Regular exercise and healthy diet prevent major medical problems and offer significant health benefits. Exercising alone is not enough to stay fit. You need to follow a healthy diet along with exercising. Many people think that if they only exercise or if they only eat healthy, they can achieve their fitness goals. While each of this offers great benefits individually, you need to have both to achieve your overall fitness goals.
Following a healthy diet is a key to your weight loss goal and healthy life. A healthy diet should contain the nutrients from your food. There are six major nutrients – carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and water. So understanding what the nutrients are and how they help your health is very important. A deficiency in any of these nutrients will limit your chances of achieving your fitness and weight loss goals.
When you consume a meal, your blood sugar level will rise (how much increase in blood sugar level varies and it depends on the foods you consume). This process provides energy to perform physical activities. Physical activities that use the energy from the food consumed will reduce the sugar level. The more intense the activity is, the more you will reduce your sugar level. Less the intensity of the activities, the sugar level will reduce only little. When the sugar level goes low, you will feel tired and that’s the signal to eat next meal.
When you consume 3 large meals a day, your body will not be able to burn all the energy, unless you do lot of physical activities in between those 3 meals, which is unlikely for many. So your blood sugar level will not reduce to the point where it does not have any unused energy to store as fat. So your body assumes that the rest of the energy consumed should later be used and converts them into body fat. It is like preparing for famine situation, but that’s not what you want for your weight loss goal.
The best way to manage this is by consuming frequent but small meals. That’s a good news right. We get to eat more often, but be mindful, it is frequent small meals. So instead of consuming 3 large meals, consume 5 to 6 small meals. This helps to manage your sugar level, as you will be able to burn those calories in between the meals. One caution, even when you eat small meals and you don’t do any physical activity in between, there is a chance that the unused energy may end up as body fat. So based on the activity level in between your meals, size it up or down by adjusting your calorie intake.
BMR & Caloric needs:
You may wonder how much calories you should consume every day. There is no magic number that works for everyone and it is not straightforward too. It depends on your unique situation. The amount of energy one person expends, depends on his/her physical activity and diet. Since that is a variable, you need something to measure that is somewhat constant. That is called BMR.
BMR stands for Basal Metabolic Rate. It is an estimate of how much energy your body burns for maintenance activities like keeping the body alive, function of internal organs etc. There are few ways to calculate BMR. Most accurate calculations can be done only in lab settings.
This method takes your gender, age, weight and height to measure your estimated BMR and caloric need. The formula first calculates your approximate body fat percentage and uses lean factor multiplier to find your BMR.
For men: (1.0 x weight in Kg x 24) x lean factor multiplier
For women: (0.9 x weight in Kg x 24) x lean factor multiplier
As an example, for a woman of age 38, 120 pounds weight and 62 inches tall, the approximate BMR will be 1060 calories.
Once you know the BMR, you can find out the daily caloric need. In order to calculate that, you need to multiply BMR with your daily activity level. The BMR calculator link mentioned above will show your daily caloric need as well. Understanding how your body uses the calories you consume and expend, can help you to come up with a proper diet program.
If you want to keep the same weight as you are today, you need to be in zero calorie balance, means the amount of calories you consume and expend should be the same. If your BMR is 1967 calories and you are consuming 2767 calories from your food, which means you need to do physical activities that will burn the 800 calories in difference to keep your weight.
To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume. From the above example, you need to expend more than 2767 calories so that you are in a negative calorie balance. That means you need to be active to burn more than 800 calories to lose weight.
To gain weight, you need to consume more calories (from healthy meals) than you expend.
Fuel your body in a right way! – Rules of nutrition
Exercising alone is not enough to stay fit. You need to fuel your body with the right nutrition from your food. Lets discuss the three basic rules of nutrition.
3 rules of nutrition:
Rule 1: Eat 5 to 6 small meals (every 2 to 3 hours) instead of 3 large meals. By feeding your body with frequent small meals, its need to store the body fat is reduced, sometimes even eliminated. That’s great news for people who don’t want to gain any weight and helps with their weight loss goal. This approach also helps to manage your blood sugar level.
