The body is a machine that requires fuel to function efficiently. How you fuel your body will greatly influence your energy level, weight, immune function, emotions and overall health. Daily recommended nutritional intake varies greatly with each individual, but certain guidelines, such as those set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, can help you meet your body's daily nutritional needs and promote long-lasting health,
MyPyramid.gov, a program initiated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, researches human nutrition and produces a pyramid of five food groups the body needs each day for overall health. Current food groups include grains, vegetables, fruits, milk, and meats and beans. MyPyramid.gov recommends obtaining daily servings of 6 oz., 2.5 cups, 2 cups, 3 cups and 5.5 cups of each, respectively. The website offers additional help in figuring out these portions. For example, 1 oz. of a grain would be equal to half of an average English muffin or a half-cup of cooked rice.
Daily caloric intake depends on your basal metabolic rate, or the energy your body requires to function at rest. Basal metabolic rate is determined by your sex, age, weight, activity level and genetics. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration bases nutrition labels on a 2,000 calorie-per-day diet, but your needs may be different. A typical, healthy adult needs between 1,800 and 2,200 calories each day. Sedentary people may need less, but diets of less than 1,500 calories per day are rarely adequate.
Protein is one of the three macronutrients and is required in large amounts through food. Protein comprises about 20 percent the weight of the body's major organs and 10 percent that of the brain, and is considered the building block of the body's cells. Protein is responsible for tissue growth and repair, and you should consume about .8 g of protein per 1 kg. of body weight. Highly active people may need more, sometimes up to 1.5 to 2 g per 1 kg. of body weight. Protein is found primarily in the meat and beans group.
Another macronutrient, carbohydrate, is a molecule that quickly enters the bloodstream and provides the body with sustained energy. You need about 50 to 100 g of carbohydrates each day, and about 45 to 65 percent of your calories should come from carbohydrates. Adequate carbohydrate intake can be obtained by consuming the recommended daily servings of grains. Sugar, which is also a carbohydrate, should be consumed in moderation.
Fat is often seen in a negative light because of its association with cardiovascular disease, lethargy and unsightly appearance, but fat is a macronutrient and a key component of health. Fat helps protect the body's organs, transports vitamins and provides energy. About 20 to 35 percent of your total calories should come from fat, says MayoClinic.com. Fats from fish, nuts and vegetable oils are better for you than those from butter, shortening and lard.
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals are found in just about all foods, and you can obtain all the vitamins and minerals you need by consuming the recommended values for each of the five food groups. Vitamins and minerals play large roles in all of the body's cellular, metabolic and nervous system functions. However, these substances cannot be produced by the body and must be consumed through food. Pay special attention to eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to meet your vitamin and mineral needs.
Water is a nutrient, and it plays a more important role in your overall health than any other substance. While you can live for about a month without food, you can only survive for about four days without water. Anywhere from 45 to 75 percent of the body is comprised of water. Thirst is not a good indicator of the need for water intake because the body has already reached a state of dehydration when this sensation occurs. A general rule of thumb is to consume eight 8-oz. glasses of water each day. You will need more if you exercise or perspire a lot.
- MayoClinic.com: Water: How Much Water Should You Drink Every Day?
- "Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005"; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2005
- "Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning"; Thomas R. Baechle and Roger W. Earle; 2008