Healthy Eating Facts
What is a Carbohydrate?
Carbohydrates are compounds composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. They are the main source of fuel for the body, especially the brain and nervous system. Although fat and protein are also a source of energy, they aren’t used as effectively by our bodies as carbohydrates. The main types of carbohydrates are:
- Starch: found in grains, cereals, legumes, nuts, seeds and vegetables such as potato and corn.
- Sugar: found naturally in foods like fruit, milk and yogurt, and added to foods like soft drinks, cakes and biscuits for sweetness. Glucose and fructose are simple sugars, or monosaccharides, and can be found in fruits, berries, vegetables and honey. Table sugar or sucrose is a combination of glucose and fructose. These sugars also occur naturally in both sugar beet, sugar cane and fruits. Lactose is the main sugar in milk and dairy products and maltose is a disaccharide occuring in malt.
- Dietary fiber: carbohydrate found in plant foods which passes through the body undigested. The main source of dietary fiber are cereals, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes.
Carbohydrates in the body
The main function of carbohydrates is to provide energy. After a meal, starch and sugars are broken down into glucose, which can be stored in the body and then used by muscles to provide fuel for activity. Glucose is also the sole source of energy for the brain, nervous system and red blood cells. Although some dietary fiber is used for energy, most escapes digestion and passes through the bowel where it helps maintain bowel health and prevent constipation.
How much carbohydrate should I eat?
It is recommended that 55% of our daily energy (kilojoule) intake come from carbohydrates. For men, this is equal to about 417 grams of carbohydrate; for women, about 296 grams. This equates to approximately:
- Four or more servings of bread, cereals, rice, pasta or noodles
- 2 servings of fruit
- 5 servings of vegetables or legumes
- 2-3 servings of low-fat dairy products
A diverse range of carbohydrate food sources should be consumed to ensure your overall diet is nutritionally adequate.
How much sugar should I eat?
Sugars are often found naturally in foods or can be added during processing. Although they’re an important source of energy, eating too much sugar can have harmful effects. High sugar foods have been associated with obesity and tooth decay and can displace more nutritious foods from the diet.
When carbohydrate foods are eaten they produce a rise and subsequent fall in blood glucose levels known as the ‘glycemic response’. The rate at which a food releases glucose into the blood stream is called the ‘glycemic index (GI). Carbohydrate-containing foods are ranked on a scale of 1-100 according to the glucose response they produce. Low GI foods (a GI less than 55) raise blood glucose levels slowly. Low GI foods can assist blood glucose control in people with diabetes and can also assist with weight management by controlling feelings of hunger.
Low GI foods include whole grain breads and cereals, pasta, some varieties of long grain rice, legumes, corn, sweet potato and many fruits and vegetables. It is important to remember that GI should not be used in isolation to other nutrition principles and to choose foods which are low in total fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar, and high in fiber. Be sure to include a wide variety of foods in your diet every day.
Low carbohydrate diets
Low carbohydrate diets such as the Atkins Diet, the Zone and Sugar Busters claim that people should consume kilojoules mainly from protein and fat. Advocates of these diets believe that carbohydrates cause weight gain and should therefore be limited. Carbohydrates alone, however, do not cause weight gain. Weight gain occurs when daily energy intake from food exceeds output as physical activity. Replacing dietary carbohydrate with fat – especially saturated fat – is linked with serious health problems including heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. Very high protein intakes can pose a risk for healthy bones and also places stress on the kidneys. Many of these diets are nutritionally inadequate as they restrict fruit, some vegetables and high fibre breads and cereals.
Carbohydrates and weight control
As well as providing energy, carbohydrates can indirectly help to control your weight. Fat is higher in kilojoules than carbohydrates, so replacing fatty foods in your diet with carbohydrate-containing ones can reduce overall energy intake. Meals high in carbohydrate also provide satiety (feeling ‘full’) which helps reduce appetite and overeating.
Diabetes is the fastest growing disease in America and internationally. In America, every ten minutes someone is diagnosed with diabetes. With nearly 24 million children and adults living with diabetes and another 57 million at risk, the status quo has become unbearable.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a condition where the body is unable to maintain normal levels of blood glucose ( or sugar). When food is eaten, it is broken down into glucose which is then transported around the body in the bloodstream. Glucose is needed by the body cells for energy. The hormone insulin, produced by the pancreas, helps glucose move from the bloodstream into the body’s cells.
