Forget about vitamins, protein powders and supplements. Focus on your food!
According to the National Health Interview Survey—conducted annually by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics—Americans spent $12.8 billion on natural product supplements in 2012 alone. Altogether, more than one-half of Americans take a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement in the pursuit of better health.
Yet most of us can get all the nutrients we need to live better, longer and heathier right in our grocery stores. And for far less money.
It all depends upon making the right choices and finding a healthy eating style that works for you, long-term.
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Food for Thought
Vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates and fat are the essential building blocks for good nutrition. A healthy diet strikes a balance with all elements working together to help optimize every function in your body. From producing energy to promoting strong bones and teeth to protecting your heart, brain and nervous system, the right nutrition helps everything work a little bit better.
Fluids also play a large role in overall health. Your body needs water to boost the function of vitamins and minerals and help you maintain your energy. If you’re feeling sluggish, fatigued or foggy, you may actually be dehydrated, a far more common condition than you might think. In fact, by the time you realize that you’re thirsty, your body is already crying out for relief.
But when you quench that thirst, make sure that you’re not drinking up part of your daily calorie allotment in the process! Sodas, juices and frappuccinos can really add up without contributing much in the way of fiber, vitamins or minerals. Stick to water and save the calories for whole foods.
Carbs: Friend or Foe?
Carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap, particularly among some weight-loss diet devotees. But the fact is carbs are good for energy production, reducing inflammation in the body and supporting a healthy cardiovascular system.
Unless you have some sort of major allergy or intolerance, you really don’t need to cut out healthy ingredients that contain carbs. Complex carbohydrates—like those in broccoli, carrots and many other fruits and vegetables—are loaded with fiber, lots of vitamins and minerals. However, many people don’t realize that there’s also room in a healthy diet for starchy carbs like whole-grain breads, pasta, fortified cereals, rice and potatoes.
The key is moderation.
As a rule of thumb, half of your plate should be made up of vegetables, with one quarter devoted to lean protein and the remaining portion to starch. To counteract today’s “supersize” mentality, I also recommend that my patients dump the dinner dishes and use a side or salad plate instead. That strategy will give you all the energy you need, without leaving room for things that are not going to be your friend in the weight-loss or healthy-eating department.
Three Squares a Day
Many dieters think “If I eat less, I’ll weigh less.” So, they skip meals.
Unfortunately for them, that’s not exactly how the body works. And worse, it sets them up for failure.
Why? If your body isn’t getting the nutrition it needs, it starts to panic and goes into starvation mode. Basically, your body slows down its metabolism and starts hoarding nutrients—stored as fat, just what you want to get rid of—to keep a nutritional reserve for the even leaner days it imagines ahead. So, to get the protein it needs, your body starts burning off your muscles instead of the fat.
There’s a better way.
Make sure you’re eating three meals a day and that each one contains some protein. That will relax your body’s defenses and fulfill its appetite for protein, protecting your muscles from harm while it burns off fat stores for extra energy.
Vitamins, Minerals and Supplements, Oh My!
For the most part, if you’re eating a balanced diet—a good combination of leafy green vegetables, citrus and other fruits, lean protein (including beans and eggs), and some starchy carbs—it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be lacking in magnesium, calcium, B-vitamins and other vital vitamins or minerals.
One exception may be vitamin D. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 33 percent of the population has either an inadequate or deficient level of vitamin D. I’m one of them, and take a supplement upon the advice of my personal physician. But don’t start taking vitamin D on your own. Instead, see your doctor and get a blood test—the only surefire way to know if you’re deficient.
Beyond vitamin D, Americans rarely lack enough vitamins or minerals. However, if you experience persistent fatigue, muscle cramping or weakness, tingling or numbness in your hands or feet, nausea or vomiting, you should contact your doctor. Nutritional deficiency could be one of any number of potential causes.
Finding the Right Balance
To establish a healthy eating pattern you can adopt for life, make sure you:
- Get plenty of vitamins and minerals through fruits and vegetables
- Consume enough protein
- Eat a variety of foods
- Have regular, consistent meals, three times a day
- Drink lots of water
Equally important, though, is the satisfaction factor: Are you enjoying your meals? If not, it’s too easy to give up on your good intentions. What you need is a routine you can live with.
So, if you’re struggling to find that right balance or a nutrition plan you can stick with, consider consulting a professional dietitian for guidance. We have all the information you need and can help you focus on what works for you.