How Do You Know You're Getting
Good Nutrition?

Food is the third health essential after air and water. But how do you define good nutrition? How can you sort through the myriad opinions that you come across daily in women's magazines, newspaper articles and lifestyle television programs, not to mention the ever-expanding range of nutrition books in your local bookstore?

good nutrition - vegetablesIn the 21st century, not only is choosing what to eat confusing, but there are other factors that have a great bearing on our overall health. There's a whole range of environmental toxins to consider, not to mention the questionable modifications made to our foods to serve the interests of the marketplace. Then there are the problems inherent in importing foods from countries whose standards of health, especially in the areas of pesticides and food contaminants, are different from our own.

While it's tempting to throw up your hands and say, "I give up – I'll just eat whatever I like!", these concerns make being informed about good nutrition more important than ever.So let's start with the basics.

Without getting too heavily into the science of nutrition, traditional human diets include the following components:

  • Carbohydrates

    Purpose: To provide the energy or fuel necessary for a variety of bodily processes. The heat or calories released by carbohydrates is used to facilitate digestion, including fat and protein metabolism, brain and nervous system functioning, and muscle movement.

    Sources: plants, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and grains

  • Protein

    Purpose: To provide building material for the body and thus maintain healthy tissues, bones, nerves and internal organs. Protein is broken down into amino acids, each of which has specific properties essential for maintaining health.

    Source: Animal products including meat and dairy, seafood, eggs, plants (in smaller quantities)

  • Fats

    Purpose: To provide concentrated energy (twice the amount of carbohydrates) and supply essential nutrients. Fats also act as carriers for fat-soluble vitamins, protect and hold in place various organs, insulate the body and conserve body heat, prolong digestion to allow the absorption of nutrients, and promote healthy skin and muscles.

    Sources; animal fat, fish oils, vegetable oils, seed and nut oils

  • Fiber

    Purpose: To maintain the digestive tract by exercising the internal muscles so that waste products are eliminated regularly.

    Source: Carbohydrate foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and grains

Good nutrition demands that we consume all of these foodstuffs every day. But, in addition, our bodies also require the following micronutrients and liquids for healthy functioning:

  • Vitamins

    Vitamins are organic substances that are essential in maintaining the body's health. Although they're found in both plants and animal products, many people prefer to cover all bases by purchasing them in supplement form from pharmacies and health food outlets.

  • Minerals

    Minerals are inorganic substances that can be most easily absorbed by the body in chelated form. Dr Joel Wallach, author of the controversial book Dead Doctors Don't Lie, claims our bodies need 87 minerals every day to perform all the functions necessary to maintain good health.

  • Water

    While there's no actual scientific evidence that you need to drink 8 glasses of water a day, this seems to be the magic number agreed up on most of the nutritionists we've studied. Others believe that you can cut down on that total by consuming more water-bearing foods such as fruits and vegetables.

What The Experts Say…

What kinds of foods should you eat to guarantee good nutrition??

While nutritionists generally agree on the basics - carbohydrate, protein, fats and fibre - they tend to disagree on the proportions of these foodstuffs we need to consume daily. Specific foods go from 'good' to 'bad' and back again as the definition of good nutrition changes. Watching the pendulum swings of expert opinion over the past several decades has made for an entertaining sideshow. Some of the trends we've come across include:

  • The High Protein Prophets:
    Lelord Kordel, Gaylord Hauser and Adele Davies wrote a number of best sellers in the 1960s and 1970s advocating high protein meat-based diets that included substantial amounts of carbohydrates. The exceptions were Robert Atkins and Herman Tarnower of Scarsdale Diet fame, both of whom had phenomenal success with their high protein/low carbohydrate diets.

  • The Vegetarians
    Paul Bragg, Arnold Ehert, Paavo Airola and Bernard Jensen emphasized a semi-vegetarian diet based on whole grains. Many writers have published best sellers on both vegetarianism and raw food diets.

  • The Hi Carb Camp
    The 1980s saw writers like Robert Haas promote high carbohydrate diets. The Haas diet was used to train athletes and the phrase 'carbohydrate loading' came into usage as a result. Heavy meat consumption fell out of favor and vegetarianism became more popular.

  • Low Fat Diets
    The 1980s also saw an emphasis on fat free diets, and a large number of fat free foods were introduced into the market place. The result of these two developments – high carbohydrate and low fat programs – was an alarming increase in the girths of many citizens in affluent countries.

  • The Low GI Gurus
    The late 1990s and early 21st century saw the rise in popularity of the Glycemic Index (GI). Robert Atkins came back into vogue, and Michel Montignac wrote a best seller called The French Diet: Why French Women Don't Get Fat. Good nutrition swung away from vegetarianism and back to red meat.

  • Current Thinking
    Over the past five years, expert opinion has rescued carbohydrates from the 'sin bin' and encouraged the inclusion of small but regular amounts in each meal. Barry Sears' bestseller, The Zone Diet, offers one method of doing this. And the GI offers a way to evaluate your choices in terms of carbohydrates.

So Where Does That Leave Us With Regard To Good Nutrition?

A simple approach would be to follow the basic guidelines as set out by the USDA updated food pyramid:


USDA 2005 updated food pyramid
[click on image to see a larger one]

The proportions are roughly as follows:

Grains: 27%
Vegetables: 23%
Fruits: 15%
Fats & Oils: 2%
Milk & Dairy: 23%
Meat & Beans: 10%

But in choosing which foods to eat in each category, you might also want to consider the following:
  • How fresh is the food?
  • Is it locally grown?
  • Is it organic (pesticide free)?
  • Is it overly processed (especially packaged foods)?
  • Where does it rate on the Glycemic Index?
  • How balanced are your meals (protein, carbs, fats and fibre in each meal)?
  • Do you need supplements as well?

Art Dragon has created the food balance wheel as a simple way of understanding the food pyramid and other approaches to nutrition.

His book is called Balanced Eating Made Easy with the Food Balance Wheel, and you can click on the graphic to read the reviews.


Obviously good nutrition entails more than what we can cover in a brief overview. To learn more on the subject, visit our Good Nutrition Resources page.

> > Health Essential #4: Detoxification


Disclaimer:
It's important that you consult with a qualified health professional before embarking on any new dietary or exercise regimen.

Gathering information online is fine for research purposes, but you need a real live professional to monitor your progress if you attempt to make drastic changes to your lifestyle. Unless you're a health professional yourself, you aren't equipped to objectively observe your body's responses to a new diet or exercise program. So whatever your chosen course of action, please be sure you enlist the support of a qualified professional.

Read our full Disclaimer here.