In people with diabetes, the pancreas either can’t make sufficient amounts of insulin, or the insulin it does make is ineffective (a problem called insulin resistance).
There are three types of diabetes:
I. Type I Diabetes (Insulin Dependant)
- Most common in children and young adults but can occur at any age.
- Makes up approximately 10% of diabetes
- Pancreas does not produce insulin, so sufferers must receive insulin in the form of an injection.
- Is not caused by lifestyle factors.
2. Type II Diabetes (Non Insulin Dependant)
- More common in people over 40 years of age
- Makes up to 90% of all diabetes in America.
- Sufferers are insulin resistant i.e. the pancreas does not make enough insulin and does not work effectively.
- Development is influenced by lifestyle factors such as inactivity, obesity and unhealthy diet.
3. Gestational Diabetes
Gestational diabetes can occur during pregnancy and usually goes away after the baby is born.
- Up to 9% of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes around the 26th week of pregnancy.
- Sufferers are at in increased risk of developing diabetes later in life.
- Increased risk of pregnancy complications.
Symptoms of Diabetes
When insulin fails to do its job properly glucose can’t move into the body’s cells and stays trapped in the bloodstream. When the level of glucose gets too high, the body tries to reduce the amount of glucose in the bloodstream by passing it out in the urine. Symptoms of high blood glucose levels include:
- Urinating frequently
- Excessive thirst
- Increased hunger
- Unexplained weight loss
- Extreme tiredness
- Blurred vision
Complications of Diabetes
If left untreated chronic high blood glucose can cause serious damage to the body’s cells and lead to severe health problems such as kidney disease, eye, food and nerve damage.
Furthermore, people with diabetes have an increased risk of developing heart and blood vessel disease. The risk of heart disease is twice as high for men with diabetes and four times as high for women with diabetes.
There is no cure for diabetes, however it can be managed through lifestyle changes, tablets or insulin along with assistance from health care professionals such as your doctor, diabetes educator, dietitian, podiatrist and eye specialists.
The aim of diabetes management is to control blood glucose levels as well as prevent diabetes complications.
Are You At Risk?
A person with some or all of the following listed health risks may never develop type 2 diabetes. However the latest medical findings show that the chances of getting type 2 diabetes increase the more health risk factors you have.
- A family history of diabetes. If a parent or sibling in your family has diabetes, your risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases.
- Age over 45. The chance of getting type 2 diabetes increases with age.
- Race or ethnic background. The risk of type 2 diabetes is greater in Hispanics, blacks, Native Americans and Asians.
- Metabolic Syndrome (Also called insulin resistance syndrome).
- Being overweight. If you are overweight, defined as a body mass index greater than 25, you are at greater risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Hypertension. High blood pressure increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Abnormal Cholesterol Levels. HDL (good) cholesterol levels under 35 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) and/or a triglyceride level over 250 mg/dL increases your risk of type 2 diabetes.
- History of Gestational Diabetes. Getting diabetes during pregnancy or delivering a baby over 9 pounds can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes.
What is Fiber?
Dietary fiber is a type of carbohydrate from plant foods which passes through the body undigested. the main sources of dietary fiber are cereals, fruits, vegetables and legumes.
There are three main types of fiber:
- Soluble fiber is fermented in the large intestine. The process produces substances beneficial for the health of the lower digestive tract. Good sources of soluble fiber include whole grains such as oats and barley, as well as fruits and vegetables.
- Insoluble fiber adds bulk to faeces and helps prevent constipation. Good sources include whole grain foods, legumes, nuts, seeds and the skin of fruit and vegetables.
- Resistant starch while not technically a fiber, resistant starch avoids digestion and acts in a similar way. Resistant starch is found in coarsely ground grains such as wheat, green bananas, potato salad, rice salads and some varieties of corn.
A healthy digestive tract
High fiber diets benefit the entire digestive system. Fiber relieves constipation and promoting regular bowel movements by increasing the bulk of the stool and absorbing water so that faeces pass through more easily. To avoid constipation it is also important to drink plenty of water to balance that which is absorbed by fiber.
Lower blood cholesterol
High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease. Soluble fiber may help lower blood cholesterol by binding with it during digestion preventing it from being absorbed. Rice bran, oat bran and barely bran have all been shown to lower cholesterol.
High fiber foods generally require more chewing, take longer to eat, are more bulky and filling and tend to be lower in fat, which may all assist with weight and appetite control.
