Food 101: Understanding What You’re Eating

Counting calories is a time-honored tradition for most persons who have ever been on a diet. The math is simple — if you want to lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn. Some would also say that you can do it the other way around and burn more calories while maintaining the same caloric intake. However, that might be the less effective path.

When trying to maintain a healthy weight and a good fitness level, you should be even more worried about the source of calories. If you would take 2,000-calories worth of sugar, and 2,000-calories worth of green vegetables and lean meat, which one would be better for your health? The latter, of course, because there’s nothing except sugar in sugar, and it’s not good for you at all.

Food Is More Than Calories

Simple sugars are necessary for our bodies to work. Glucose is a simple sugar, and if the levels of glucose in your blood fall too low, you will be in serious trouble. Table sugar is made from two simple sugars, so one would imagine that it is useful for our organism. After all, it can feed it, and it has a caloric value.

The problem here is that our body needs more than just energy. Also, caloric value isn’t the best way to describe food, especially not the quality of the food. To stay healthy and have a balanced diet, you need food that contains all three macronutrients — fats, protein, and carbohydrates, which are a mix of simple and complex sugars.

Understanding Macronutrients

Each of these macronutrients has a role it plays in our body. Carbs provide us with energy. Complex carbs are especially important because they ensure a steady release of sugar and help you avoid sugar spikes. Proteins build your tissue and provide important support to many processes in your body. Fats keep you warm, store energy, and help ingestion of other important nutrients.

So, if you would eat 2,000 calories of sugar a day, nothing good would come out of it. If you would eat veggies and meat, or veggies and meat substitutes, the situation would be much different. Your body would have the macronutrient it needs, and it would be able to function well.

Some Macronutrients Are Better than Others

So, you know that complex carbs are much better than simple sugars. But do you know that fats also come in varieties of different qualities? When you look at a website dedicated to food and nutrition, you will see that they usually speak about different kinds of fats. The one that gets the worst reputation is trans fats or trans-fatty acids. These fats have a worse record than other fats when it comes to contributing to cardiovascular disease.

With protein, it’s a bit different. The major concern is the source of protein, especially when talking about animal protein. You will hear that poultry is healthier than beef, for example. That has little to do with the protein in the meat, but it has a lot to do with the quantity of fat that’s present in the meat.

The Tiny Nutrients That Make All the Difference

One other thing you get from fruit and veggies are important micronutrients. These are the vitamins, minerals, and trace elements you need to eat in very small amounts. But don’t let that fool you — if you don’t get enough of micronutrients, you will get sick eventually. In some cases, people turn to supplements to fulfill their need for micronutrients. This is common among those who live in dark climates or are vegetarians. For the most part, however, you can eat the micronutrient-rich vegetables and be assured that you are getting everything you need.

Understanding what you are eating is only your first step towards finding a balanced diet that fits your needs. Your next steps would include finding out whether you have any deficiencies, and creating meal plans that fit your lifestyle and level of activity. But keep this first lesson handy when you decide to advance your health and nutrition.