When it comes to nutrition, the needs of men and women are not significantly different. A healthy diet should provide a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats with plenty of vitamins and minerals as well. Dietary recommendations change from time to time, but current recommendations provided by the USDA are as follows*:
- 6 ounces grains (half should be whole grains)
- 5 ½ ounces of protein (include a mix of lean meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, nuts, beans, and seeds)
- 3 cups low-fat or fat-free dairy products
- 2 ½ cups veggies (variety of colorful veggies)
- 2 cups fruit (focus on whole fruits)
* These recommendations are based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet for an adult over the age of 18.
The guidelines provided above are just that – guidelines. You have some wiggle room when it comes to constructing a healthy diet. The important thing is to achieve a balance of nutrients and to consume mostly fresh, whole foods. Processed foods tend to be high in refined carbs and sugar, while being relatively low in nutrition. It is always better to eat foods that have been minimally altered by man. You do not necessarily need to switch to an organic diet, but you should seriously consider reducing your intake of processed food, fast food, fried foods, and sugary foods for your own good.
As an alternative to the dietary guidelines provided earlier by the USDA, you can also structure your diet based on certain macronutrient ratios. The term macronutrient simply refers to the three main nutrients – protein, carbohydrate and fat. The general recommendation for adult men is that at least 15% of the daily diet should come from protein – that is about 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. If you are an athlete, your protein needs could be as high as 1.8g per kg bodyweight.
You may be surprised to hear this, but your recommended fat intake is higher than for protein – it is between 30% and 35%. If you are trying to lose weight, however, you should swap some of that fat for protein, reducing your intake to 20% to 25%. Remember, however, that your fat intake should come from healthy sources. Avoid trans fats and limit your consumption of saturated fats – monounsaturated fats are the healthiest fats. You should also get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids.
When it comes to carbohydrates, you need to be careful not just of how much you consume but also what you consume. Your total diet should be made up of 45% to 65% carbohydrates, but you should be focused on whole grains and low-glycemic carbs. Processed carbs are generally high on the glycemic index (GI) which means that they can cause your blood sugar level to spike and then crash – this is bad for your health in general and it can also increase your risk for diabetes. In addition to whole grains, other healthy sources of carbohydrate include fresh fruits and vegetables – they are also low GI.
In addition to watching what you eat, you should also be mindful of how much and how often you are eating. In order to keep your metabolism running at a steady rate, it is recommended that you eat several small meals and snacks throughout the day instead of just eating one or two large meals each day. Try to limit your portion sizes and eat slowly so you will feel when you are getting full and you can stop to avoid overeating. Eating too quickly can cause a delay in that feeling of fullness, leading you to consume more calories than you actually need.