Good for diabetes
Eating a diet high in fiber slows the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream which is beneficial for people with diabetes.
Fiber may also help prevent some forms of cancer. It decreases the time that food residues take to pass through the body, and in doing so also shortens the time potentially harmful toxins are in contact with the bowel.
Scientists have also discovered that the fermentation of resistant starch in the large bowel produces short-chain fatty acids which are thought to have a direct slowing effect on cancer cell growth.
How much fiber do I need?
The current recommended intake is 30 grams per day. Most people only consume between half and two-thirds of this, Success Meals ensures clients receive a minimum of 30 grams of dietary fiber per day.
TIP. When increasing dietary fiber it is recommended that you do so gradually to avoid any digestive discomfort.
What is Energy?
Energy is another word for calories. It is fuel supplied by food which keeps our bodies working.
Energy requirements vary according to age, gender, body size, weight and physical activity levels. Fat, protein and carbohydrates in foods all provide energy, but in different amounts.
- Fat = 9 cals per gram
- Protein = 4 cals per gram
- Carbohydrate = 4 cals per gram
Alcohol is also a source of energy but it does not provide any nutrients- instead it increases the amount of vitamins and minerals your body needs.
Carbohydrate is the best source of energy to fuel the body’s muscles and brain. If you don’t eat enough carbohydrate then your body will burn fat or protein for energy as a last resort. Carbohydrates can be ranked according to their rate of energy release from glucose. We call this ranking the ‘glycaemic index’ (GI). Foods that release energy slowly are said to have a low GI- they supply longer lasting energy and can help to control appetite. Low GI carbohydrate foods include whole grain breads and cereals, pasta, some long grain rice, legumes, corn, sweet potato and many varieties of other vegetables and fruits. These types of food contain many nutrients and vitamins essential for the release of energy from food. They also contain large amounts of dietary fiber.
Protein is required for growth and repair, general body development and the production of enzymes and hormones which regulate metabolism. If the body is forced to use protein for energy, less will be available to carry out other important functions. Protein can also help regulate energy intake by reducing feelings of hunger after a meal.
Fat contains twice as much energy as carbohydrate and protein. Moderating your fat intake is therefore a simple way to reduce overall energy intake. Furthermore, energy from dietary fat is converted into body fat more easily than energy from carbohydrate or protein.
It is recommended that fat should comprise less than 30% of your total daily kilojoule intake. This equates to approximately 50-85g of fat per day for men and 40-65g for women. Active adults and growing teenagers have higher requirements.
It is important to remember that excess energy intake in any form whether it be fat, protein, sugar or alcohol, will be converted to body fat if not used over the course of the day.
The body’s energy output is divided into three states:
Basal metabolic rate (BMR)
BMR is the amount of energy the body uses when at rest to maintain basic function such as heart, lung, liver, kidney, and brain function. Basal metabolism consumes about 60-70% of your total energy intake. BMR varies between individuals. For men the approximate BMR is 7000 kJ per day and for women 6000 kJ per day. Men have a higher BMR because they have a higher proportion of muscle cells which burn more energy than fat cells.
Food digestion requires energy to break down nutrients for use in the body. This is known as the ‘thermic effect’ of food and makes 10-15% of your energy needs.
The amount of calories used to fuel the movement and physical activity comprises at least 20% of energy needs. Each time you move you burn energy- taking a shower, brushing your teeth, ironing, walking up stairs, hanging wash, mowing the lawn or shopping. Activities such as sports, brisk walking or bike riding burn extra energy on top of that used in normal daily activities.
Increasing your physical activity levels will increase the amount of energy you burn and help you to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
What are legumes?
Legumes, also known as pulses, are a group of plant foods which include beans, lentils and dried peas. Legumes are nutritionally valuable and a great food to include regularly in your diet.
Some examples of legumes include:
- Beans: Black, kidney, lima, white, pinto, chickpeas, and soy beans
- Peas: Yellow and green split peas
Lentils: Yellow, brown, red and green
Legumes can be purchased either canned or dried. Dried legumes require overnight soaking and cooking for several hours. Canned legumes are pre-cooked and ready to eat.