Rule 2: Make sure you have enough carbohydrates, protein and fat in each meal. Adjust the carb in take in each meal based on your activity level for next 2 to 3 hours. If you are going to be less active, consume less carbs. If you are going to be very active, increase the carb so that you have enough energy to burn. So there is no magic formula for this, but you need to manage it efficiently, as you are the only one who knows what you are planning for next 2 to 3 hours. By consuming frequent small meals, you are also feeding your body with just enough protein. Consuming higher amounts of protein from just 1 meal is not advisable. It must be spread to multiple meals a day. We will discuss about these nutrients in details in the next chapter.
Rule 3: Make sure you get enough vitamins and minerals from each of these meals. If you are unable to get all these nutrients, consult with your doctor if you need to take any supplements.
When you consume a meal, your blood sugar level will rise. This process provides energy to perform physical activities. Physical activities that use the energy from the food consumed will reduce the sugar level. More the activity level, more you will reduce the sugar level. Less the activities, the sugar level will reduce less. When the sugar level goes low, you will feel tired and that’s the signal to eat next meal.
That’s the reason consuming 5 to 6 meals a day is much beneficial than 3 larges meals a day. As an example, a sample meal plan for a day may look like this.
7AM – Breakfast
10 AM – Snacks
12 PM – Lunch
3 PM – Snacks
5 PM – Snacks
7 PM – Dinner
If your daily caloric need is 2400 calories, break down to 6 meals, which translate to 400 calories per meal. But we should not break that count down equally, because our energy spending after each meal is not always the same. So if you are planning to be very active in the next 2 hours, consume higher calories. So you may need something like 700 calories from that meal. If you are going to be very inactive for the next 2 hours, then consume fewer calories say 200 calories. If you are going to be bit active but not very active, have your calorie intake form that meals as 400 calories. So even though you adjust the calorie up and down based on the activity levels, you would consume a total of 2400 calories a day in this example. So based on the demands of your day, adjust your caloric intake in each meal.
There are few other rules to make sure you fuel your body correctly. Most important one is limiting sugar intake for your overall health.
Limit sugar for your overall health:
Sugar – Food that has lot of sugar tastes great, tempts us and creates cravings for us to go back to eat more. It is available within our reach in the form of many foods. So we quickly reach out to them and enjoy. Whether it is a drink with added sugar or desert made with loads of sugar, we cannot resist the temptation. To limit sugar in our diet, we need to first understand what added sugar does to your body.
When you consume foods or drinks with added sugar, the extra calories with no nutrition value goes into your body, which will lead to weight gain. It will also raise the blood glucose level in your body, which causes fat storage. If you would like to improve your heart health and reduce your weight, the first thing you need to do is limiting the amount of added sugars in your diet.
In practical, we cannot avoid added sugars completely from our diet, so a limited amount of that is acceptable. But the problem is many don’t know what that limited amount is. American Heart Association’s recommendation for maximum intake of added sugar for men is about 9 teaspoons (36g, which is 144 calories) and for women, it is about 6 teaspoons (24g, which is 96 calories). If you drink a 12-ounce can of regular soda you already reached the daily limit of added sugars, so think about it before drinking any sweetened drinks.
Watch out carefully the list of ingredients particularly the total sugar in a food product. You may see a line that says how much total sugar it contains. This means the total sugar content from both natural and added sugars. Natural sugars are lactose (milk) and fructose (fruit). So you can identify natural sugars from the label if the product contains milk or fruit. For added sugars, you will have to look into the label in details to see if it says Sugar, Raw sugar, Brown sugar, Malt sugar, Corn syrup, High-fructose corn syrup, Honey, Fruit concentrates, dextrose, glucose, maltose, sucrose and Syrup etc.
You can find added sugar in soda, fruit drinks, sweetened milk, brownies, doughnuts, cakes, cookies, pies, bars, candy, ice cream, sweetened yogurt etc. So avoid these foods as much as you can. Try to replace sugar with fruits. Instead of adding sugar in your cereal, you can add strawberries, blueberries and half banana. If you normally add sugar in your coffee, try to reduce the sugar into half or go with stevia or even better go with black coffee.
Now you understand what sugar does to your body, try to eliminate added sugar from your diet as much as you can. If you can’t eliminate, replace the sugar with erythritol, which is a natural sweetener and doesn’t raise your insulin levels. Now that being said, it doesn’t give you a free pass to consume as much as you want. Consuming too much of these sweeteners will have side effects, so use it in moderate amount.
