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Nutrition for Beginners

Updated on April 25, 2012
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Simplifying Nutrition

When people hear that I am studying to be a nutritionist they like to ask "What should I be eating?" This is a tricky question because as you know, there's an infinite amount of food and no special diet that is perfect. Mostly, people need to tune into how their body feels and what their body needs. But there are a couple things that everyone should know about nutrition.

There are four energy-providing sources: protein, carbohydrates, fats and alcohol. Each of these provide a different amount of energy or calories per gram. Protein and carbohydrates both pack four calories per gram while alcohol gives us seven calories per grams and fat contributes a whopping nine calories per gram. While all of these (minus alcohol) are part of a healthy diet, let's start with protein, work our way through carbs and fat and then move onto portion control.

Protein

Protein is very important to a healthy diet and can be key in weight loss. It is known for its low calorie count, its filling effect (satiation) and slow digestion rate. How is this helpful for you though? We've already discussed calorie count so let's begin with satiation.

Out of protein, carbohydrates and fats, protein is the most satiating meaning it will fill you up most and ward off hunger longest. Because of this, it is important to incorporate some protein into each meal. However, some people tend to go overboard on protein in the form of powder and other supplements. The truth is, almost all Americans are getting plenty of protein so spending your money on these things is most likely a waste.

Secondly, protein takes a lot of energy to digest, 65% of its overall calorie count to be exact. For example, if you eat 100 calories of pure protein, you'll burn off 65 calories just by digesting it! For this reason, if you are trying to lose weight, it is important to start of the day with a good nutritious source of protein.

If you eat the right amount of protein and are still putting on weight, you may want to look at what kind of protein you are eating. One tip is not to eat meat that walks on more than two legs more than once a week. That means that beef, steak, pork, bacon, etc. should be saved for special occasions since they contain a lot of fat. Instead, try chicken, turkey or fish.

If you are looking for other sources of protein, here are a few:

Beans and rice (eat both to get complete protein, i.e. all the amino acids you need)

Eggs and egg whites (egg yolk packs a lot of cholesterol as well as some fats, minerals and vitamins too; if you're watching your weight mix one egg with some egg whites)

Peanut butter (very filling but make sure you don't eat too much!)

Greek yogurt (provides more protein than regular yogurt)

One of my favorite sources of protein - salmon. You can't deny that that look delicious.
One of my favorite sources of protein - salmon. You can't deny that that look delicious. | Source

Carbohydrates

When trying to lose weight, some people focus so much on protein that they forget about carbohydrates. This can be very detrimental. Carbohydrates are just as important and provide the body with energy. Similarly to protein, they provide only four calories per gram and if you choose the right kind, can be very filling.

When choosing carbohydrates, look for whole grains instead of more processed white carbohydrates. Processed carbs are digested easier and won't keep you full for as long. Plus, processing takes out a lot of the nutrients that whole grains contain. So, when choosing a carbohydrate look for something with fiber (very filling!) and stick to brown instead of white.

Here are some of my favorite sources of healthy carbohydrates:

Any kind of fruit (you'll get your carbs, fiber and nutrients!)

Veggies (the more colorful, the better)

Sweet potatoes (cook with cinnamon and honey - yum!)

Brown rice (add just a little butter and salt)

Whole grain bread (make yourself a nice, tasty sandwich)

Oatmeal (stick in the microwave for a quick breakfast)


So colorful and packed with vitamins!
So colorful and packed with vitamins! | Source

Fats

Fats get a bad reputation, especially with those nine calories per gram. However, they are necessary a healthy diet. And like proteins and carbohydrates, you just need to choose the right kind of fats.

Stay away from saturated fats! These are the bad fats and are usually found in fatty meats, desserts, butter and other processed foods. The fats you want to choose for your diet are the unsaturated kind - poly and mono. When choosing food, you may see labels that say fatty acids or omega. These usually mean that the food contains healthy fat but check the nutrients label just to make sure.

Here's some great sources of healthy fats:

Avocados (sushi, anyone?)

Olive oil (sauté your favorite vegetables in some)

Fish (you'll get your protein and healthy fats!)

Wonderful source of healthy fats!
Wonderful source of healthy fats! | Source

Portion Control

I'm sure you've heard that too much of anything can be a bad thing. Some people eat healthy food but they simply eat too much of it. There are several tips to help you choose the right amount of food.

1) Choose smaller plates, bowls and glasses. This makes the amount of food you have seem larger and will help trick your mind into thinking it has eaten plenty.

2) Use your hands to measure. This is a trick that some children who have weight problems are taught because it is that simple. If you put your hands palms up, side by side, one palm should represent the amount of protein you're eating, the other should be a healthy carbohydrate and your fingers should be fruit and vegetables. Notice that your fingers might start out close together but you can move them further apart - this basically means that you can eat as many fruits and vegetables as you want!

Happy Eating!

Hopefully these tips were able to give you a little better picture of what you should be eating. Some other things to keep in mind: everything in moderation, treat yourself occasionally and remember that healthy food can be delicious, too! Feel free to post any other questions you have or comments below!

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