outer beauty that counts, but the way we feel inside matters the most. An enviable, good health will be undoubtedly reflected on the outside, being visible both on our skin and figure. In all this process, diet plays a major role and we need to pay attention to what we eat. Still, if we want to distinguish dangerous ingredients on nutrition labels and bring balance into our diet, understanding basic nutrition terms is more than necessary.
Dietary fiber is not digested by our body, yet its health benefits are tremendous. It normalizes bowel movements, prevents constipation, reduces the risk of heart disease and diabetes, lowers blood cholesterol, and might even prevent colon cancer. There are two types of dietary fiber: soluble that dissolves into water and can be found in oats, beans, apples, peas, carrots, barley, and insoluble, found in whole-wheat flour, nuts, numerous vegetables.
Protein is vital. Why? Protein is used to build new cells, develop and repair tissues, it helps create the antibodies your immune system needs in order to fight disease, and is important in the process of blood clotting. We think, move, see and hear. Without these senses we couldn’t enjoy life. And imagine that proteins are crucial when it comes to our ability to do all these things. A protein is made up of 20 amino acids, known as the building blocks of protein, of which 11 are non essential that can be created by the body and 9 essential that must be taken from food. Sources of proteins? Poultry, meat, fish, eggs, milk represent complete proteins, while veggies, fruits, nuts, grains, and seeds are incomplete sources.
Carbohydrates play a complex role in our diet being the fuel our body needs for proper function. They are not just the main source of energy, but they also protect our muscles, regulate the amount of sugar in our blood, give the necessary nutrients for the friendly bacteria in the intestinal tract that help digestion, assist in the body’s absorption of calcium, and might even help regulate blood pressure and low cholesterol. Still, if they are so healthy, how do carbs take that unwanted shape of unaesthetic love handles? Well, when you eat more carbohydrates than your body needs, the excess will be stored as fat. Besides, when eaten in larger quantities, carbs can increase the risk for heart disease and diabetes and can encourage weight gain. Carbohydrates come in forms of sugars, fibers, and starches. Good sources of carbs come from fruits, vegetables, beans and whole-grains. Avoid refined carbohydrates from pastries, refined grains, white bread, and other processed foods.
Simple carbohydrates include sugars such as fructose (fruit sugar), glucose, dextrose, galactose, sucrose (table sugar), maltose. Simple carbs are broken into glucose faster than complex carbohydrates and so they cannot provide sustained energy throughout the day. This type of carbohydrates is not highly recommended since many specialists have related them with a high risk of weight gain and obesity due to the fact that they can be found in numerous processed foods. Still, there are also natural sources of simple carbs such as apples, berries, pears, and grapefruits. Therefore, always go for a fruit rather than refined foods that might contain some of the aforementioned simple carbs.
Complex carbohydrates are considered as being healthier than the simple ones. They are higher in fiber and provide a gradual, even stream of energy, give a feeling of being full for longer, and also balance the blood sugar. The best thing you can do is to consume foods in their most natural state. Complex carbohydrates can be found in brown rice, potatoes, beans, chick peas, pasta, barley, oatmeal, maize, buckwheat, wholegrain flours and breads.
Saturated fats are found in many foods such as butter, ice cream, coconut oil, cocoa butter, palm oil, but they primarily come from animal sources, including meat and dairy products. These fats are usually solid at room temperature and are added to different fried and baked foods and have been related to an increase of LDL which is the bad cholesterol.
Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and they are healthier than saturated ones. Still, don’t forget that moderation is the key towards a balanced diet! Saturated fats contain the famous essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6) that can only be taken from food, especially oily fish. Sources of unsaturated fats are oily fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel), avocados, olives, nuts, seeds, olive oil, sunflower oil, canola oil.
More dangerous than saturated fats are the trans fats as besides increasing bad cholesterol they also boost triglycerides. They can be found in processed foods, margarine, ready meals and fast food. Trans fats are in fact an artificial fat that has no nutritional value whatsoever, its main purpose is to give products a long shelf life. You can spot them on the food label as ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable oil’ and ‘vegetable shortening.’ Studies have shown that trans fats might increase the risk of heart disease, strokes and fertility problems.
Photos: Thinkstock Photos