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A Healthful Diet
Meeting Daily Nutritional Guidelines - Tips
Servings and Serving Sizes
Calcium and Iron
Fruits and Vegetables
About Diet & Nutrition
The nutritional goal of every individual should involve eating a diet composed of a great variety of foods. There is no single type of food or single food group that can provide all of the vitamins and nutrients needed to keep the body in good health. The body requires energy from food. To maintain optimum health, the body requires this energy from protein, fats and carbohydrates. The energy rendered by food and the energy the body requires is measured in calories. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration outlines the following caloric requirements for different groups of individuals. Caloric needs depend on many factors, including age, activity level and sex. It is recommended that the intake of calories be distributed evenly over a day.
Average daily calories required:
1,600 — Most women and some older adults
2,000 — Adult average
2,200 — Most men, active women, teenage girls and children
2,800 — Active men and teenage boys
Components of a healthy diet and caloric intake
Protein intake should constitute approximately 12% of daily calorie intake. Protein is essential to the body for the maintenance of tissues like organs and muscles. Far too many people today eat too much protein. High protein diets are usually very high in fat and cholesterol. A wide variety of foods are high in protein, including meat, poultry, seafood, legumes, nuts and dairy products.
Carbohydrate intake should constitute approximately 55-65% of daily caloric intake. Complex carbohydrates include the fiber in grains, legumes and vegetables. Simple carbohydrates include the sugars present in fruits, milk and sweets. Carbohydrates are used by the body primarily for energy and are vital to good health. More complex carbohydrates are preferable to simple carbohydrates because they provide more nutrients and are absorbed more slowly by the body.
Fat intake should constitute approximately 20-30% of daily caloric intake. Although too much fat is detrimental to good health, some fat is essential as a concentrated source of energy for the body. There are many different kinds of fat, including saturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, trans fatty acids and monounsaturated fat. Saturated fat should constitute no more than 10% of daily caloric intake.
Daily cholesterol intake should not exceed 300 milligrams (mg) a day. Sources high in cholesterol include meats and poultry, egg yolks and whole milk products.
Daily sodium intake should not exceed 2,400 mg a day. Sodium constitutes 40% of table salt and is also naturally occurring in many foods. A very small amount of sodium (1/4 teaspoon daily) is required by the body. A diet high in sodium puts the body as risk for stroke, heart attack and high blood pressure. Processed foods are often very high in sodium.
Daily fiber intake should be approximately 20 to 35 grams a day. There are two types of fiber - insoluble fiber and soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber consists largely of plant cell material and it holds onto water, resisting digestion and preventing constipation. Whole grains and vegetables are an excellent source of insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber is thought by many to improve blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Fruits, legumes and oats provide excellent levels of soluble fiber.
Calories in Food
Most people who maintain a healthy diet at the same time as getting adequate exercise do not need to count calories in foods. Ensuring that you eat the appropriate servings of each food group should be enough. Those who are interested in the amount of calories in foods can use any number of resources available online to research the calorie content of food items.
The U.S. Government's Food and Nutrition Information Center offers detailed information about nutritional guidelines for Americans. The National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases offers excellent resources on nutrition and other health issues.
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