Demystifying Nutrition: Straight Talk about Food and Portions

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Let’s talk about food! It is one of the best topics out there right?! As co-owner and coach at a fitness facility, I get asked about nutrition often and one question that I am always asked is this: “I know I should eat fruits, nuts, veggies, etc. but how much should I actually eat?”

Such a great question! 

Nutrition recommendations differ and experts go back and forth and the amounts of food we should eat in order to feel and look our best is dependent on many changing factors. Things like age, activity, stress level, and personal health and fitness goals all factor into what your body needs. 

Let’s start by looking at some general food guidelines. 

How many calories do you need in a day?

Step one, you will need to calculate what your Basil Metabolic Rate (BMR). That is the amount of calories you need at a bare minimum. 

Here is a simple calculation to get your baseline BMR using the Harris-Benedict Equation:

  1. Men: BMR = 88.362 + (13.397 x weight in kg) + (4.799 x height in cm) – (5.677 x age in years)
  2. Women: BMR = 447.593 + (9.247 x weight in kg) + (3.098 x height in cm) – (4.330 x age in years)

Once you have your BMR then you can adjust it for your activity level. This is called your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). 

Energy expenditure is a fancy way of saying the amount of energy your body needs to carry out physical functions. These functions include breathing, circulating blood, digestion food and exercising. Energy is measured in calories, and your TDEE is the amount of calories you burn each day.  

Now back to our question of how much of each food type or macronutrient should we eat? 

Macros are nutrients your body needs in larger amounts in order to properly function. There are three types of macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

So now that you know your BMR, you can determine your ideal ratios of macronutrients. 

How? You multiply your BMR by your ideal percentages. A good place to start is using the USDA recommendations:

  • Carbohydrates: 45-65%
  • Protein: 10-35%
  • Fat: 20-35%

Then divide your calorie amounts by its calorie-per-gram number. 

  • Carbohydrates contain 4 kcal per gram
  • Proteins contain 4 kcal per gram
  • Fats contain 9 kcal per gram  (this is roughly double the amount found in the other two macros)

Knowing what and how much food to eat is a powerful tool for living your healthiest life. 

Have you heard of the Blue Zones? 

Blue Zones are places around the world where people live the longest and are the healthiest! Many people in Blue Zones are centurions meaning they are 100 years old or older. 

What’s their secret, you might be wondering? 

They eat mostly plants, especially beans, and rarely eat meat. These folks eat the smallest meal of the day in the later afternoon or evening. They stop eating when their stomach is 80% full. They also move their bodies often and focus on community and social circles that reinforce healthy behaviors. 

We all want to live a long and healthy life right? Nutrition is a huge part of it. 

Now, lettuce move on to fruits and veggies. (See what I did there?)

Fruits and vegetables are jam packed with vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. They are low in fat and calories yet packed with fiber. Eating fruits and vegetables is known to stave off early death. It is also associated with more energy, positive mood, better sleep, healthy weight, reduced risk of cancer, and other chronic diseases. 

Fruits and vegetables are a vital part of a healthy diet, so how much should we eat?

U.S dietary guidelines do not use grams or servings anymore to define how much we food should eat. Instead, they recommend 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fruit and between 2 to 2 1/2 cups of vegetables a day.

Some researches discovered that the greatest benefit came from eating 10 portions of fruits and vegetables a day. They estimated that if everyone ate this amount, approximately 7.8 million premature deaths worldwide could be prevented. (Wow!) Eating a healthy amount of fruits and veggies a day is tied to reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

Did you know that there are 11 varieties of nut trees and only four (walnut, pecan, chestnut, and hazelnut) bear-edible seeds? It’s nuts!

Nuts are a nutritional powerhouse. A recent study revealed those who eat nuts daily have better health and longer lives than those who don’t eat them. Nuts are packed with protein, vitamins, minerals, flavonoids all which help protect blood vessels and lower inflammation. 

So, how much should we eat daily? The American Heart Association recommends eating four 1.5 ounces, which is about a handful of nuts.  

Did you know…

Pistachios get their green color from the same pigment that colors spinach and kale? Also, ancient Greeks believed hazelnuts could treat coughing and baldness, which sounds a little seedy but it’s worth a try! 

Speaking of seeds, they are teeny tiny but jam-packed with nutrients. Seeds contain healthy mono saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. They can also help reduce blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure. They are nutrient dense which means a little goes a long way. The exact serving size varies depends on what kind of seed you’re eating, but a good guideline is around 2 tablespoons. 

Let’s talk about meat!

This tends to be a controversial topic and maybe one day we will go deeper into it. For now, know that you do not need any meat in your diet to stay healthy, but there are benefits to eating it. 

The current daily recommendation is 5 1/2 ounces of lean beef, pork or poultry to gain all the nutritional benefits. That is just a little bigger than the palm of your hand.

I won’t go bacon your heart! 

