The Basics: Protein
Proteins are the building blocks of your body. They are everywhere: muscles, bones, skin, enzymes, hormones, etc. Dietary proteins are used to repairs tissue, keep you hydrated, maintain an acid-base balance, support the production of hormones, and supply energy. Proteins are made up of amino acids. There are 20 amino acids, and nine of these are essential and the other 11 are classified as non-essential. “Essential” means that they are required for health and growth but that your body cannot manufacture them, so you must consume them. But don’t worry – in most developed countries, people generally eat enough protein to cover their basic needs. On the other hand, non-essential amino acids can be produced by the body from the essential ones. Each gram of protein provides 4 calories.
The major sources of protein are:
Meat, fish, poultry and eggs, dairy products, nuts, beans
Check your fridge, freezer, and shelves for protein sources. Find one of each type listed above.
The Basics: Fats
As you know, your body stores energy as fat. Fat has more than a few functions. Among others, it :
- supplies energy
- cushions organs
- allows vitamins A, D, E, and K to be absorbed into the body.
Fat can be categorized into 3 main types:
- Unsaturated fat
- Saturated fat
- Trans fat (commercially engineered transformation to keep foods crisp and fresh).
Unsaturated fat is liquid at room temperature, and is the healthiest of the three. It decreases “bad” cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and the risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer. It can be divided in 2 subcategories: 1. Monounsaturated and 2. Polyunsaturated (also called omega3, 6, and 9).
Foods high in monounsaturated fat are:
Avocados, nuts (cashews, pistachios, almonds, and peanuts), Safflower, canola, olive, and peanut oil
Foods high in polyunsaturated fat are:
Soybean, corn and cottonseed oil and fatty fish (salmon, white tuna, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines)
Fatty fish has been praised for its healthiness. While the consensus regards fat as unhealthy and increases our risk of heart disease, the polyunsaturated fats found in fish do the exact opposite: they reduce our risk of heart disease. Japan, where fish is a national dish (Sushi anyone?), has the world’s lowest rates of cardiovascular diseases. Of course, there are fats are do cause damage to our internal systems but more on that later.
Saturated fat is found mainly in animals and is solid at room temperature. Historically, it has been linked to increased risk of heart disease, but this was recently challenged and is still debated. To err on the safe side, we recommend you eat it in moderation.
The following foods are high in saturated fat:
Fatty meats, poultry fat and skin, animal fats, medium or high fat cheese (8-25%), palm oil (40-45%), butter (45-50%), coconut oil (80-85%)
Trans fat is made when food manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil (a process called “hydrogenation”) to make it solid, extend its shelf life, and give it a crispier texture. Of all fat types, trans is the worst and raises heart disease risk substantially*. Avoid it at all cost. It is found in:
Margarine, shortening, most commercially packaged cookies, cakes and crackers, some commercial processed snacks and sweets, some French fries and other fried fast food.
The typical American diet contains 20% to 30% fat. Each gram provides 9 calories.
Add some type of fatty fish, like salmon, to your grocery list and buy one next time you shop. Eat it grilled, smoked, or just plain pan broiled. Find new recipes to try with it, and begin to include fatty fish to your meal schedule 3 times per week.
ACTION STEP REVISITED
Eliminate trans fat completely from your diet. Its labeling is mandatory: check the nutrition facts of your favorite cookies for it. Also, replace margarine for olive oil (best choice). If you can’t stand the taste, plain old butter is still better.
*U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Revealing Trans Fats. Online: http://www.fda.gov/FDAC/features/2003/503_fats.html. Browsed 2/17/2008.