19 Things You Should Know About Nutrition

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Every day, we hear something new about nutrition. With information coming at us from every direction, it often seems like something is good for you one day but reported as unhealthy the next! It’s easy to get confused about what is nutritious and what is not. One thing that’s important to keep straight is that whole foods are much better for you than processed foods, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up processed foods altogether. 

1. Eat Your Vitamins

Many people worry they’re not getting the daily amount of recommended vitamins their bodies need. While multivitamins can be a necessary supplement for some, the best way to get your vitamins is by eating them. A diet of whole grains, vegetables and fruits offers the vitamins and minerals for feeling your best. When taking multivitamins, you can easily exceed the daily recommended amount too. That’s why it’s important to consult a doctor or dietitian about what supplements or multivitamins make sense for you.

2. Herbal Supplements Aren’t Always Safe

Herbal supplements come from roots, seeds, fruits and plant leaves, but they’re not regulated. In fact, there’s no guarantee that what’s on the package is actually in the herbal supplement. You can’t be certain an herbal supplement will do what it claims to do if it hasn’t been tested.

3. Juice is Filled with Sugar

Many types of fruit juice contain highly concentrated added sugar, which is hard for the body to process. One-hundred percent juice is a healthier option as it doesn’t contain added sugar, just the natural sugar that comes from fruit. Whole fruits are filled with many nutrients and antioxidants, including fiber, which can slow down the body’s absorption of sugar.

4. “Natural” Doesn’t Mean Healthy

Using the term “natural” can sometimes be deceptive. There’s no standard definition set in place by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to determine if a food is natural. However, the FDA does say “natural” can be applied to foods that have no added color, artificial flavors or substances. Foods that claim to be natural are not always low in fat, calories or carbohydrates and aren’t always the healthiest option.

5. You Can Eat Fats

There are many kinds of fat. Some are good, and some are bad. Our bodies depend on fat to protect our organs and retain body heat. Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble, meaning they depend on fat to be transported throughout the body. People who give up fats to be healthy are actually giving up these essential vitamins, which could result in a vitamin deficiency. Trans and saturated fat intake should be limited. These fats can raise cholesterol levels. Unsaturated fats do the opposite. They can lower bad cholesterol levels and offer many heart health benefits. Foods rich in unsaturated fats include:

  • Avocados
  • Seeds
  • Fish
  • Soybeans
  • Flaxseed
  • Olive oil 

6. Real Food is the Key to Health

Eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains that haven’t been overly processed will keep you healthy. By eating whole foods, you can avoid over-processed foods packed with sugar, sodium, carbohydrates and fats.  

7. Carbs Aren’t Evil

What matters when it comes to carbohydrates is what kind you choose. The best sources of carbs are unprocessed whole grains, fruits and vegetables. White bread, highly processed foods and pastries are unhealthy sources of carbs that can contribute to weight gain.

8. Protein Isn’t the Best Source of Energy

For an athlete, exercise breaks down proteins in the muscle, making protein an important nutrient to consume regularly. Despite an athlete’s need for protein, using protein as a source of energy can actually compromise the restoration of muscles. It’s often believed consuming protein in large amounts results in muscle mass, but that’s incorrect. Only physical activity can increase muscle mass.

9. Sodium Isn’t Always Bad

This one is tricky. Sodium helps regulate blood pressure and volume, but too much sodium over time can cause high blood pressure. Foods that are highly processed are often packed with sodium. Changing your diet to lessen salt intake could lead to a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney damage and high blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends individuals take in less than 1,500 mg of sodium daily. Check with your primary care provider or a dietitian to determine what number is right for you.

10. Drink Plenty of Water

Water is essential. It’s in every organ, tissue and cell in our body. It helps keep your body temperature normal, protects your spinal cord and lubricates the joints. If that’s not enough to convince you, water also flushes through our vital organs, which helps them stay in tip-top shape. If you don’t have enough water in your body, you can become dehydrated.

11. Red Meat is OK

Red meat is OK to eat but in small amounts. Large amounts of red meat have been connected to some chronic conditions. Research has linked red meat to diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. That doesn’t mean you have to give up steak completely, but don’t eat it regularly. Substitute red meat with other protein sources, like fish or nuts.

12. Your Diet Affects Your Health

Unhealthy diets can lead to long-term effects on the body. Diets filled with oils, refined carbohydrates, fats and highly processed foods can lead to obesity. Obesity is linked to chronic conditions and diseases like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, sleep apnea and some cancers. A diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables gives us the nutrients we need to fight disease and stay healthy.

13. Eat Small Portion Sizes

It’s hard to avoid oversized portions, especially when eating at restaurants. The amount you eat plays a role in how much energy you have. Figure out the proper portion sizes for you. If you’re an overeater, be aware of what triggers you to ignore choosing reasonable portion amounts.

14. Eat Your Favorite Foods in Moderation

If you deprive yourself of your favorite foods, you’ll tend to overindulge when you do eat them. If pizza if is your favorite, consider ordering it with veggies or opting for Canadian bacon, which has less fat than pepperoni.

15. Breakfast Really is an Important Meal

Skipping a meal may make you hungrier, causing you to eat more throughout the day. The American College of Cardiology discovered a link between heart disease and skipping breakfast. By eating this morning meal, people have more energy and could make healthier decisions throughout the day.

16. “Low-Fat” or “Fat-Free” Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Healthy

Fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain little fat in their natural state. But don’t be fooled – processed foods that are labeled “low-fat” or “fat-free” are usually higher in salt and sugar to make up for the flavor lost when the fat is removed.

17. Fiber Lowers “Bad” Cholesterol

Soluble fiber found in barley, oatmeal, apples and beans, reduces the “bad” cholesterol by reducing the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream. Ten grams of fiber per day can decrease both your total and LDL cholesterol, but more is often recommended. Eating oatmeal mixed with fruit for breakfast is a good way for a person to incorporate fiber into their diet.

18. Good Nutrition Lessens Your Risk of Chronic Disease

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, six in 10 adults have a chronic disease in the U.S. and four in 10 have two or more chronic conditions. Foods high in sugar are associated with the risk of diabetes, and foods high in sodium have an effect on blood pressure, which is a major risk for stroke. A diet filled with vegetables, fruits and whole grains could help prevent major conditions such as stroke, diabetes and heart disease.

19. Kids Need Good Nutrition, Too

Don’t forget about your kids! A healthy diet is what helps children grow, play, run, walk, sleep and everything in between. Children are also at risk for developing conditions like diabetes. It can be a battle to get your child to eat well, but a child has a healthy start has a better chance for a healthy future.

UnityPoint Clinic Cares About Your Health

No matter if you’re an adult or a child, paying attention to the food going into your body is very important. Eating nutritional foods, and eating processed foods in moderation, can help a person lead a happier, healthier life. Talk to your UnityPoint Health doctor or dietitian to discuss your unique nutritional needs.