I could never forget about red meat. Red meat has a bad rap, but it does contain valuable sources of iron, protein, zinc, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fats. A good guideline is to eat about 80 grams of lean meats or 65 grams of lean red meats. In order to meet the iron and zinc recommendations, you can eat a small portion once a day or a larger portion of red meat every second day. 

Hopefully that doesn’t sound fishy to you. After all, these are guidelines and you get to discover what feels best for your body.

Speaking of fish, how much fish and seafood should we eat?

Dietary guidelines are about 8 ounces of seafood once or twice a week and less for young children. This can also be a controversial topic and you have to do what’s right for you. There are benefits and risks of eating fish (like with most foods). More than 90% of the PCBs and dioxins in the U.S food supply come from non-seafood sources like dairy, eggs, and meats. 

The decision is yours, I think there are bigger fish to fry; however, here are some quick benefits of eating fish. 

Seafood and fish can help fight heart disease with omega-3 fats, Alzheimer’s, depression, and lower the risk of stroke. It can also lower blood pressure, heart rate, improve blood vessel function, and decrease inflammation. 

Want to hear something crazy? Each American consumes, on average, 53 pounds of bread per year. That is a lot of grains.  

How much whole grains should we really eat? 

Experts recommend eating 5-8 ounces of grains a day and mostly from whole grain food sources like quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal, and barley. One ounce of grains is equivalent to a slice of bread or half a cup of cooked rice. 

Refined grain foods are often high in added sugars, sodium, and fat. These are foods like white rice, white bread, and cereal. Go easy on refined grains, but don’t let the fear of carbs keep you from being your healthiest self. 

Whole grains are packed with nutrients including fiber, protein, b vitamins and minerals like iron, zinc and magnesium. Whole grains help with digestion, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. 

Does all this talk of food make you feel thirsty?

Did you know… your body is about 60% water and you are constantly losing water through the day, mostly through urine and sweat? It is important to drink an adequate amount of water so you don’t get dehydrated plus water does so many great things for your body. 

Water helps carry nutrients and oxygen to your cells, flushes bacteria out of your body, aids in digestion, prevents constipation, protects organs and tissues, regulates body temperature and stabilizes blood pressure and heartbeat.  

The recommendation is to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water, which is about a half a gallon a day. However, many factors affect how much water you need. For example, if you are spending a lot of time outdoors and are sweating, you will need another 2-3 cups of water per hour or more, if you are exercising. 

Eggs, salt, caffeine, sugar and dairy 

There are pros and cons to these foods and a little goes a long way so, how much should we have of each? (If any at all.)

Eggs are one of the best bio available sources of low-cost protein and metabolism-boosting choline. This does not mean you should go full-on Gaston and eat a dozen eggs at a time, but it does mean that the benefits are strong and eggs are worth eating. The current recommendation is 1 1/2 eggs a day (whole eggs). 

On one hand, excess sodium consumption can increase our risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, osteoporosis, heart failure, stroke and kidney disease. On the other hand, sodium is the most important extracellular electrolyte and plays a huge role in many health functions. It is essential for healthy brain development in the fetus and young kids and in optimizing mental function for adults.

The World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and American Heart Association all recommend keeping sodium under 5 grams, which is just under a teaspoon of salt a day. 

I hate to spill the beans but, according to scientists, caffeine can be part of a healthy diet for most people. Too much, however, can pose a danger to your health. 

So how much caffeine is okay? For healthy adults, the FDA says 400 milligrams of caffeine which is like having four to five cups of coffee. 

The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day, which is about 350 calories.

That is a lot! 

I am talking about added sugar not sugars that occur naturally in foods like fruits and veggies. Most added sugar comes from processed foods like sugar sweetened drinks, candy, baked goods, and cereal. Added sugar provides no nutrients and can hurt your metabolism. 

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the maximum amount of added sugars you should eat in a day for men is 150 calories per day or 9 teaspoons. For women, it is 100 calories per day or 6 teaspoons. The less you eat, the healthier you will be!

Do you consume dairy? This has been a hot topic for a long time. Dairy can help improve bone health and provides essential nutrients like calcium, potassium, magnesium and protein. On the downside, consuming too much dairy can lead to certain cancers like breast cancer. It can also cause nausea, weight gain, bloating and acne. The American Heart Association recommends you should have three servings of dairy per day. 

Wrapping it up

Now you know how to estimate your BMR to determine how many calories you need in a day and how to calculate your macronutrients. We’ve also looked at the benefits of what a healthy diet can do for your body. 

It might take a little practice and a little trial and error to determine what food is right for you and your body, but hang in there. It’s so worth it. 

Naresh Sippy said, “Ifs and buts stop you from tapping the miraculous powers within you.” 

So, just do it! No ifs or buts. Take control of your health and get down to the nitty gritty of nutrition and find what feels right for you. You know what to eat and how much to eat. Now it’s time to hit the grocery store! 

P.S. Speaking of “buts,” if no one told you… your butt looks great today, you are rockin’ that hairstyle, do something fun today and drink some water! 😉

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