What is nutrition?

For most individuals, nutrition is about maintaining a healthy body weight while also ensuring the body has all the vitamins and minerals it needs to function. At the most basic level, maintaining body function is a matter of balancing energy needs with energy use. The energy content of our food is measured by calories and the three major sources of calories are fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Energy needs vary between individuals, especially between those who are very active, but most adults should be aiming to consume about 2,000 to 2,500 calories each day.

To maintain a healthy weight, USDA recommends decreasing average caloric intake to the recommended levels while also spending more time each day engaging in physical activity. Of all the sources of energy, fats produce the most energy per gram (9 calories). On the surface, losing weight seems simple: cut back on the foods high in fats and calories, but nutrition is more complex than that. For instance, while there are certainly unhealthy kinds of fats like trans and saturated fats found in many animal products, unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats are the source of the essential fatty acids omega-3 and -6. Fats are also necessary for absorbing vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Research has shown that fatty acids should be consumed in equal parts for the best effect. Western diets on the contrary often comprises more omega-6 than omega-3. This observation suggests we should make an effort to balance our consumption of omega-6, which is found in vegetable oils, eggs, and poultry, with omega-3, which is found in fish. The kind of fish also matters. Larger, longer-lived fish like tuna roam the oceans for years and have more time to absorb mercury—an element that can accumulate in our bodies and cause complications. Instead, consider fish with shorter lifecycles like the Alaskan salmon.

The second major source of energy are carbohydrates, which are the sugars, fibers, and starch found in foods. Carbohydrates provide most of the world’s dietary caloric needs from foods like grains, fruits, and vegetables. Grains come in many varieties, but the best are those that have not been overly processed—classified on food labels as whole grains. These foods comprise “complex” carbohydrates with lower sugar content and retaining some of the beneficial trace minerals of the plants. Legumes are another source of carbohydrates that also provide a rich source of protein.

Proteins are a moderate energy source and are invaluable in the formation of the major structural components of all the cells of the body. This is done through protein synthesis that allows the body to absorb essential amino acids it cannot produce on its own. These amino acids impact everything from enzymes to hormones. Most men and women do not consume enough protein. The Institute of Medicine recommends consuming about 0.8 g/kg of body weight each day, or about half of your body weight, in grams of protein.

It can be difficult to find the right combination of foods to balance your body’s dietary needs. The best way to approach nutrition is by creating an ideal dietary budget for yourself in terms of calories, fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. From there, add foods that you already consume on a daily basis. Once you have a picture of how your existing diet differs from your budget, make modifications until you are satisfied. You are more likely to follow through with a diet if you seek change by modifying an existing diet rather than change your entire diet to fit someone else’s preference.

After a week of giving your body the good food and exercise it needs, consider a weekend appointment to relax mind and spirit with a good massage. If you live in the Fairfax, Virginia area come by Chaan Thai Massage, a traditional Thai-style massage boutique.