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Nutrition: The Ultimate Guide For A Balanced And Healthy Body

The balance between nutrition and exercise can lead to a healthy body. But the ratio of the two is jaw dropping!

As it turns out, on average, exercising contributes to good health by a mere 20%. Which means that the whopping 80% remaining comes down to nutrition – what and how you eat.

When people recognise that they are overweight, and decide to lose weight, they typically start a vigorous exercise program.

But the most effective way to lose weight is to reduce your energy (kilojoule) intake by adopting a balanced and healthy nutrition plan.

When it comes to nutrition, exercising discipline is paramount! (Pun intended.) This is the hardest part of becoming a fitter, healthier, more energetic person.

There are several techniques you can use to keep on top of it all. Educating yourself about nutrition is at the top of the list.

  • Understanding healthy food groups
  • Body mass index (BMI)
  • Basal metabolic rate (BMR)
  • Macronutrients (macros) – proteins, carbohydrates and fats
  • Micronutrients – vitamins and minerals
  • Reading nutrition labels
  • Hydration

While it’s important to consider your BMI, BMR and macros, it’s understandable that you can’t be too scientific. What’s more important, is how to think about food the healthy way.

Combined with regular exercise, you should find favourable results. Both in terms of health and weight management.

Having a basic understanding of nutrition will help you make the right choices. This way, you can find a balance between nutrition and exercise that will work in your favour.

Understanding Healthy Food Groups

The Australian Dietary Guidelines provide advice on eating for health and wellbeing. It aims to improve the quality of life through healthy eating and protect against chronic diseases.

Unfortunately, diet-related chronic diseases are currently a major cause of death and disability among Australians.

Many health issues are related to unhealthy eating habits. Such as high cholesterol and blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and some cancers.

It results from eating excessive amounts of food that are high in kilojoules, sugars and saturated fats. Instead of eating proportionate amounts of nutrient rich foods which promote health and wellbeing.

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating describes five food groups which contain nutrient requirements for a balanced and healthy eating plan.

5 Food Groups for balanced and healthy nutrition.

5 Food Groups (Eat-For-Health website)

Guideline 2 recommends eating a variety of foods from these five food groups each day. Eating recommended serving sizes will help you meet your nutrient requirements essential for good health.

Recommended serves of the 5 Food Groups

5 serves of vegetables and Legumes/Beans (1 serve ~ 75g or 100-350KJ)

Broccoli, cabbage, spinach, lettuce, snow peas, sweet potato, beetroot, onion, red kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, tomato, zucchini, avocado, cucumber, pumpkin, green peas and beans.

2 serves of fruit (1 serve ~ 150g or 350KJ)

Apples, pears, oranges, mandarins, grapefruit, apricots, cherries, peaches, nectarines, plums, bananas, paw paw, mangoes, pineapple, melons, berries, grapes and passionfruit.

5-6 serves of grain (Cereal) foods (1 serve ~ 500KJ)

Wholemeal and wholegrain breads, high fibre (wholegrain) oats, porridge, muesli, wholewheat biscuits, rice, barley, corn, polenta, buckwheat, spelt, rye and quinoa.

1-3 serves of lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds (1 serve ~ 500-600KJ)

Lean meats such as beef, lamb, veal, pork and lean (lower salt) sausages.

Poultry includes chicken, turkey and duck.

Fish and seafood such as shark, snapper, tuna, prawns, crab, lobster, mussels, oysters, scallops, clams.

Chicken and duck eggs.

Nuts and seeds including almonds, pine nuts, walnut, macadamia, hazelnut, cashew, peanut, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds.

Legumes/beans – All beans, lentils, chickpeas and split peas.

2-3 serves of dairy (1 serve ~ 500-600KJ)

Reduced fat or full cream milks, plain and flavoured, long life milks, powdered milk, evaporated milk, soy beverages.

