We can all agree that nutrition is one of the bedrock pillars of health, alongside exercise, sleep and stress management.
Nutrition refers to the consumption of food to provide our body with the energy and nutrients it requires to nourish and grow. Its importance lies as one of the largest direct contributors and influencing variables to our health and vitality.
Think of your body as a car. If you put quality petrol in your car, it will run smoother and get better mileage. Similarly, if you fuel your body with healthy foods that are high in nutrients, your engine will be cleaner, have less clogs and function more efficiently.
We hear all the time that we need to “eat plenty of fruit and veggies”, “make sure to get enough protein in”, “count your calories” etc...
But what does all this really mean? And why is it so important?
First, let me address that nutrition is an extremely complex and in-depth topic as it involves the complexities of the human body. Although we’re all the same species, yet physiologically speaking, we’re so uniquely different to one another.
Differences in our genetics, gut bacteria (microbiome), sex, immune system, physical activity levels and physical attributes (age, height, weight) are just some of the factors that affect the different nutritional requirements we need.
There’s more to nutrition than just eating food to get energy and feeling satiated. And there’s too much to cover in this short blog but the purpose of this article is to provide 5 simple steps you can follow to make better and smarter decisions towards your eating habits and diet to improve health, performance and vitality.
Disclaimer: Information provided in this article is for informational and educational purposes only - and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek advice from your physician or qualified health provider with any questions regarding a medical condition.
1. Identify your health goals
The goal-oriented nature of Humans is what gives us purpose, direction and fulfillment in life. This coupled with the act of goal setting, creates a powerful tool that propels us towards achieving what we want.
Start with the end in mind. Identify what you’re trying to achieve and set a specific and realistic goal for it. By ‘specific’ I mean being crystal clear and measurable, and ‘realistic’ refers to something that’s challenging yet attainable.
Let’s use weight loss as an example.
Saying you want to lose weight is too vague and doesn’t give you something specific to strive for. A goal that’s specific and realistic would be to lose X kgs in Y number of days. (note: According to Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, a modest and healthy amount to lose per week is ~ 400-900g depending on your body weight. Anything above 1kg per week is not sustainable and could negatively affect your health).
The metric or benchmark figure you set for your goal is entirely up to you. You know yourself best, so pick a figure that pushes you to challenge your limits but is also attainable! It’s crucial that the goal is realistic and attainable because you must have the self-belief that you can achieve it to be motivated and persevere.
2. Eliminate foods that your body doesn’t agree with
The digestive system is often recognised as the foundation for long-term health and wellbeing.
It involves the digestion and absorption of nutrients required for every bodily function, and provides the building blocks to continuously repair and create each cell of the human body.
Get the most out of your diet by eliminating or significantly reducing the consumption of foods that your body doesn’t agree with.
If you experience or suspect any digestive issues, food sensitivities or intolerances, medical professionals advise that taking Blood Tests and Food Sensitivity & Intolerance Tests can help you gain a better understanding of your body and discover food sensitivities and intolerances that would otherwise be unrecognised.
Food sensitivity and intolerances are sometimes confused with, or mislabeled as food allergies. Food intolerances involve the digestive system (usually an inability to digest food), whilst food allergies involve the immune system (triggers an hyperinflated immune response).
3. Determine your calories
When we eat and drink, we’re putting energy (calories) into our body to use for everyday living. When the energy isn’t used, your body is smart and stores it as fat to be used at a later time. If this continues, over time we will put on weight.
Generally speaking, when we consume more calories than what our body uses, we will gain weight, and vice versa.
How much calories do you need?
The most accurate estimate and common method for calculating your daily caloric requirement is through a calorie calculator.
Use the calculator above and enter your details to calculate how many calories you need to consume each day to maintain, lose, or gain weight.
4. Determine the macronutrients to make up your calories
Now you know how many calories you need to reach your goal, next is to decide on your macronutrient breakdown - how many grams of carbs, proteins and fats to make up those calories.
