Understanding Nutrition and Making Healthy Food Choices

Posted at 11:47 PM on Mar 31, 2023


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. The food we eat is broken down in our gut and then used for energy to perform our bodily functions.  Food is divided into three types: proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. 

Proteins are building blocks that help body processes work and build muscle.  Proteins are found in meat, fish, tofu, eggs, beans, yogurt, chickpeas, cheese, nuts & seeds.

Carbohydrates are sugars, starches, and fibers found in fruits, grains, dairy products like milk and ice cream, breads, cereals, juice, legumes like beans, lentils, and peas, and in many foods that taste sweet/contain sugar.  They give us quick energy by quickly raising blood sugar.

Fats are used for fuel to make the body function; dietary fats keep your skin and hair healthy and help you absorb certain essential vitamins from food. Good fats are unsaturated (particularly mono-unsaturated) and are found in foods like olive oil, fish, nuts, seeds, and avocados.  In contrast, saturated fats are not as good and should be eaten in smaller quantities.  Eating too many saturated fats can raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, can clog your arteries, and increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. They are found in fried foods, butter, meat, some cheeses, and dairy products.

What to Eat

When it comes to choosing what to eat, keep it simple. Think about eating whole natural foods that are minimally processed. Another way of saying it, is try to eat foods with the “fewest steps from farm to table”…meaning foods that aren’t changed very much from when they were growing before you eat them. These foods will be the most nutrient-dense. These types of foods will leave you feeling full and satisfied.

Processed foods should be eaten sparingly because they have high amounts of sodium, fat 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.  

No foods are off limits but remember to eat everything in moderation. Don’t eat too much of any one food or type of nutrient…meaning don’t have most of your diet be just carbohydrates or just fats or just protein. Your diet should be varied with some of each nutrient.

Most of your diet should be filled with vegetables (particularly green veggies), fruits, 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 (or 50%) of each meal and snack, whole grains ¼ (or 25%) of your plate, and protein ¼ (or 25%) of the plate. 

Vegetables and fruits should be the majority of what you eat because they help clean your arteries, provide essential vitamins and minerals, and help your body run more efficiently. They also help reduce inflammation. Remember that fruits include squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplant, pumpkins, and avocados. Be careful to limit fruits with lots of sugar like pineapple, watermelon, mangoes, grapes, and bananas.

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 or pecans 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, sauteed mushrooms, and roasted fingerling 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.

Understanding Nutrition

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.

Learn more about our Weight Loss & Nutritional Counseling services today.