Yoghurts including reduced fat or full cream, plain and flavoured, soy yoghurt (calcium fortified)

Hard cheeses, reduced or full fat for example cheddar, red leicester, gloucester, edam, gouda and soy cheeses (calcium fortified).

Planning your nutrition with BMI and BMR

If your goal is to lose a few kilograms or tone up, you may consider using BMI and BMR indexes.

They’re particularly useful because they’re numbers. You already know that numbers work in favour of setting SMART fitness goals.

Body Mass Index

BMI is used to estimate whether you are underweight, healthy or overweight.

The BMI formula looks this way:

Your weight in kilograms ÷ your height in meters²

Any result between 18.5 and 25 is considered healthy. Anything below is underweight, and above is overweight.

Use it as a guide but don’t get too caught up when calculating your BMI. It doesn’t always give a true reflection as it’s a calculation of your body mass.

BMI can’t distinguish healthy, developed muscles from excessive fat tissue. Heavy body builders often have BMI of an overweight person. Even though they have little to no fat tissue!

But it is a good starting point and will give you an idea of where you need to get to.

You can use the Department of Health calculator to work out your BMI.

BMI Chart for adults

BMI Chart – Australian Dietary Guidelines

Basal Metabolic Rate

The second index is BMR which describes the amount of kilojoules your body needs to function while resting.

To simplify, BMR calculates how many kilojoules you would need if you stay in bed the entire day.

The BMR formula for women is as follows:

655.1 + (9.563 × weight (in kg)) + (1.85 × height (in metres)) – (4.676 × age (in years)) x 4.2

The BMR formula for men is as follows:

66.5 + (13.75 × weight (in kg)) + (5 × height (in metres)) – (6.755 × age (in years)) x 4.2

To convert to calories, divide your calculation by 4.2 (or exclude multiplying by 4.2 as 1 calorie = 4.2 kilojoules)

Example


Sarah is a busy chef and balances her work life by practising yoga every day. She is 35 years old, weighs 55kg and stands 158cm tall. Her BMI is calculated as follows:

55/(1.58)² or 55/(1.58 x 1.58)
=55/2.4964
=22.03

This calculation means Sarah’s body weight is in the healthy range. Her BMR is calculated as follows:

[655.1 + (9.563 x 55) + (1.85 x 1.58) – (4.676 x 35)] x 4.2
=[655.1 + (525.97) + (2.92) – (163.66)] x 4.2
=4285.39 kJ/day

Sarah’s basal metabolic rate (daily energy required at rest) is 4285.39Kj/day.


Physical Activity Level

“What if Im not resting all day” you ask? Good question! This is where you multiply your BMR by a factor called Physical Activity Level (PAL).

This will calculate the kilojoules required each day to maintain your body weight above BMR, known as Total Energy Expenditure (TEE).

PAL is the thermic effect of energy expended above BMR due to the cost of everyday activities like cooking, cleaning, working and exercising. This factor also includes the cost of eating, processing and storing food.

The are typically 5 physical activity levels ranging from sedentary to extremely active, as detailed in the table below.

Description of lifestyle Examples of activity and occupation                   PAL
SedentaryLittle or no exercise.       
At rest or lying (chair-bound or bed-bound - Unable to move around freely or earn a living).
1.2
Mildly Active Light exercise or sports 1-3 days a week. 
seated work with little or no strenuous leisure activity (office employees)
1.375
Moderately ActiveModerate exercise or sports 3-5 days a week.
seated work with some requirement for occasional walking and standing (Laboratory assistants, drivers, students).
1.55
Heavily Active Heavy exercise or sports 6-7 days a week 
Predominantly standing or walking work (housewives, salespersons, waiters)                       
 1.725
Extremely ActiveVery heavy exercise or sports 6-7 days a week - High performance athlete.
Heavy occupational work (construction workers, farmers, miners).
1.9

 

Example


Given Sarah is moving about on her feet all day at work, and following up with yoga, she would fall under the category of heavily active. Which means her PAL is 1.752.

Ideally, if you multiply Sarah’s BMR and PAL, you can calculate the energy she requires to maintain her current body weight.

