Most health experts recommend eating a balanced, healthy diet to maintain or to lose weight. But exactly what is a healthy diet?
The basic components of a healthy diet include the right amount of:
- Protein (found in fish, meat, poultry, dairy products, eggs, nuts, and beans)
- Fat (found in animal and dairy products, nuts, and oils)
- Carbohydrates (found in fruits, vegetables, pasta, rice, grains, beans and other legumes, and sweets)
- Vitamins (such as vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K)
- Minerals (such as calcium, potassium, and iron)
Of these six nutrients, only carbohydrates, proteins, and fats provide calories. A calorie is a measurement, just like a teaspoon or an inch. Calories are the amount of energy released when your body breaks down food. The more calories a food has, the more energy it can provide to your body. When you eat more calories than you need, your body stores the extra calories as fat. Even low-carb and fat-free foods can have a lot of calories that can be stored as fat. Alcohol is not a nutrient, yet it also provides calories.
What are proteins?
Proteins are nutrients that are essential to the building, maintenance, and repair of body tissue such as the skin, the internal organs, and muscle. They are also the major components of our immune system and hormones.
Proteins are made up of substances called amino acids -- 22 are considered vital for health. Of these, the adult body can make 14; the other eight (called essential amino acids) can only be obtained from what we eat.
Proteins are found in all types of food, but only fish, meat, poultry, eggs, cheese, and other foods from animal sources contain complete proteins, meaning they provide the eight essential amino acids.
Your daily diet must contain enough protein to replenish these amino acids. Thus, if you are vegetarian and do not eat food from animal sources, you need to eat a variety of plant proteins in combination to ensure that you get enough of the essential amino acids. Examples of foods that provide plant protein include soy, nuts, seeds, legumes, vegetables, and whole grains.
The new dietary reference values for protein for adults are 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. This translates to about 0.36 grams of protein per pound.