Nature’s super food
Legumes are an inexpensive and versatile food which contain a wide variety of essential nutrients. Some of the nutritional benefits of legumes include:
- Rich in protein
- Low GI
- Low in saturated fat
- High in fiber and resistant starch
- Important source of vitamins and minerals
Packed with protein
Legumes are an excellent source of vegetable protein and a great low-fat alternative to meat. While the ‘quality’ of protein in legumes is high (they provide a range of essential amino acids needed for growth and repair), they are not considered to be a ‘complete’ protein as they do not contain all the essential amino acids. Fortunately, the amino acids lacking in legumes are found in grain foods. So when eaten in combination with grains, legumes form a high quality source of protein in the diet, particularly for vegetarians.
Full of fiber
Legumes are rich in dietary fiber which is essential for the body’s digestive processes. A healthy diet should include at least 30 g of fiber a day, however most Americans eat approximately two thirds of this. Adding legumes to meals is a great way of increasing fiber intake naturally. For example, just a half a cup of red kidney beans provides one quarter of an adult’s daily fiber requirements.
Good for your heart
Legumes are a particularly good source of ‘soluble’ fiber. Soluble fiber may play a part in reducing blood cholesterol levels and thus reduce the risk of developing heart disease. Soluble fiber is thought to bind to cholesterol and carry it out of the body. Eating foods high in soluble fiber such as legumes may help lower the adsorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream.
Low GI- great news for diabetics
Legumes have a low glycemic index (GI). Low GI foods release glucose more slowly into the blood than foods with a higher GI. This means that legumes are an excellent source of carbohydrate for people affected by diabetes as well as for the general population.
Dynamite for digestive health
A healthy digestive system is essential for overall quality of life. In America, digestive problems are common and are known to be related to poor dietary habits and unhealthy lifestyles. Eating foods containing probiotics (live bacteria such as that found in yogurt) can benefit bowel health by replacing friendly bacteria which have been destroyed by poor diet or medication. Legumes contain a type of fiber known as ‘resistant starch’ which positively effects digestive health by functioning as a prebiotic. Prebiotic’s are a food source for probiotics; they encourage growth and protection of beneficial bacteria in the bowel, while suppressing harmful bacteria. The overall result is a healthier digestive system.
Finding gluten free foods can sometimes be a challenge for people with gluten sensitivities. Gluten is a type of protein that is found in the grains of wheat, rye, barley, triticale, and oats. Legumes are gluten free and can add variety to a gluten free diet.
Legumes are ideal for weight maintenance. All legumes, with the exception of soy beans, are low in fat, and provide plenty of fiber and bulk which can help control appetite by keeping you feeling fuller for longer.
Vitamins and minerals
Legumes are a valuable source of antioxidants, B group vitamins, iron, calcium, phosphorus, zinc and magnesium.
What is Omega-3?
Omega-3 fats are unique polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are vital to life and good health.
There are two types of omega-3 fats:
- Shorter chain omega-3’s- ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) which is found in plant foods
Long chain omega-3’s- EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) found almost exclusively in fish and shellfish
EPA and DHA are known as long chain omega-3’s because their structure is longer than that of ALA.
ALA is considered an essential fatty acid as the body cannot make it. ALA needs to be converted to a long chain form before it can be used efficiently by the body. The body can convert only a very small amount of ALA to EPA, and further conversion to DHA is even more limited. Hence EPA and DHA must also be included in the diet to meet omega-3 requirements.
What are the benefits of long chain omega-3’s?
Omega-3’s are essential for normal growth, development and ongoing health at all stages of life, from infancy to old age.
Scientific evidence supports the beneficial role of EPA and DHA in the healthy development and function of the heart, brain and eyes.
DHA is highly concentrated in the retina of the eye where it improves visual function, and in the brain where it enhances cell-to-cell communication and protection of brain cells. EPA is important for healthy blood vessels, heart health and brain function.
Emerging scientific evidence also suggests long chain omega-3 fats have anti-inflammatory properties and may play a beneficial role in immune, cardiovascular, mental and behavioral health.
How much long chain omega-3’s do we need?
To prevent a deficiency of long chain omega-3’s, health authorities advise an adequate intake of 90mg/day for women and 160 mg/day for men. However, a higher dietary target of 430mg for women and 610mg for men each day is suggested to lower chronic disease risk.
Currently most Americans consume less than half of the suggested intake of long chain omega-3’s by fats.
How can I get more omega-3’s in my diet?
You can increase your intake of omega-3’s by consuming more seafood. The Heart Foundation’s advice is to eat at least two fish meals per week (preferably oily fish), including canned and fresh.