4285.39 x 1.752
=7508.00kJ/day


If you wish, you can now calculate your own BMI and BMR. Find  a PAL that is relevant to your lifestyle and calculate your TEE to discover how many kilojoules you require daily.

You can use this calculator on the Eat For Health website.

What does this mean for me? This means that if  you wish to maintain balanced and healthy weight, your intake of food and drink should equal the amount of kilojoules your body expends (TEE).

In practice, consuming less kilojoules than you need, results in weight loss. So, consuming more than you need makes your weight increase.

With this in mind, it’s understandable that a balanced nutrition plan is essential to becoming a fitter, healthier, more energetic person.

Macronutrients – Proteins, Carbohydrates and Fats

A healthy, well-composed nutrition plan should have a balance of macronutrients (macros). The three basic components of macros are proteins, carbohydrates and fats.

You can plan your meals one of two ways to ensure you are getting the right amount of macros. Keep in mind that it varies for people based on age, sex and physical activity level.

  1. Source your daily macro intake from recommended servings of each of the five food groups
  2. Calculate the required daily kilojoule intake required from each macro

One of the most common mistakes that people make when dieting, is to reduce carbohydrates and fats.

In fact, living off lettuce and kale won’t help you build stronger and healthier body. Nor will it raise your energy levels.

To compose a healthy meal, learn how proteins, carbohydrates and fats interact. Discover how they contribute to your daily function, growth and metabolism.

Macronutrients - Proteins, Carbohydrates and Fats

Ensure you’re getting the right balance of macros.

Proteins (16.8kJ or 4 calories per gram)

Proteins are important to your body for growth and developement. Without enough protein, your body and immune system become weaker.

This is because your body uses protein to build, maintain and repair tissues. They also produce body chemicals to manage your body’s inner economy. (Ie enzymes and hormones).

Proteins consist of small building blocks called amino acids. Your body produces some amino acids, and some comes from the food you eat, called essential amino acids.

For people who work-out, proteins repair microdamage to muscle tissue. Protein intake causes those muscles to regenerate stronger. For this reason, they’re necessary if you are an active person.

There’s a misconception that protein is only needed for muscle gain. Many people who attend the gym on a regular basis drink protein shakes to enhance their results.

This image often creates an impression that proteins are only important for bodybuilders. That’s not true.

For optimal health, proteins should make up for 15-25% of your total energy intake. To make sure you cover it, be sure to include protein rich foods as part of your nutrition.


Lean meats – beef, lamb, veal, pork, chicken and fish
Low fat dairy products – milk, yoghurt and cheese
Legumes – lentils, beans and chickpeas
Whole-grains, nuts and seeds
Eggs


Carbohydrates (16.8kJ or 4 calories per gram)

Carbohydrates fuel your brain and body with energy required for daily function. Your body’s digestive system uses acids and enzymes to turn carbs into simple sugars such as glucose.

Carbohydrates can be simple or complex. Simple carbs are sugars such as sucrose (from sugar cane), fructose (from fruits) and lactose (from milk). Glucose is the simplest form of carbohydrate.

Health Direct educates that simple sugars enter your bloodstream to be used for energy. Some sugar converts to glycogen is and stored in the liver. Between meals, liver glycogen converts back into blood glucose as an energy supply.

Glycogen is also stored in muscles for muscle activity. Carbohydrates not used for energy or glycogen storage convert to fat.

Complex carbs are starch and fibre. Starches include potatoes, brown rice, whole grains and whole wheat pasta. They take longer to digest but still provide the body with energy, vitamins and minerals.

Fibrous carbs pass through the body undigested as we lack the enzymes to break them down into sugars. They include asparagus, broccoli, celery, spinach and zucchini to name a few.

But the two forms of fibre – soluble and insoluble, are still beneficial to the body. Nutrition Australia explains them as follows:

Soluble fibre helps to slow the emptying process in our stomachs, which helps you feel fuller. It also helps to lower cholesterol and stabilise your blood glucose levels.

