yourself what you want from nutrition. If you decide that you’re
ready to be aware of what you eat and how it affects your health
on a day-to-day basis, then you’re almost there. When it
comes to nutrition health, the most important factor is awareness.
By being aware of what your body needs and what the food you eat
is made of, you’ll be able to make educated decisions—the
Most professionals will tell you that any derivative of the trusty food guide
pyramid is the best way to build a healthy diet. The most common food guide
pyramid in the US is the one established by the Department of Agriculture
and the Department of Health and Human Services—the pyramid you see
on food labels and at doctors’ offices everywhere. This pyramid is
a daily guideline based on dietary required allowances of vitamins, minerals,
carbohydrates, proteins, fats and more.
Some people might be surprised to see that carbohydrates still comprise the
vast majority of our caloric intake. The fact is, carbohydrates are our bodies’ main
source of energy. Some facts on carbohydrates include:
- Carbohydrates can be broken down into two types, complex and
- Complex carbohydrates include breads, pastas, cereals and even
- Simple carbohydrates like sugar are lacking in fiber and generally
contain few, if any, nutrients.
- Because it takes your body longer to break down the complex
carbohydrates, you’ll find them a more long-term source
of energy for your body.
- Shop for whole grain items, like whole wheat or multi-grain
breads, whole wheat pasta, fiber fortified cereals, brown rice,
millet or flaxseed. The vitamins and nutrients these carbohydrates
provide are extremely beneficial, and you still get the satisfaction
that comes with eating breads, pastas and cereals.
Fruits and Vegetables
Most women underestimate the amount of fruits and vegetables they get in their
diets. Sometimes, fitting leafy greens or extra melon into a busy day seems
like the last thing you need to worry about. The benefits you’ll reap
just by getting 2-4 servings of fruit and 2-4 servings of vegetables each
day will be invaluable to your immediate and long-term health. When in doubt,
eat more fruits and vegetables. Also, plant foods are the only natural source
of fiber. Fiber aids in elimination, can help reduce cholesterol, and may
help to prevent certain types of cancer, especially colon cancer.
The dairy group on the food guide pyramid is especially important for women.
Calcium is the key mineral you need from this food group. So, if you don’t
or can’t eat dairy, explore alternative options for calcium in order
to keep a well-balanced diet. Dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt
are also sources of protein and other vitamins and minerals. By getting enough
dairy, you’ll improve your bone health and also glean other beneficial
nutrients. Remember many dairy products are high in fat and cholesterol,
so sometimes picking a low-fat option is a better choice. The recommended
serving of dairy is 3 per day. Aim for additional servings of other rich
calcium sources, such as leafy green vegetables, especially when there is
an increased risk of developing osteoporosis.
Meat, including poultry and fish, is a helpful source of protein as well as
iron, zinc and B vitamins. But meats can be high in unnecessary fats and
cholesterol. Other sources of protein include legumes (black beans, soybeans,
peas), soy-based products like tempeh and tofu, and protein substitutes like
veggie burgers—don’t forget nuts and eggs. Protein is an essential
element of your health: your body needs protein to build cells, bones muscles,
hair, nails and skin. Tissues use protein to repair themselves, and your
body even needs protein to make hormones and other important body chemicals.
Getting enough protein will help with nearly every aspect of your body function.
The final food group on the pyramid is the fats, oils and sweets category.
Fat is important for your body’s health—in moderation. Your body
uses fat to absorb vitamins, strengthen cell membranes and for help with
the immune system. The food guide pyramid recommends the serving size “use
sparingly” for this group. Americans tend to get out of hand with fat
consumption, serving up large portions of fatty desserts, super-sizing fast
food meals and treating themselves with junk food. The fats found in processed
and fast foods—called saturated fat and trans fat—are the type
that you could really do without. The type of fats you should choose include
monounsaturated fats, found in nuts, avocados and olive, peanut and canola
oils. These options, particularly avocados and nuts, are also a great source
of other vitamins and minerals, so they’re a smart alternative to empty,
Even if you know why each food group is important, it still might be difficult
to figure out how many servings you need to maintain a healthy balance. Remember
that for every food group, food portions are often much smaller than you
think they are. The serving sizes set out by the food guide pyramid are based
on specific amounts, measured in cups or ounces. A sandwich might have two
pieces of bread, but the serving size for grains is really one slice of bread.
So, if you eat the whole sandwich, you might be getting two (or more) servings
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