Nutrition Articles

Nutrition Know-How

WFL Week 3

What should I be eating? How much should I be eating? These are common questions- and the answers might not be as mysterious as you think. All you need is basic knowledge about calories, a few key nutrients and a balanced diet. Read on to learn more!

Solving the Calorie Mystery…….

So exactly what are these things we call “calories”? The calorie is a measure of energy available to the body. When you eat food, the number of calories it contains is actually the amount of energy units the food provides the body. The calorie is also the measure of energy that your body uses. Your body uses calories for many functions, such as breathing, pumping blood, resting, sitting, working, and exercising. So the calorie is used to measure both the amount of energy contained in foods, as well as the amount of energy your body uses. When you eat more calories than you use, the rest is stored as fat and you gain weight. When you use more calories than you eat, your body is free to call upon other energy sources (such as stored fat), and you’ll lose weight. Pretty simple, huh?

All foods supply energy or calories. However, some provide more calories than others. For example, one gram of fat has 9 calories, while one gram of protein has only 4 calories. No single food or class of food is “fattening” by itself. When the calories provided in food are not needed by the body, the excess is stored in the body in the form of fat, no matter what food the calories came from.

One of the biggest misconceptions about calories is that different foods are worth more or less. In the end, all that matters is whether your body needs those calories or not. If your body has met all of its immediate energy and energy store needs, those extra calories will be turned to fat whether they came from a tomato or a Tootsie Roll. You could eat no junk food at all, but if you wolfed down 3000 calories worth of fruits and vegetables, you’d probably still gain weight. That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to calorie totals, both of what you eat and what you burn. If those numbers are in line, you should be fine. Of course, it’s still essential to get calories from a balanced diet so you get all the nutrients you need.

How Many Calories Do I Need?

Your energy needs take precedence over all other body functions. Here are the factors that determine your total energy requirements:
  • Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). This is the minimum amount of energy needed by the body at rest in the fasting state. It includes basic body functions such as respiration, cellular metabolism, circulation and body temperature control. It is affected by such things as age, gender, pregnancy, body composition, nutritional status, sleep, climate, and fever.
  • Physical Activity. The amount of calories needed for physical activity depends on the type of activity or work, the intensity and the duration.  Add the calories you burn through activity and exercise for one day to your BMR. This is your baseline for daily calorie needs. When you choose your calorie goals, remember that your body needs enough nutrition and energy to cover these needs, depending on the exercise level you choose.
Those 3 Little Nutrients: Protein, Carbs and Fats

Acceptable, healthy distribution ranges have been established for protein, carbohydrates, and fat. These ranges are based on research studies that examined their relationship to disease prevention. They also help to ensure a sufficient intake of other essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. The recommendations are:
  • Protein: 10-35% of calories
  • Carbohydrate: 45-65% of calories
  • Fat: 20-35% of calories
The SparkPeople diet takes a middle of the road approach with these ranges. Our specific breakdown is 15% protein, 55% carbohydrates, and 30% fat. Your intake may be somewhat higher or lower than the Sparkpeople diet based on your own individual taste preference, cooking style, cultural difference, fitness routine, and day-to-day changes in diet. Does this mean that your intake is bad or dangerous? No!

The table below converts these percentages into grams needed each day based on calorie intake.

Healthy Range
1200 Calories
1500 Calories
1800 Calories
2100 Calories
2400 Calories

Eating the Right Stuff

Here are some “tips” to help you make your diet a healthy one:

  • Make ½ of Your Grains Whole. Substitute whole-grain products for refined products at every opportunity. For instance, eat whole-wheat bread instead of white bread or brown rice instead of white rice. It’s important to substitute the whole-grain product for the refined one, rather than adding the whole-grain product.

  • Vary Your Veggies. Buy fresh vegetables in season. They cost less and are likely to be at their peak flavor. Stock up on frozen vegetables for quick and easy cooking in the microwave. Buy vegetables that are easy to prepare. Pick up pre-washed bags of salad greens and add baby carrots or grape tomatoes for a salad in minutes. Buy pre-packaged baby carrots or celery sticks for quick snacks.

  • Focus On Fruit. Make most of your choices whole or cut-up fruit rather than juice, for the benefits dietary fiber provides. Buy fruits that are dried, frozen, and canned (in water or juice) as well as fresh, so that you always have a supply on hand.

  • Go Lean With Protein. Choose lean turkey, roast beef, ham, or low-fat lunch meats for sandwiches instead of lunch meats with more fat, such as bologna or salami. Choose fish more often for lunch or dinner. Look for fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, trout, and herring.

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