Soluble fibre is in fruits, vegetables, oats, barley and legumes.

Insoluble fibre absorbs water. It helps to soften the contents of our bowels and support regular bowel movements. It also helps to keep us full and keep the bowel environment healthy.

Insoluble fibre is the skin of fruit and vegetables, wholegrain breads, nuts and seeds.

‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Carbs

As you have read, carbohydrates are important for daily function. But they happen to have a bad reputation. Along with fats, they are often blamed for making people overweight.

Carbohydrates known as “processed” or “refined” carbs are responsible for this bad reputation. This is a process that removes the bran and germ from the grain.

They are often almost completely deprived of fiber and absorbed by your body a lot quicker. That’s why they cause a strong, yet short-lasting burst of energy.

This effect soon wears off, leaving you feeling hungrier sooner rather than later. Refined carbs also contribute to many health related issues including obesity. They have a high glycemic index (GI).

In essence, GI is the rate at which your body digests food and converts carbs to glucose. This is usually over a period of two hours.

Low GI foods breakdown slow and leave you feeling full for a longer period of time. So, energy from carbs is reasonably distributed through your body’s blood stream.

Depending on your lifestyle, 45-65% of your daily calorie intake come from carbohydrates. They are essential for your body to operate and should be included as part of your daily nutrition.

Avoid filling your shopping cart with white bread, pastries, sweets, sugared drinks and juices. Instead, provide your body with ‘good’ carbs.


Vegetables
Fruits
Seeds
Nuts
Wholegrain foods


Fats (37.8kJ or 9 calories per gram)

Fats are like carbohydrates – there are bad and good ones. You should avoid bad fats for improved health. Good fats are essential for a balanced diet.

There are four types of fats which you should be familiar with when planning your healthy meals:

  • Saturated
  • Trans
  • Polyunsaturated
  • Mono-saturated

Saturated fats and trans fats are bad for you. They contribute to weight gain and diabetes. Cause of cardiac and vascular diseases and raise your cholesterol levels.

You will find bad fats in animal fat and dairy products like cream. Pastries, chips or processed snacks and food, deep-fried and fast foods.

Contrary to this, you should never skip your daily dose of “good” fats. Include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated as part of a balanced diet.

They work in favour of your heart, eyesight, hair, nails and skin. Nourish your brain and nervous system leaving you with better focus and memory.

As you can see, fats are higher in kilojoules than the other macronutrients. Supply yourself with good fats that cover 20-35% of your daily energy intake.


Nuts
Seeds (almonds, flax and LSA)
Natural oils (olive oil)
Avocado
Fish


Micronutrients – Vitamins and Minerals

Micronutrients refer to vitamins and minerals, they are essential nutrients for good health and the daily function of your body. They are termed ‘micro’ as your body requires them in small doses.

But those small doses of vitamins and minerals play important roles in your body. They help release energy from foods, aid muscle and tissue repair, support the immune system and fight infections.

The list of micronutrients is extensive, making it hard to keep track of the required daily intake of vitamins and minerals.

This is why Australian Dietary Guidelines suggest you source your daily intake of micronutrients from a variety of nutritious foods from the five food groups.

If you are consuming the recommended amount of servings from these food groups, then you should be getting enough key vitamins and minerals that they supply.

A healthy eating and balanced nutrition plan will give you the required micronutrients necessary for daily function, growth and long-term health.

