Understanding Nutrition and Making Healthy Food Choices

Posted at 4:47 PM on Nov 9, 2021


Nutrition has become a confusing topic. It seems there are always new publications and fad diets in the news telling you what to eat and what not to eat. Thankfully, nutrition does not have to be so complex. Let us break down nutrition and show you how you can easily make healthier food choices.

Understanding Nutrition

Nutrition is the study of how food and beverages work within the body. It is how our bodies take in micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and/or macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) and use them to make energy and grow. Nutrition is essential for all basic functions of the human body. 

Eating a Nutrient Rich Diet

We have all heard the expression “you are what you eat”, and there is truth to this. The foods we choose to put into our bodies directly impact how our bodies perform. Proteins are building blocks that help body processes work and build muscle; carbohydrates and fat are used for fuel to make the body function; dietary fats keep your skin and hair healthy and help you absorb certain vitamins from food. Good fats are unsaturated (particularly mono-unsaturated) and are found in foods like olive oil. Saturated fats are bad fats and should be eaten in small quantities.  Saturated fats raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.  

What to Eat

When it comes to choosing what to eat, keep it simple. Think about eating whole natural foods that are minimally processed. These foods will be the most nutrient-dense. These types of foods will leave you feeling full and satisfied. No foods are off limits but remember to eat everything in moderation. 

Processed foods should be eaten sparingly because they have high amounts of sodium and added sugars; these foods don’t make you feel as satisfied, leaving you hungry a short time later. They also have lots of fat, calories, and can be expensive.  

Most of your diet should be filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. According to the MyPlate Model (the national dietary guideline that replaced the “food pyramid”), vegetables and fruits should make up ½ of each meal and snack, whole grains ¼ of your plate, and protein ¼ of the plate. Vegetables and fruits should be the majority of what you eat because they help clean up your arteries, provide essential vitamins and minerals, and help your body run more efficiently. They also help reduce inflammation. 

Here is an example of what a normal day of healthy eating may look like:

Steel cut oats topped with fresh berries, a few walnuts and milk if desired

Carrot sticks with hummus

Leafy greens topped with grilled chicken and a vinaigrette dressing

A small handful of roasted salt-free nuts

Grilled salmon served with steamed broccoli and roasted red potatoes

2 hard boiled eggs

Fresh or frozen yogurt topped with fresh berries

Eating healthy does not require deprivation. When choosing nutrient-rich foods, you will find that you can eat more and will be left feeling fuller faster and for longer.

Boredom Eating

We are all guilty of boredom eating, so before you grab that handful of chips first try drinking a glass of water to determine if you are hungry. After drinking water, go for a handful of carrots instead of the chips. If you don’t want the carrots, you are likely not hungry. Be more mindful when selecting the types of food and when you are eating. 

Eating While Standing

Avoid eating while standing. This can increase the amount you eat, lead to bloating, and leads to feeling hungry sooner.

Track What You Eat

An easy way to be more mindful with the foods you put into your body is to track your food. You can do this using a pen and paper or download one of the many free apps available. By simply tracking your food, you may find yourself making different choices. Mindful eating often leads to more enjoyment in eating, eating healthier foods, and eating less.

Seek Nutritional Counseling

If you are still feeling overwhelmed about how to eat well, your primary care physician is there to help and answer all your questions. Don’t feel afraid to ask your doctor about how to eat well. Remember that every body is different and there is no one diet that fits all.