While limiting your sugar intake is a key to your weight loss and health goals, there are other components in your diet that needs attention. Those are macro and micronutrients. Carbohydrates, proteins and fat are macronutrients. Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients. In order to successfully reach your fitness goals, you need to ensure you are getting these nutrients in your diet.
Avoid junk foods:
For a healthy diet, avoid junk foods (most of the fast foods, processed foods, and foods with added sugars). These junk foods offer no benefits to your health and weight loss.
Limit or eliminate alcohol from your diet:
Limit alcohol, better if you completely avoid it. Particularly for weight loss, consuming too much alcohol is no good. When you consume alcohol, it spares fat due to the spike in insulin levels, which results in more difficulty to lose body fat. Alcohol affects your nervous system and brain. It can damage muscle cells. It is bad for your heart and other systems in the body. Most importantly, it causes damage to the liver.
Drink enough water:
Water is required for almost every bodily functions and it makes up 55 to 75 percentage of your total bodyweight. You need to drink enough water to keep you away from dehydration problems. The general guideline is, drink atleast 8 glasses of water. If you don’t consume enough water, it will lead to various problems in your body.
Water helps in many ways. It helps you to recover from your workouts. It lubricates muscle joints and helps your digestive system. It helps to cool your body, as water plays an important role in controlling the temperature regulation inside your body. So drink enough water throughout the day.
Carbohydrates, proteins and fat (CPF) are macronutrients. In order to successfully reach your fitness goals, you need to ensure you are getting these nutrients in your diet.
Carbs are the preferred energy source for your body. When you consume carbs, it is converted into glucose that is used to burn for energy for immediate needs. If the blood glucose is not needed for energy immediately, it is converted into glycogen in the liver (to supply energy to the whole body) or muscles (supplies energy only to muscles). Both liver and muscle can store only a limited amount of glycogen. If the body still has an excess of blood glucose and the glycogen stores are full, then the liver converts the excess glucose into fat and stored in your body as body fat.
There is no easy way to tell how much carb you need to consume. It depends on what you are going to do after your meal. If you are planning to take a nap after the meal or going to sit down for long time for your work or going to watch a movie, then you should consume less carb in that particular meal. If you are planning to workout after 2 hours of eating your meal, then increase your carb intake. You need to adjust your carb intake based on how you are planning to expend the energy you get from the carbs in your meal.
So how do you manage your carb intake? If you are going to be very active in the next 2 to 3 hours, consume 50 to 60% of your calories from Carbohydrates. If you are not going to be active, consume 20% to 40% depending on the level of energy you will be spending. Remember, if you consume too much carbs and be inactive, the unused energy will be converted into fat. Many people develop weight because of not only their sedentary life style, but also the too much amount of calories they take from their meals.
When you eat carbohydrates, blood sugar level in you body rises. If the carbs you consume are from high glycemic index foods, it will spike your sugar levels quickly. It is very important to keep your bold sugar levels in normal range, that’s why eating too much carbohydrates is not good for you. At the same time, you should not go extreme by removing carbs from your diet completely. Carbs are the preferred energy source for your body, so you need to keep your body feeding with carbs but within a limit. We have discussed in the last chapter about your caloric needs and what type of carbohydrates to choose. Based on how much you need, keep your carbohydrates in that limit.
Carbohydrates are classified into 2 categories – Simple carbs and Complex carbs. Simple carbs digest very quickly and also raises your bold sugar quickly. Complex carbs take time to digest. So always prefer complex carbs instead of simple ones.
When you look into the food label, you will notice a line for total carbohydrates. Under that you will see 2 lines – one for fiber and another one for sugar. That’s because fiber and sugar are types of carbohydrates. We talked a lot about sugar that is a bad carbohydrate, how it affects our health and why we need to limit it. We haven’t discussed fiber yet. Fiber is considered as a good carbohydrate.
Fiber is found only in plants, not in animal foods. It is an indigestible complex carbohydrate that does not provide any energy. So you minus the fiber value from the total carbohydrates value, which gives you the net carbohydrate value. Many use the net carbohydrate value over total carbohydrate value when counting how much carbs they’re consuming.