Vitamins and Minerals


VitaminBenefitSource / Food Group
AHelps maintain normal reproduction, growth, vision and immune functionVegetables and legumes/beans
Fruit
B6Acts as a coenzyme in the metabolism of amino acids and glycogen - break down of macros.Lean meats
Wholegrain cereals
Vegetables and legumes/beans
Fruits
B12Synthesis of fatty acidsLean meat and fish
Wholegrain cereals
Vegetables and legumes/beans
Fruit
CHelps your body's immune system.
Reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions.
Vegetables and legumes/beans
Fruit
DEnhances the ability of the small intestine to absorb calcium and phosphorus from the diet.Sunlight on skin
EProtects polyunsaturated fatty acids from oxidation.
Reduces the risk of cardiovascular conditions.
Meat, poultry and fish
(in the fats/oils of the meat)
KMaintenance of normal blood coagulationVegetables and legumes/beans
FollateFunctions as a coenzyme and assists in macro breakdown.Wholegrain cereals
Vegetables and legumes/beans
Fruit
MineralBenefitSource/Food Group
CalciumDevelopment and maintenance of teeth and bones.
Functioning of neuromuscular and cardiac function.
Dairy
IronHelps your body build muscles and make red blood cells - important for transport of oxygen to tissues throughout the body.Wholegrain cereals
Lean meats
Fish
Poultry
MagnesiumSupports immune system.
Maintains nerve and muscle function.
Regulates blood glucose levels and helps breakdown macros
Vegetables and legumes/beans
Wholegrain cereals
Shellfish
PotassiumMaintains your body's fluid balance and helps regulate pH levels.
Stabilises blood pressure for a healthy and functioning heart.
Fruit
Vegetables and legumes/beans
ZincZinc is a component of various enzymes that help maintain structural integrity of proteins and regulate gene expression.
Helps breakdown macros.
Assist with healing.
Lean meats
Fish
Poultry
Cereals
Dairy

Reading And Understanding Nutrition Labels

Having a basic understanding of nutrition, you can actively seek the foods that that will help you maintain a balanced and healthy body.

In Australia, packaged foods are required to have food labels with essential nutrition information. This way you can make informed decisions about the food you buy.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand are responsible for developing and maintain the standards for food labelling. There website has an interactive resource which helps to understand food labels.

Food labels shall contain:

  1. Nutrition information panel
  2. Percentage Labelling
  3. Food identification
  4. Information for people with food allergies or intolerances
  5. Date marking
  6. Ingredient list
  7. Labels must tell the truth
  8. Food additives
  9. Directions for usage and storage
  10. Legibility requirements
  11. Country of origin
  12. Nutrition and health claims

An easy way to determine if  certain packaged foods are healthy for you is to read the nutrition information panel on the food label.

It shows the average amount of energy (kilojoules), protein, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrate, sugars and sodium in a serve and in 100 g (or 100 ml) of the food.

Armed with this nutrition information, you can make the best choice for your health and well being. For a healthy eating plan, include foods which are low in saturated fats, sugars and kilojoules.

Nutrition information panel

Nutrition information panel (Eat For Health Website)

Importance of hydration (water)

Drinking plenty of water is essential for your body’s daily function. The National Health and Medical Research Council describe the importance of water as follows:

It fills the spaces between the cells and helps form structures of large molecules such as protein and glycogen. Water is also required for digestion, absorption and transportation, as a solvent for nutrients, for elimination of waste products and to regulate body temperature.

Symptoms of dehydration, are often dismissed or go unnoticed. These symptoms include:

  • sleepiness
  • lack of energy
  • confusion and focus issues
  • irritability
  • headaches
  • skin problems (blackheads, pimples)
  • muscle cramps

If you’re these effects, you may need to raise the numbers of glasses you empty everyday.

It is recommended to drink the following amount of water per day

  • 4-5 cups for children
  • 6-8 cups for adolescents
  • 8-10 cups for adults

Drinking plenty of water makes an incredible difference to your health and well-being.

Healthy food shopping and meal planning

Planning your menu in advance is like using GPS maps. You know very well where you’re heading and exactly how to get there.

What’s most important, you’ll avoid having no idea about what you’re going to cook. This usually causes people to order take away or throw whatever into a pot, which often isn’t as healthy as it should be.

Before you go shopping, plan your meals for next seven days. If you lack ideas, browse the Internet and save some recipes you’d like to try.

If you have read Setting Fitness Goals The Smart Way you’d know you could use a classic diet diary to keep track of your eating habits and write down everything you eat.

