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Nutrition At Its Best

Jun 26, 2008
To properly understand nutrition you really need to know a few terms. Don't think I don't watch people in the grocery stores staring blankly at the food levels not knowing what they mean... or worse yet not even knowing! Pull out a few things from your fridge and read down the list to start comparing food groups. Try taking out a can of beans, a carton of skim milk, and maybe those cookies you have tucked into your cupboard that you save for those really bad cravings... then read on.

The one of the most important steps you will ever make to becoming healthy is to understand what you are putting into your body. While no extreme diet is healthy, finding what is best for you is. Let's take a look now at the items you'll find on a nutrition facts label.

Serving Size: The amount that is given (typically in cups) for a single serving, which makes it easier for the consumer to compare food nutrients side-by-side. WARNING! One container often contains multiple servings.

Calories: A unit of food energy equal to the temperature needed to increase the temperature of either a gram or kilogram of water by one degree celsius. An average active male will consume about 2,000 calories per day.

Fat: All fats are NOT equal. There are four main types of fats:

* Saturated Fats (bad): All of the carbon atoms of saturated fat are filled with hydrogen. Saturated fat raises LBL (bad) cholesterol. Generally these fats are found in animal products such as: meat, seafood, dairy, eggs, margarines, lard, and vegetable shortening. You want to think of these fats as a primarily bad fat.

* Trans Fat (bad): Trans fat occurs when liquid oils are hydrogenated to withstand food production processing. Trans fat is actually worse that saturated fats because it raises LDL cholesterol and lowers your good (HDL) cholesterol. These fats are typically found in fried foods, french fries, potato chips, vegetable shortening, and margarine. As of 2006 companies producing foods containing trans fat are required to state on the nutrition facts label that the food contains trans fat. Often you will see partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated, meaning there is a small amount of trans fat.

* Polyunsaturated Fat (good): These contain more than one double bond because there is more than one hydrogen atom missing in the carbon chain. These fats lower cholesterol, and are good for the body. The fats come in two types, Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Polyunsaturated fat is found in fish, nuts, seeds, canola oil, and safflower. Omega-3 has been linked to weight loss. People looking to lose weight should consider adding Omega-3 to their diet. For meat eaters I recommend taking gelatin capsules of Omega-3 which often comes from fish sources. For vegetarians I recommend liquid flaxseed oil mixed into protein shakes... the liquid is thick and the taste is horrid!

* Monounsaturated Fat (good): There is one space on these fats which is missing a hydrogen atom. Again, these fats lower cholesterol levels. Some manufacturers list monounsaturated fats, if you don't see it listed subtract the saturated and trans fats from the total fat. Monounsaturated fats can be found in canola oil, olive oil, peanut oil, and nuts.

Cholesterol: This like a wax that is found in the bloodstream, and it helps produce cell membranes and hormones, so it's important to have. However, too high of cholesterol can lead to problems (think of how wax builds up) and lead to heart attacks and other problems with the body.

Sodium: Think of sodium as salt. A person should have less than one teaspoon (2,300mg) of sodium per day. Sodium preserves food, but dries out the body and causes high blood pressure. Sodium is often found in: canned foods, frozen meals, nuts, seeds, dried beans, peas, lentils, pretzels, chips, dairy products

Potassium: A mineral that changes to conduct electricity needed for sending nerve impulses and releasing energy from food. Adults should consume a minimum of 2,000mg of potassium per day. Potassium is greatest in raw foods, so cook in minimal water and for the shortest amount of time to preserve potassium in your food.

Carbohydrates (Carbs): In their best form they are energy. However your body can only use so many carbohydrates per day. The excess carbohydrates are turned into sugar and then into fat. Foods high carbohydrates are: bread, pastas, potatoes, beans, fruit, carrots, corn and juices. You can't think of carbohydrates as the enemy, because the body needs them for energy. The key is to know how many your body needs. If carbohydrates continue turning to sugar and then fat, you will develop diabetes type II.

Protein: A chain of amino acids required to build, maintain and replace body tissue, muscles, organs and glands. It is also used in the production of hemoglobin. Protein is important to a nice body and many diets emphasize high amounts of protein. Look for protein shakes or other options high in protein and low in sugar. Amplify & Carb Solutions are both great brands of shakes.

After working out the amount of food you need, the next step is finding a way to burn the calories. It's normally best to do a combination of cardiovascular workouts and weight training. While the cardio workout will help you burn large amounts of calories, weight training will help you to define your muscles. The toughest thing to realize is that there is no such thing a spot reduction... you just have to burn the calories and the pounds will come off first in the same areas were you first started seeing the excess fat develop.

There are a lot of great ways to burn those calories. People tend to think they need to go to the gym or that working out needs to be really vigorous. Although getting your heart rate up will help you burn more calories faster, it's not required.

For weight training you can go to the gym, or use things around the house. Water is a wonderful resource for weight training, starting by maybe lifting bottles of water while you are on the phone chatting with friends. To work out your legs purchase a pair of five or ten pound ankle weights that you can strap on underneath your pants when you go walking or even as a daily routine.

Try getting a group together 2-3 times per week and spend an hour and a half or two hours working out. Get some friends to go out dancing at the night clubs and ditch the alcohol and opt for water. On the days you aren't with friends, set aside some time in the morning and evening for 30 minutes to 1 hour to exercise.

Before beginning any exercise program, check with your physician. With a little determination and effort you'll be on your way to a healthy and tighter body in no time!
About the Author
OC Resident and Fitness Expert Chris McCombs is a well known Dana Point Personal Trainer and you can learn more about him a http://www.socalworkout.com/
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