Fibers help to lower cholesterol, promote intestinal function and regulate the sugar absorption into the bloodstream. There are 2 types of fibers – soluble fiber that dissolves in water and insoluble fiber that doesn’t. Soluble fiber primarily helps to lower cholesterol and insoluble fiber primarily helps to feel fuller and helps the digestive system. So fiber should be an important component in your diet.
Protein is a very important macronutrient for your muscle health. It helps muscle growth, recovery, and your body strength. Protein’s value is determined by its amino acid content. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and play an important role in exercise performance and post-exercise recovery. Protein is made up of 21 amino acids. There are 3 types of amino acids – 8 essential, 7 conditionally essential and 6 non-essential amino acids.
Your body makes enough amounts of non-essential amino acids that your body needs, so you don’t require them in your food. As the name suggests, your body cannot produce enough conditionally essential amino acids when in extreme stress, injury or illness. Essential amino acids must come from your food, as your body cannot manufacture enough of it for your body’s demands.
Proteins are classified into 2 types – complete and incomplete proteins. Complete proteins contain all the 8 essential amino acids and incomplete proteins lack one or more. If you are a vegetarian, you most likely consume more of the incomplete protein. So you may want to mix two incomplete proteins to make a complete protein. For example, rice and beans have incomplete proteins. By mixing both, you will have a complete protein.
Examples of complete protein sources are Whey protein, Eggs, Milk, Cheese, Cottage cheese, Yogurt, Fish and Meat (chicken, beef, Turkey etc.). Incomplete protein sources include Grains, Rice, Oats, Pasta, Vegetables, Fruits, Some nuts, and Bread etc.
How much protein should you consume at each meal? This depends on few factors like your body weight and your exercise habits. At a minimum you should consume 0.36 grams of protein per pound of your bodyweight daily. But this minimum recommendation does not account for exercises. Exercise increases your body’s protein needs. So for an individual who works out regularly, he or she will need 0.8 grams to 1 gram per pound of bodyweight everyday. For those who workout at a higher level than regular exercising, may need 1.5 to 2 grams per pound of bodyweight. When you consume protein in high range, make sure you drink plenty of water.
Fat is one of the 3 important macronutrients your body needs. Many people think fat is bad for your health. But actually not all fats are bad. In fact, there are few types of fats that are very healthy and essential for your body. Since fat is considered as bad in general, we want to focus here why that is not true in most cases. Fat is an important macronutrient for a healthy skin and hair. It is one of the sources for energy. Fat protects internal organs against sudden forces from outside like something hitting your body hard or falling on a rough surface etc. It also helps carrying fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Fat is needed for your body to function properly. Some types of fats also help to regulate blood pressure.
So why did fat get a bad reputation? Well, there are few types of fat that can harm your cardio system. The worst among them is trans fat. One source of trans fat is hydrogenated vegetable oils. If you see in the food label fully or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, please stay away from those foods. Why trans fat is so bad for you? Trans fats raise the body’s bad cholesterol called LDL, which has been linked heart diseases and stroke. Trans fats are generally found in processed foods (remember we talked about staying away from processed food, this is one more reason why you should stay away). Restaurants particularly fast food ones may use trans fat, particularly for frying. So if you enjoy your French fries, think before you consume. Regularly consuming foods made with trans fat is very bad for your heart.
Another type of fat is saturated fat, which is found in meat, coconut and dairy products like milk. Depends on your diet, saturated fats can play safe or harm roles. With low carb diets, saturated fats are safe to consume in moderation. With high carb diets, you need to ensure you are limiting the amount of saturated fats.
Now lets talk about the good fats, called unsaturated fats that are very heart-healthy. There are 2 types of unsaturated fats – monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Foods like avocados, nuts and olive oils contain monounsaturated fats. These fats are considered the healthiest fat for your body and heart. So consume these fats on your every day meals. The second best and healthiest fat is the polyunsaturated fats, which can be found in soybean and sunflower oils.
We don’t want to close this chapter without mentioning an important fatty acid – Omega 3. It is an essential fatty acid that your body cannot make by itself. So it has to be consumed via food. It offers great health benefits, so consider this essential fatty acid as part of your everyday food. There are two categories of omega 3 fatty acids. Long chain and short chain omega 3 fatty acids. Long chain omega3 fat has 2 types – EPA and DHA and short chain ones are called ALA. EPA stands for EicosaPentaenoic Acid, DHA stands for DocosaHexaenoic Acid and AHA stands for Alpha-Linolenic Acid. EPA and DHA are found in fish whereas AHA is found in nuts and seeds.