Every food you consume has a macronutrient profile of the amount of carbohydrates, proteins and fats it has in grams.
Every gram of carb and protein contains 4 calories. Every gram of fat contains 9 calories. (Alcohol is referred to as a fourth macronutrient - it has 7 calories per gram).
Carbs: 4 calories per 1g
Proteins: 4 calories per 1g
Fats: 9 calories per 1g
As a general rule, the Australian Government’s Ministry of Health recommends that acceptable macronutrient breakdown consists of:
20-35% fats (limit saturated and trans fats)
Depending on your lifestyle, health goals and volume of exercise per day (and many other factors), you would need to adjust macronutrient percentages to your needs.
Current sports nutrition literature summarise individuals who engage in moderate to high volume training need greater amounts of carbs and protein in their diet.
Eliminating the guesswork - eat what you need.
Conveniently keep track of your meals and nutritional goals using a calorie tracking app. There are numerous free apps to pick from. food a free and easy-to-use app called myfitnesspal. Its extensive database of over 11 million foods allows for easy food tracking to help you stay accountable and understand your eating habits. Save meals, recipes, scan barcodes or manually add the product. Download the app onto your smart device, enter your details and goals, and start logging your meals. You’d be surprised to see the calories and macros you’re eating but it’s a valuable insight to have.
5. Choose nutrient dense foods
You may have heard the phrase “you are what you eat”. This expresses the notion that to be fit and healthy, you need to eat ‘good’ food. It expresses the importance of eating predominately quality whole foods as opposed to processed, junk and fatty foods.
So what is considered as ‘good’ food?
There’s no need to overcomplicate things. Sticking with whole foods is generally the safe and simple option because you get more (nutrients) for far less (calories). A better bang for your buck!
Whole foods, typically, are characterised as foods that have not been processed, refined or had ingredients added to them. Think of food that would exist in nature like fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, meat, fish and eggs.
Processed foods on the other hand, have undergone various levels of processing and are usually frozen, canned, dried, baked, or pasteurized - often containing many additional chemicals and ingredients such as preservatives, sugar, salt, fats, artificial flavouring and dyes for the purpose of enhancing shelf life, flavour and colour of the food.
The heating, grinding and cooking process of manufacturing processed foods (i.e. turning a potato into fries or creating chicken strips) leads to a significant loss of the abundant beneficial nutrients the whole food may have such as fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (that protect us from chronic diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease) while also adding additives and extra ingredients that are harmful to our system.
Long story short, by eating a diet composed of heavily processed foods, we’re getting more for less - more calories and additives, for less nutrients and health benefits. The only benefits for the short term may be convenience and taste - but that’s up to the individual’s preference.
A large profile of vitamins and minerals exist and they all have different functions and benefits to our health. List of micronutrient types, function, benefits and more.
Fruits and vegetables:
Whole foods: fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, frozen vegetables, frozen fruits, unsalted nuts.
Processed foods to avoid: Fruit or vegetable juices, canned fruit in heavy syrup, fruit snacks/fruit roll ups, veggie or potato chips.
Whole meats: fresh lean meats, fresh fish/shellfish, eggs
Processed meats to avoid: Bacon, sausage, chicken nuggets, fish sticks, hot dogs, deli meats, potted meats and spam.
The bottom line
In order to get the most out of our diet to live a healthy and vibrant life, first we need to understand what our body NEEDS.
A quick and effective method to find out what’s missing, what the problem is and what can be optimised is by taking Blood Tests and Food Sensitivity & Intolerance tests. You’ll also learn valuable information about your body that may go unrecognised.
Based on the analysis, you can then start to plan, introduce or eliminate foods to suit your needs and goals.
Limit processed foods as much as possible, and enjoy them in moderation, and use common sense. Be sure to make fresh, simple ingredients the focus of your diet.
Just by eliminating the foods that your body doesn’t agree with (has allergy, sensitivity or intolerance to), eating less processed and junk foods and choosing more whole foods, you’ll quickly notice improvements in your energy levels, mood and health.