You could also use it to create a list of ingredients for your weekly menu. Stick to the list, don’t add any unhealthy food that isn’t on the list and source only what you have planned.

With all that in mind, make sure your meals vary. The more recipes you have at your disposal, the easier it will be for you to juggle with ingredients.

This way you will never get bored with your new, healthy cuisine. Develop your recipe list and experiment with new tastes.

Eating healthy doesn’t have to be boring. With a little bit of curiosity, you can make colourful, filling and delicious meals.

Healthy Snacks

With your weekly food list, be sure to include healthy snacks.

The art of snacking

Do you find yourself snacking a lot? You might consider it cheating, but it’s actually something you should come to terms with.

Sooner or later, you’ll end up hungry between meals. And if you snack the right way, you will have one less thing to deny yourself.

Make sure you’ve got the right snacks ready. You might get hungry or low on energy at some point. If that happens, it’s better to munch on something healthy.

Prepare homemade oat bars, fresh fruits, nuts and seeds. If you don’t have a lot of time, prepare and freeze them in advance.

Prepare it at home to keep it healthy, try to avoid buying snacks labeled as “light”. Even though they indeed have less fat, they make up for it with sugar and sodium.

Be mindful of what you’re eating between meals. A reasonable snack isn’t a crime against your eating plan.

As long as it’s low on sugar and provides you with valuable nutrients, you can include it in your daily menu.

Caffeine: when it’s good, when it’s bad

For people always on the go or who rarely sleep enough, coffee can be a miracle fix. For many people, it’s something that pushes them into action first thing in the morning.

Coffee does have proven benefits for your health. From supplying your body with antioxidants to improving your workout performance. Yet, too much coffee can be harmful!

Be it in coffee or energy drinks, caffeine is addictive. It’s not hard to become dependant on it. When you become addicted, you find that the usual cup of coffee doesn’t stimulate you anymore.

But, without it, you feel down, drowsy and unable to focus. In extreme cases, you can even develop withdrawal symptoms like headaches or nausea.

Coffee becomes mandatory for people overloaded with work, or have a busy lifestyle. Sometimes it’s better to take a 15 minutes nap or replace the cup with a glass of water.

5 healthy habits to adopt

Introducing several simple habits with nutrition can benefit your health and well-being. If you’re lacking ideas how to ensure your efforts pay off, try the following:

1. Empty your fridge and cupboards from unhealthy food

What you can’t see, can’t tempt you. The sooner you get rid of all junk food, the sooner you will start living only off nutritious and healthy food.

If you have family and friends who often visit, tell them of your plans and ask them to limit bringing sweets and pastries as they visit you.

2. Don’t store sugars or sweets

We all like to chew on something sweet every now and then, make sure you don’t keep cupboards full of it. Try to find a healthier alternative that will balance your macros.

3. Replace snacks with seeds/nuts or fruits

Every now and then you might feel hungry between meals and in the mood for a snack. Make sure you don’t stuff yourself with salty chips or biscuits.

Instead, choose seeds and nuts, chopped carrots or dried bananas and peaches for example.

4. Control your portions

Be cautious of the amount of food you put on your plate. Don’t pile it up like it’s your last meal ever. Rather, place a small ration on your plate.

Try not to leave the table feeling hungry, perhaps finish your meal when you’re ‘almost’ full. Some people use smaller plates and bowls to limit the amount of food they take.

5. Don’t skip meals

It’s not true that eating less often is healthy, it works against you, leaving you feeling super hungry. Starving, you put a lot on your plate and stuff yourself more than you should.

Rather than doing that, eat at regular times during the day, snacking between. Stick to a schedule moving from one meal to another, as not to keep yourself starving.

Like most habits – it takes time to come to terms with them. But the effort is worth it, contributing to a healthy balance.

Make appropriate nutritional changes your priority. You are what you eat! The food you consume affects your body and mind, so be careful what you put on your plate.

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