Optimal nutrition is a package deal, encompassing proper amounts of calories and nutrients, and the moderation of highly processed foods. Making quality food and beverage choices helps you improve your health, boost longevity and just plain feel better. Although a great deal of scientific research goes into establishing nutritional guidelines for adults, meeting those guidelines is a fairly simple undertaking once you understand the basics.
The number of calories you consume affects your weight, a major predictor of disease risk. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 reports that 34 percent of Americans were classified as obese in 2008. While unhealthy food choices affect weight, the number of calories consumed is a major contributor to this phenomenon. Men generally require more calories than women. The healthy range for most men is 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day, depending on age and activity level. Women typically need 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day. The more active you are, the higher your calorie requirements. After about age 50, calorie needs generally decrease as a result of a lower metabolic rate.
Consuming a healthy mix of carbohydrates, proteins and fats ensures that both men and women get an appropriate balance of vitamins and minerals. As a general guideline, carbohydrates account for 45 to 65 percent of total calories in a balanced diet. The quality of the carbohydrates you choose affects your hunger level, as well as your health. Eat whole grains, fruits and vegetables and limit refined grains such as white bread and pasta, grain-based desserts and candy. Protein, optimally providing 10 to 35 percent of overall calories, should ideally come from legumes, seeds, nuts, skinless poultry, fish and limited amounts of lean red meats. Rely on fish, nuts and healthy oils such as olive, canola and safflower oil for fat calories, which generally constitute 20 to 35 percent of calories in a balanced diet.
Foods to Limit
Part of maximizing nutrition is knowing what not to eat. With the abundance of convenience foods on the market, it pays to know what to look for when evaluating your choices. The American Heart Association recommends that adults limit saturated fat to 7 percent of total calories, keep sodium to less than 1,500 mg per day and limit sugary beverages to 450 calories or less per week. Reduce your consumption of solid fat, a common component in commercially baked goods and desserts. Limit foods with added sugar.
Most adults consume less than the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. Men need roughly 28 to 34 g of fiber daily, while women need around 22 to 28 g. To ensure adequate intake, fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables and divide the other half between whole grains and lean protein. While men have higher calorie requirements than women, women need more of certain nutrients, particularly during pregnancy, lactation and the childbearing years. Prior to menopause, women need 18 mg of iron daily, compared to the 8 mg recommendation for men. Suggested intake increases to 27 mg during pregnancy and decreases to 9 mg during lactation.