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Healthy Eating for Weight Loss

Most health experts recommend eating a balanced, healthy diet to maintain or to lose weight. But exactly what is a healthy diet?

The basic components of a healthy diet include the right amount of:

  • Protein (found in fish, meat, poultry, dairy products, eggs, nuts, and beans)
  • Fat (found in animal and dairy products, nuts, and oils)
  • Carbohydrates (found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans and other legumes)
  • Vitamins (such as vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K)
  • Minerals (such as calcium, potassium, and iron)
  • Water

What Are Calories?

Of these six nutrients, only carbohydrates, proteins, and fats provide calories. A calorie is a measurement, just like a teaspoon or an inch. Calories are the amount of energy released when your body breaks down food. The more calories a food has, the more energy it can provide to the body. When you eat more calories than you need, the body stores the extra calories as fat. Even low-carb and fat-free foods can have a lot of calories that can be stored as fat. Alcohol is not a nutrient, yet it also provides calories.

What Are Proteins?

Proteins are nutrients that are essential to the building, maintenance, and repair of body tissue such as the skin, the internal organs, and muscle. They are also the major components of our immune system and hormones.

Proteins are made up of substances called amino acids -- 22 are considered vital for health. Of these, the adult body can make 14; the other eight (called essential amino acids) can only be obtained from what we eat.

Proteins are found in all types of food, but only fish, meat, poultry, eggs, cheese, and other foods from animal sources contain complete proteins, meaning they provide the other eight essential amino acids.

Your daily diet must contain enough protein to replenish these amino acids. Thus, if you are vegetarian and do not eat food from animal sources, you need to eat a variety of plant proteins in combination to ensure that you get enough of the essential amino acids. Examples of foods that provide plant protein include soy, nuts, seeds, legumes, vegetables, and whole grains.

The new dietary reference values for protein for adults are 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. This translates to about 0.36 grams of protein per pound.

However, over the course of a day, the average American diet includes almost double the protein needed to help maintain a healthy body. Using the chart below, you can easily calculate how much protein your body needs.


Adult WeightSuggested Daily Grams of Protein

Is Any Fat Healthy?

A certain amount of fat in the diet is good and necessary to be healthy. Adults should get 20%-35% of their calories from fat. However, nutrition experts agree that most Americans should eat less fat than they currently do. Research shows that excessive intake of fat -- especially trans fat and saturated fat -- increases the risk of heart disease. Eating too much fat can cause excess body weight, since a gram of fat has about twice as many calories per gram as carbohydrates and proteins. (There are 9 calories per gram of fat compared with 4 calories for protein and carbohydrates.)

WebMD Medical Reference

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