Some of the food sources that have Omega 3 fatty acids include Salmon, Tuna, Sardines, Canola Oil, Soybean oil, Flaxseed oil, Flaxseeds and Walnuts.
Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients. You need to make sure you get the needed vitamins and minerals from your food. If you have any deficits of micronutrients, consult your doctor to add proper supplements in your diet.
We all need vitamins. Physically active people need more vitamins than the people live in a sedentary life. There are several types of vitamins and each has a specific responsibility in your body. So you need to make sure you are getting enough vitamins from your food, or else you need to consult your doctor for any recommended vitamin supplements. Lets go through some of the most important vitamins that are essential to your physical fitness and performance.
Function – Helps vision and maintains your skin.
Food sources of vitamin A include Spinach, Carrots, Kale, Sweet Potato, and Broccoli etc.
Function – Helps the function of your nervous system.
Green peas, Asparagus, Pistachios, and Spinach etc. contain B1.
Function – Helps maintenance of cells including repair of cells after an injury.
Food sources include Milk, Eggs, Lamb, Yogurt, Mushrooms and Almonds etc.
Function – Helps the metabolism of protein and fat. Helps in red blood cell production.
Food sources include Lamb, Beef, Tuna, Sardines, Oysters, Clams, Salmon and Cottage cheese etc.
Function – Helps various body functions; acts as an antioxidant
Food sources include Citrus fruits (lemon, oranges), Broccoli, Kiwi, Strawberries, Green peppers and Brussels sprouts etc.
Function – Regulates calcium and phosphate metabolism; Helps to balance hormone in the body; helps to regulate immune system.
Food sources of Vitamin D include Milk, Salmon, Tuna and Eggs etc. Sunlight is another natural source to obtain vitamin D via skin.
Function – Excellent antioxidant that fights free radicals inside your body.
Food sources include Green leaf vegetables, almonds, avocado, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, kiwi fruits, figs, red grapes and olive oil etc.
Function – Helps in blood clotting and prevents excessive bleeding.
Food sources include Cabbage, Kale, Broccoli, Beans, Eggs, and Strawberries etc.
It is better to obtain vitamins from your food. Consult your doctor before taking any vitamin supplements as too much of consuming those will have harmful effects.
Minerals play a very important role in many body functions. Minerals are found in various sources – plants, meats, and water. But some times, the mineral quantities found in these sources are very less. So make sure you are getting enough minerals, or else you need to consult your doctor for any recommended mineral supplements. Lets go through some of the most important minerals that are essential to your physical fitness and performance.
Function – Helps your bones, teeth and needed for muscle contractions.
Food sources include Dairy products (Milk, Cheese, Yogurt), Kale, Broccoli, and Almonds etc. For better calcium absorption, your body requires Vitamin D, K and Magnesium too.
Function – Supports bone and muscle health. Helps muscle contraction.
Food sources include Leafy vegetables, Avocado, Yogurt, Cheese, Almonds, Cashews, Banana, Apples, Black beans, and Dark Chocolate etc.
Function – Helps transmission of nerve impulses, balances body fluids.
Food sources include Table salt, milk, olives, celery, beets and pickles etc.
Function – Helps transmission of nerve impulses. Helps heart functions and muscle contractions.
Food sources include Banana, Avocado, potato, Leafy greens, Coconut water and Yogurt etc.
Function – Helps formation of your bones, teeth and needed for muscle contractions. Helps body to make protein.
Food sources include Beef, Lamb, Eggs, Milk, Broccoli, Potatoes, and Almonds etc.
Function – Helps to transport oxygen.
Food sources include Meat, Egg yolk, Beans, Green leafy like Spinach, and Prunes etc.
Function – Increases the absorption of iron and vitamin C.
Food sources include Lentils, Asparagus, Mushrooms, Dark chocolate, Almonds, and Sunflower seeds etc.
Function – Helps to improve immunity and digestion. Increases muscle endurance.
Food sources include Beef, Lamb, Chicken, Eggs, Yogurt, Whole grains, Shrimp, Oysters and chickpeas etc.
