As I’m becoming more serious about cooking, I felt I should try to educate myself on what exactly these nutrition labels were trying to tell us. Not only how much we should be eating, but also why they are beneficial. Well, I didn’t realize that for every one line item, there were about 4 other factors going into that one item. A nutritious meal has also changed over the years – it no longer necessarily includes those two fruits, three veggies, meat and potatoes meals and things loaded with butter our grandmas used to make. Nutrition encourages us to choose most of the foods you eat from healthy proteins, whole grains, healthy oils, fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, and seeds. So, here is my obligated informative post on what your food is trying to tell you:
Fat. Apparently there are also good kinds! Fats are a prime source of energy. Here is your fat guide 101:
- You want to eat unsaturated fats – they’re good for your heart and improve your body’s cholesterol profile. Cholesterol actually helps make the “skin” around the cells and makes the bile acids needed to digest food. It also helps make vitamin D and our hormones, an energy storage department, cushions and insulates organs and tissues, and regulates body temperature. (So I guess it’s a little important we keep that in check) The first type of this is monounsaturated fats. These are found in your oils (olive, peanut, canola) avocados, and most nuts.
- Polyunsaturated fats– These are found in corn oil, soybean oil, seeds, nuts, whole grains, and fatty fish (salmon/tuna). Omega-3 is a great example of a polyunsaturated fat. In addition to your heart, these are essential to healthy brain and immune system function as well as nerve development.
- You want to limited your intake of saturated fats. These are found in red meat, dairy products, and palm/coconut oil. Saturated fat increases BAD cholesterol which can lead to heart attacks or strokes. Limit your intake to no more than 8% of your daily calories or 17 grams per day.
- You want to at ALL costs avoid trans fat. These are doubly bad for your heart. They are found in margarine and vegetable shortenings, and almost all fast food and commercially prepared baking goods. They not only increased the bad cholesterol, but they simultaneously LOWER your good cholesterol.
Remember how everyone went nuts over whether or not carbs were good or bad for you? Well, I can tell you personally that I could never cut out carbs. I’m literally on an all carb diet. So how do I make that healthy? Well, much like fats, there are good and bad carbs. Sugar and starch are the main digestible carbs in food which both get converted into glucose which in turn gets used for energy. So how is that bad?
- Bad carbohydrates – white bread, baked goods from highly refined white flour, white rice, sugary sodas and juices, and potatoes (french fries?!). These are bad because they cause a quick, strong spike in blood sugar levels which can lead to increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, and excess weight (feel you on that one)
- Good carbohydrates – fruits, vegetables, whole wheat bread, whole-grain pastas, and whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, oats, and bulgar). These are good because they gradually convert their sugars which increases your blood sugar slowly and not as intense.
The last little mystery would be the actual meaning of calories, which actually aren’t really anything except a measure of energy. It is the ratio of carbohydrates to fats to proteins.The general definition for a food calorie is the amount of energy a 150lb person burns each minute while sleeping. A calorie is a calorie. It doesn’t matter where the calorie comes from – fruits, veggies, ice cream, meat, etc. Eating too many calories and burning too few is what leads to weight gain.
An interesting way to determine how many calories you actually need to consume in a day to keep your weight steady is to multiply your weight by 15. For example, if you weigh 130, you will need 130 x 15 = 1,950. To lose weight (a healthy average is about 1lb a week) you can cut back 500 calories, so 1,450 calories. You can also cut back less and exercise more to achieve the same results.
Those are (in a large nutshell) some of the things I found were helpful when I was looking at foods to make and help me make a decision of what to eat. Weight management is always so difficult so hopefully this clears up some of those grey areas and helps offer some healthy alternatives to some of the staple items (such as oils, breads, butters, etc.) for healthier eating.
(credit: Joy of Cooking cookbook)