I read a lot about various “diets” and find some of the information very interesting while much of it just doesn’t make sense to me.  Some say you should cut out all carbohydrates, some say cut out all dairy, some say cut out all sugar, etc.  If I cut all this food out of my family’s diet, what are we going to eat?  There’s not much left.  The answer is really simple: we need to eat real foods as close to nature as possible.

So what is the optimum diet?  First, it is one that supplies all of your body’s needs for calories and nutrients, including macro- and micronutrients.  Macronutrients are the main elements of foods that our bodies need to function properly.  These include carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.  Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals that our bodies need in much smaller quantities.  A healthy diet will support your general health, maximize longevity and provide energy.

What do we need in a healthy diet?  The role of diet is to provide the energy we need for our daily activities.  The number of calories needed depends on the level of activity, gender, and age of each person.  In general, adults need about 2,000 calories a day.  A healthy distribution of macronutrients should be 50-60% healthy carbohydrates, 30% fat, and 10-20% protein.  A healthy diet will be one that is varied to make sure you get enough of what you need and not too much of the things you don’t need.  It should include lots of fresh foods (not canned, frozen, or preserved) and be abundant in fruits and vegetables.

Carbohydrates:  Carbohydrates get a bad rap these days but are necessary for a healthy diet.  Carbs come in two varieties: simple and complex.  Their classification is based on how fast they turn into blood sugar.  Insulin in our bodies clears sugar from our blood.  Sometimes cells become resistant to insulin because on continual spikes of sugar followed by insulin release and can result in adult onset diabetes or high blood pressure, heart disease, or obesity.  A healthy diet consists primarily of low glycemic index foods with most meals to keep blood sugar even.  Low glycemic index foods include whole grains, bean, berries, apples, peaches, pears, vegetables, and cherries (recognize any of these foods from the Lowering Your Cholesterol with Food post?).  In addition, you also want to eat plenty of fiber with your meal to reduce the speed of digestive conversion to sugar.  Beans are an excellent way to get more fiber (and protein).

Fat: Fat also gets a bad rap because of its negative connotation.  But in reality, it is an essential part of a healthy diet.  There is a condition to it though: fats should be unsaturated fats such as those found in seeds and nut or olive oil and avocados.  Fish is another good source of healthy fats.  To reduce intake of saturated fat, cut back on meat and unskinned poultry and avoid vegetable shortening and partially hydrogenated oils.  Manufactured (trans fats) fats should be completely eliminated.

Protein:  Protein is needed to build and maintain tissues in our bodies.  Growing children, nursing mothers, and those recovering from illness need more protein.  It is found primarily in lean meats and bean.  Foods such as edamame, mushrooms, and eggs are excellent sources of non-meat protein sources.

The secret to the optimum diet is really simple (and not a secret).  It’s simply to eat real, unprocessed foods.  You can’t find it in a box or magic pill – it’s as simple as eating the food that nature provides us with.

Do you consider your diet to be optimal?  Or could it use some work?  Try substituting one natural food for a processed food this week and see what happens!

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