Function – Helps in numerous functions including brain functions and glandular secretions.
Food sources include Tea, Green leafy vegetables, Whole grains, Blueberries, and pineapple etc.
Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices are parts of a plant that help to add flavor to your food and provide nutritional value. They don’t have any calories or sugar content, so they are helpful to lose weight. Herbs mostly come from the leaves of the plant and spices from the other parts of the plant. So a single plant can be both a spice and an herb. One example is Dill.
Examples of herbs include dill leaves, coriander, parsley, mint leaves, garlic, basil, lavender,cilantro, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme and fennel bulbs etc. Examples of Spices include dill seeds, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, cumin, saffron, cardamom, black pepper, cloves etc. Include spices and herbs in your daily meals, both have great health benefits and adds great taste to your food.
Your gut health – Good vs. Bad bacteria:
Bacteria in our body control the gut health and also the overall health. Like we have discussed in the previous chapters that there are good and bad types of carbohydrate and fat; there are good and bad bacteria in our body. By default, many consider bacteria as bad and harmful. This chapter differentiates the good bacteria from the bad ones and explains how much these good bacteria are beneficial to overall health.
Probiotics are live good bacteria that our body needs for a healthy life and play a major role in weight loss. When we lack these good bacteria count, the bad bacteria takes over which creates a harmful environment within our body. So, in order to keep our gut and overall health, we should have the correct balance of these good bacteria. If not balanced right, it will harm our body in many ways and to various problems. To balance to the optimum level, we need Probiotics.
These good bacteria not only helps to lose weight, but also improves digestion, helps to lower cholesterol, boosts immune system, prevents and cures urinary tract infection, etc. Our body has billions of bacteria. Bad bacteria enter into our body in various ways. When bad bacteria count increases, good bacteria count will diminish. To shield our body from bad bacteria infection, our body should have more good bacteria.
When we consume foods that are rich in probiotics, we will be able to increase the count of good bacteria in our gut. Also we need to avoid foods and other harmful substances that affect the balance of bacteria. Those include sugar, sugar drinks including soda, foods that are high in carbohydrate content, antibiotics (which kills good bacteria as well), chemicals and toxins. Also stress affects the bacteria balance in our body. By avoiding bad foods, stress and exposure to toxins, and eating probiotic foods, we will have a good balance of bacteria. With that balance, good bacteria will work to our advantage.
Probiotics can be obtained from food sources and supplements. Always consult with your doctor before you take any supplements. The following foods have good probiotic bacteria.
- Yogurt (unflavored and no sugar added)
- Cheese (Raw and unpasteurized)
In general, almost all fermented foods provide probiotics. If you are unable to get the probiotics from the food sources, consult your doctor for any probiotic supplement. There are several probiotic strains and each have different functions and health benefits. So check with your doctor what the right probiotic strains you need for your health.
Now we know probiotics are good bacteria that keep our digestive system healthy (and overall body health), lets talk about how these live bacteria can survive in our body. Like we need food for living, the live bacteria need food to survive. The food for the probiotics is called prebiotics.
Prebiotics are type of a dietary fiber. Foods that are rich in prebiotics include garlic, onion, banana, oatmeal, legumes, cabbage, asparagus, and artichokes etc
Probiotic and prebiotics will not be both found in the same food. So ensure that you get both from each of their food sources. Some supplements carry both probiotics and prebiotics.
Both probiotics and prebiotics have great health benefits individually. When you combine them and eat, they both offer excellent health benefits. While some of the probiotics when consumed from food sources or supplements may not make it through the stomach due to the heat and stomach acid, prebiotics safely reach the destination and they become the food for the live bacteria that is already in the gut.
Along with probiotics, prebiotics offer the following health benefits.
- Helps to lose weigh
- Improves digestion
- Helps to lower cholestero;
- Boosts immune system
- Prevents and cures urinary tract infection
- Protects from Cancer
- Reduces risk of heart disease
- Lower inflammation
- Protects bone health
We all are exposed to free radicals, whether it is through internal processes happening in our body or from outside via pollution and sunlight. These free radicals can harm our immune system very easily. These radicals also believed to be responsible for some of the changes associated with aging. The general belief is, Antioxidants protect our body from these free radicals, as a defense system.