The oilier the fish the more omega-3 fats it will have.
All seafood contains EPA and DHA, however, the levels vary. Oily fish such as salmon, tuna, trout, sardines, and herring are some the richest natural sources of EPA and DHA. White (or lean) fish contain less omega-3 fats.
Crab and muscles contain a reasonably high levels of omega-3’s, however most other shellfish contain similar amounts to white fish. Lean lamb, lean beef and eggs also contain a small amounts of omega-3’s.
There are a growing number of fortified products on the market which have added omega-3’s. Look for the ones which specifically mention the long chain omega-3’s EPA and DHA.
Sources of shorter chain omega-3 ALA include canola, linseed, mustard seed and soybean oil or spreads, walnuts and pecans.
Omega-3 supplements versus eating fish.
The benefits of eating whole foods such as fish to obtain omega-3 fats significantly outweigh those consuming a supplement. Whole foods provide a complex combination of nutrients that your body needs including vitamins and minerals. For example, oily fish not only provides omega-3 fats, its also provides protein, vitamins A and D, niacin, B6 and B12, and important minerals such as zinc, iron and iodine, just to name a few. Omega-3 supplements lack these nutrients and can also be quite costly compared with foods sources such as canned salmon, sardines and tuna.
However if you cannot achieve the recommended intake of omega-3 from food sources alone, supplements may be an appropriate alternative to ensure that you do not miss out on the many health benefits of long-chain omega-3’s.
What are vegetables?
Vegetables are highly nutritious foods and should form the basis of your everyday diet. They are a good source of vitamins (including vitamins A, C and folate), dietary fiber, carbohydrate and phytochemicals (protective plant compounds such as antioxidants). When eaten regularly, they can also help to protect you from certain diseases. However, many Americans struggle to eat the recommended amount each day.
How much are Americans eating?
Most Americans do not eat enough vegetables. According to the National Nutrition Survey:
- 16% of adults did not eat any vegetables on the day of the survey
- only 32% of adults ate more than the minimum amount of vegetables recommended for good health
almost 1/3 of children ate no fruit or vegetables on the day before the survey
Why do I need to eat more vegetables?
Regular intake of vegetables may help to protect against several common diseases and conditions including:
Heart (cardiovascular) disease
Research suggests that antioxidants in vegetables reduce cholesterol production, which in turn decreases the build up of cholesterol in blood vessels that is characteristic of heart disease. Folic acid, found mostly in leafy vegetables such as spinach, may also have protective effects.
- High blood Pressure (hypertension)
Vegetables that contain the minerals potassium and magnesium have the potential to control high blood pressure by helping to lower it.
Research has shown that people who eat adequate amounts of vegetables are less likely to suffer from stroke.
- Type 2 diabetes
Eating plenty of vegetable can help prevent type 2 diabetes by controlling factors which contribute to its development, such as obesity. For people with existing diabetes, vegetables are a rich source of fiber and have a low glycemic index which is thought to help manage blood glucose levels.
- Some forms of cancer
Research suggests that approximately 10% of cancer in America is caused by inadequate intake of fruit and vegetables. Types of cancer that are strongly linked with insufficient vegetable intake include cancers of the mouth, esophagus, stomach and colon.
How many vegetables should I eat?
American Dietary Guidelines encourage us to eat plenty of vegetables, legumes, and fruit. The amount of vegetables required to meet nutritional needs varies according to factors such as age, sex, pregnancy, and breast feeding.
- Adults should aim to eat at least five servings of vegetables and/or legumes each day.
How much is a serving?
A serving of vegetables is equal to:
- 1/2 cup of cooked vegetables
- 1/2 cup of cooked dried beans or beans
- 1 cup of salad vegetables
- 1 small potato
What type of vegetables should I eat?
All vegetables contribute to good health; fresh, frozen and canned. It is important to remember to vary the types that you eat to ensure that your diet supplies a range of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Phytochemicals in vegetables give them their characteristic colors. To maximize potential health benefits, choose one vegetable from each color group every day to increase the variety of protective phytochemicals you consume.
Color groups include:
- purple: beetroot, eggplant, purple asparagus, red cabbage
- green: peas, brussels sprouts, beans
- orange/ yellow: carrots, pumpkin, corn, sweet potato, squash
- white/ brown: chick peas, mushrooms, cauliflower, potatoes
- red: radishes, red kidney beans, tomatoes