Everyone needs the right amount of macronutrients, micronutrients, and of course, water in order to survive and thrive. Macronutrients are the nutrients that your body needs in large amounts. These are carbohydrates, protein, and fat. On the other hand, micronutrients are the nutrients that your body needs in small amounts: vitamins and minerals. The main difference between the two is that vitamins can be broken down by heat, air or acid, while minerals remain intact.
The best foods to keep you healthy consist of a balanced diet of whole foods from different sources, ensuring that you get the right amounts of macronutrients and micronutrients. Read on to find out more about these essential foods to keep you healthy.
Carbohydrates. Carbs are the fuel that keeps the body moving. When carbs are ingested, the body turns them into glucose and stores it as an energy reserve, ready to be fired up when needed. Anything that isn’t used is stored as fat.
When it comes to carbs, the best healthy foods to keep you full are those are unprocessed and unrefined, like whole-wheat or multi-grain bread, brown rice, and starchy vegetables like sweet potato. Refined carbs and sugary treats like cookies, white rice, and pastries can provide an energy boost like other carbs but they have a high glycemic index, which means they cause blood sugar to spike and then crash, and leave you feeling hungry sooner. Along with these foods, you should also avoid sugary beverages, which are essentially empty calories that have been shown to cause weight gain over time.
Protein. Known as the building block of muscle, protein is important for tissue growth and repair. This is why you see fitness buffs guzzling protein shakes after a tough workout; they need to replenish their protein stores to help muscles recover faster.
There are two types of protein: animal and plant protein. Animal proteins are known as complete proteins, meaning they have all the amino acids the body needs. However, you should make sure to choose leaner sources that are low on saturated fat, and those that aren’t processed. Poultry is a good option.
Plant proteins generally do not have all the amino acids you need, so you’ll have to mix and match to find the right balance. Plant protein sources include legumes and nuts.
Your protein needs depend on factors like lifestyle and activity level. Pregnant and breastfeeding women as well as athletes need more protein than the average person. The U.S. recommended daily allowance is about 0.8g per kilogram of bodyweight (that’s less than 46g of protein per day for someone who weighs 57kg).
Fat. Some people may still have the misconception that cutting out fat from their diet will also mean reducing fat from their bodies. Hence, they may reach for products labeled “low-fat.” However, such products often have added sugars to make up for the lost flavor, so they may not be as good for you as you think.
Fat isn’t the bad guy. Our bodies need the monosaturated and polyunsaturated kind, which contain beneficial fatty acids like omega-3. Good fats help protein do its job, store energy and nutrients (vitamins and minerals), and protect vital organs. Go for healthy oils like olive oil, peanut oil, and canola oil, and foods like avocados, nuts, and fatty fish like salmon and sardines.
Vitamins. There are 13 vitamins in all, each with a different role ranging from safeguarding your eyesight and immune system to keeping bones strong to ensuring that your nerves, blood, and, brain stay in tiptop condition. These vitamins are Vitamin A, C, D, E, K, and the B-complex vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, B6, B12, and folate). Sometimes, certain conditions require an increase in your intake of certain vitamins—for example, Vitamin C may help build a strong immune system, especially helpful during flu season, while additional folate is beneficial for expectant mothers as it aids in the healthy growth and development of the fetus. Eating a wide variety of whole foods ensures that you get a good amount of vitamins in your diet.
Minerals. According to NHS Inform, a leading health information service portal in Scotland, the primary functions of minerals are building strong bones and teeth, controlling body fluids, and converting food into energy. Some of the minerals are bodies need include calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium. These are found in such foods as meat, fish, dairy, fruits, and vegetables.
Water. Staying hydrated is important to keep the body up and running. Water helps maintain the balance of bodily fluids (we’re mostly made up of water, after all), powers up muscles, helps kidneys, and helps maintain regular bowel movement, among other functions. While the usual advice is to drink eight glasses a day, the best approach is to really listen to your body and drink when you’re thirsty. The water found in food can also count towards your daily water intake. Having a hard time determining if you’re adequately hydrated? Do the urine test: If it looks very dark, that means you need to hydrate more.
Remember that the best foods to keep you healthy consists of a combination of nutrient-dense whole foods from a variety of sources. If you still feel like you need a nutrient boost even with a balanced diet or have special needs, talk with your doctor about taking supplements.