We can help our body to improve its ability to fight and destroy the free radicals before they cause harm. How do we help our body to equip with such a defense system? The solution is obtaining the natural substances that act as antioxidants from your food. These substances have the ability to block the chemical reactions that create free radicals in the first place. These substances are capable of destroying the free radicals that have already formed.
Antioxidants are found in vegetables, fruits, coffee, tea and dark chocolate. Some Vitamins and minerals have antioxidant properties. Also found in certain vitamins, minerals, herbs and spices.
Free radicals are highly reactive chemical compounds, which affects your body cells. Once these free radicals are initiated, a chain reaction occurs in the body that ultimately capable of destroying the cell. How do we prevent from the exposure to the free radicals? First, try to avoid the pollutants and toxic substances that are known to create free radical formation in the body. Second, avoid smoking (first hand and second hand smoking). Smoking is the man made dangerous health hazard that not only impacts the person who is smoking but also the others who surround them closely. Both first hand and second hand smoking creates an environment for free radicals to thrive. Third, follow a training program including a healthy diet. When you have a constructive and integrated training program, your body’s ability to fight free radicals improves tremendously.
It is very important for us to understand what are free radicals, what kind of damage it can cause, how to fight them and prevent their formation. Every human body has built-in repair systems, but often those are not adequate enough to fight the free radicals and hence the first step is learning how to prevent free radicals from occurring. Second, you need to ensure you consume enough antioxidants from your food to fight these troublemakers. Mother nature has given us with wide variety of antioxidants in the food sources we have access to. Let us go through some of the important foods and drinks that have great antioxidant properties.
Dark chocolate has powerful antioxidant properties. Choose 85% or more cocoa in dark chocolates. Dark chocolate with less percentage of cocoa has more sugar to it and those are less beneficial. Good dark chocolate is loaded with compounds that act as antioxidants. The compounds in dark chocolate consist of flavanol and polyphenol to name few. Flavanol helps and protects our body from free radicals caused by exposure to the sunlight. Polyphenol has great cancer fighting and anti-inflammatory properties. It helps against threats like cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis and bone loss.
Green tea has excellent antioxidant properties that have been clinically proven to fight against some free radicals. To name few benefits, it reduces antibacterial and antiviral activities. It helps to reduce the risk of lung cancer due to smoking. It helps to reduce the risk of skin damage and skin cancer due to radiation. Green tea has polyphenol catechins as an active ingredient. When you prepare green tea, use the warm water to retain its health benefits. Pouring water above 180 degree Fahrenheit may destroy its beneficial effects.
Vitamin E is not only a micronutrient substance we discussed in the last chapter, it also is an antioxidant. Vitamin E is available in variety of fruits; strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, kiwi fruits, figs and red grapes. Vitamin E is helpful in protecting our body from diseases like cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes, and chronic inflammation, guarding the cell functions, protect from nerve pains and injured skin.
Other food sources include blueberries, cranberries, pomegranates, pecans, kidney beans, artichoke, cilantro, turmeric, clove, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, basil, salmon etc.
Importance of right diet plan:
We are living in a world where we have easy and quick access to wide range of processed foods. These foods are made with added sugar, added salt and artificial ingredients to create more shelf life and taste. Our body doesn’t take it well when you consume these types of foods even though you may feel like it tastes great. The foods that we consume on our daily life can make or break our goal to stay fit. In this section we will discuss the dos and don’ts of eating habits.
There are several diet programs in the market these days. Nutrisystem is one of most popular ones and we feel confident recommending it, you can use these nutrisystem promo code coupons to make their meal plans more affordable. You need to know what food to eat, how much to eat and when to eat. It also takes time to know what works and what doesn’t. Your body may not respond the same way it responds to someone else in both training and dieting. Your training and diet plans should be monitored, revised and optimized to gain desired results.
In order to eat healthy, you should make sure you have a meal plan to follow. Make sue you consume small meals 5 to 6 times a day instead of 3 large meals. When you consume a meal, your blood sugar level will rise. This process provides energy to perform physical activities. Physical activities that use the energy from the food consumed will reduce the sugar level. More the activity level, more you will reduce the sugar level. Less the activities, the sugar level will reduce less. When the sugar level goes low, you will feel tired and that’s the signal to eat next meal.
