Do you eat the same things, day after, day, week after week, with little to no variation? Perhaps you’ve developed somewhat of a “meal pattern”? It’s certainly easy to do, particularly if you really enjoy the foods you’ve gotten into the habit of eating (pizza, hamburgers, cheesecake – is this starting to sound familiar?).
If this does sound like you, you may be missing out on essential nutrients that your body needs—especially if fruits and vegetables aren’t a regular part of your meal plans. Even if you think you’re eating a healthy selection, you can still be lacking important nutrients by consistently eating the same foods. Take a look through this list of essential nutrients to determine if you need to adjust your diet to ensure that you’re getting plenty of each.
Water helps our bodies digest food and transports oxygen and other nutrients to the cells, and helps the body flush out waste and toxins through urine and sweat. It is vital to keeping joints lubricated and cushioned, and maintains the delicate balance of sodium throughout our systems. Without water, you could not expect to survive longer than ten days.
The easiest source of water is drinking it straight from the tap or stocking up on the bottled variety. If you find plain water a bit boring, squeeze in a bit of lemon or lime or look into flavor cartridges that can be added to water filters.
Juices and other beverages also contain water, and even caffeinated beverages such as coffee and tea contribute to your water needs. Most produce is made up of over eighty percent water, and meat contains over 50 percent water.
An essential source of energy, carbohydrates are made up of cellulose, sugars, and starches, which are then turned into glucose (blood sugar) when they are digested by the body. Glucose plays a vital role throughout the body, including tissue building and the proper function of the nervous system.
Simple carbohydrates, such as those found in honey, table sugar, and candies, are digested quickly and give a quick burst of energy. A much more efficient and healthier source is complex carbohydrates, the ones found in beans, grains, fruits and starchy vegetables, such as potatoes and corn. These are absorbed at a slower rate, providing a longer lasting energy source. According to many nutritionists, complex carbohydrates should make up about 50 percent of your daily diet.
Protein helps fight infections and is crucial in cell repair and development. When proteins are digested, they are broken down into amino acids, which then absorbed into the bloodstream and recombined into the proteins your body needs.
Red meat and dairy products are the most obvious sources of protein, but it can also be found in fish, poultry, rice, beans, peas and nuts.
Many Americans get more protein than they need on a regular basis, but vegetarians and athletes need to be vigilant about their intake. According to the Harvard School of Public Health’s Healthy Eating Pyramid, fish, poultry or eggs should be consumed up to two times a day, nuts and beans up to three times a day, and dairy or calcium supplements up to twice a day. Red meat should be eaten only occasionally.
Fats help the body absorb nutrients and regulate your temperature—and they also pack a lot of energy in a very small space, so very little is need in your diet. Fats from animal sources tend to be high in cholesterol, making vegetable fats a healthier choice. Increase your intake of vegetables sources high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, such as olives, avocados, peanut oils and canola oils.
Vitamins and Minerals
These nutrients help the body perform a myriad of functions, including, but not limited to, the production of hormones, cells, and neurotransmitters in the central nervous system; fighting free radicals that can lead to the development of disease; and enhancing your ability to efficiently use other vital nutrients.
A balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables is the best way to maintain a proper intake. Think of color and variety—the more of a range of color in your produce, the more vitamins and minerals are present.
If you sense a deficiency in a particular area, such as a lack of vitamin C or calcium, a specific supplement can help increase your intake. Also, a well-rounded daily multivitamin is an excellent way to start your day.
So now you know! You can still enjoy your favorite foods – just make sure you’re getting the “balance” in your balanced diet!