That’s the reason consuming 5 to 6 meals a day is much beneficial than 3 larges meals a day. As an example, a sample meal plan for a day may look like this.
7AM – Breakfast
10 AM – Snacks
12 PM – Lunch
3 PM – Snacks
5 PM – Snacks
7 PM – Dinner
Instead of buying readymade meals or restaurant foods, start eating cooked meals from your kitchen. In this way you are in control of what and what not to include in your every day meal.
In each meal, make sure you have right amount of carbs, protein and fat depending on your goal. Make sure you obtain the needed vitamins and minerals from your diet. Include spices and herbs for taste and health benefits. Also include probiotics and prebiotics for your gut health.
Along with the meal plan, drink enough water throughout the day. Water makes up 55% to 75% of your total bodyweight and is involved in every bodily function. It is a very important substance that your body needs. You need to drink enough water to avoid dehydration. The general guideline is drink atleast 8 glasses of water. A reduction in water consumption will lead to various problems in your body.
Water helps you to recover from your workouts. Water lubricates joins and helps your digestive system. It helps to cool down your body, as temperature regulation inside your body is controlled by water. There are so many functions and benefits of water. When you don’t drink enough water, you become dehydrated and all of these functions become less effective and you will be tired. So drink enough water throughout the day.
Know how much calories you consume approximately each day. For each ingredient you use in your food, you can find its calorie value, so you can find the total calories of your meal. This is just to ensure you are not overeating and not consuming too much calories without you knowing.
Choose Low GI foods over High Glycemic foods
Every food you consume has a glycemic index value associated with it. To maintain sugar balance, prefer to choose low glycemic index foods. Why? High glycemic index foods quickly raise your blood sugar level after eating and that is not helpful in most of the cases.
Low GI Foods:
Low GI foods like vegetables and certain fruits help to stabilize insulin level for longer time. Following are some of the low GI foods.
Spinach, Mushrooms, Broccoli, Cabbage, Celery, Cauliflower, Green Beans, Tomato, Asparagus, Lettuce, Cucumber, sweet peppers, zucchini.
Strawberries, Blueberries, Pears, Cherries, Apple, Peach, Grapefruit Other fruits like banana, oranges and grapes are moderate GI foods.
Black beans, Kidney beans, Soy beans, Lentils, Lima Beans, Pinto Beans, chickpeas, Peanuts, Macadamia Nuts, Almonds, Pecans, Walnut, Hazelnut, Cashews.
Barley, Pearled barley, Quinoa, Milk, Yogurt, Dark chocolate, and Pure Honey.
Eggs and meat products are considered to have no glycemic index value.
High GI Foods:
High GI foods raise insulin level so quickly. Examples of high GI foods include Potato, Rice, Bread, Pasta, Watermelon, Pineapple, Apricot, Cantaloupe, Raisins, and Papaya etc.
Below is the summary of what we have discussed so far.
Exercise and diet are the two building blocks for a healthy life. Each offers great benefits individually but when you combine both, you will achieve amazing results.
We have discussed six strategies to eat healthy and lose weight.
- Learn how to fuel your body in the right way.
- Make sure you have enough carbohydrates, protein and fat in each meal.
- Get all the vitamins and minerals from your food. Also add herbs and spices for flavor and more nutrition.
- Add probiotics in your food to fight the bad bacteria.
- Consume enough antioxidants to fight the radicals.
- Come up with a meal plan that works for you.
In those chapters, we have learned the rules of nutrition. Eating small meals 5 to 6 times a day instead of 3 large meals is a better approach for your weight loss goal. Added sugar in foods and drinks are the leading causes of obesity and hence it is recommended to limit your sugar intake. Avoid processed foods. In each meal, make sure you get all the needed macro and micronutrients. Carbohydrates, protein and fat are considered macronutrients. Vitamins and minerals are called micronutrients. Adjust your calorie intake based on your activity level in between the meals.
We have also discussed the importance of water, fiber, spices and herbs. Include probiotics for various health benefits and feed the probiotics with prebiotic rich foods. We all are exposed to free radicals and we need to fight those using the powerful antioxidants. Finally, we discussed how to come up with a meal plan that works for you. Choose low GI foods over high GI foods, as high GI foods quickly raise the insulin level in your blood.