What to eat and how much

What’s the best way to think about your nutritional intake? Information about what to eat, and how much, is thrown at the consumer from all directions. Opinions on what is good or harmful seem to be as changeable as the seasons. How much you eat is as important as what you eat.

The average woman needs 1800 - 2000 calories a day and the average man 2000- 2200 depending on their level of activity. This is quite separate from actively engaging in sports, or if you take regular exercise. The energy you burn during your activity can be added to your calorie count for the day. In other words, if you burn 450 calories on a 60-minute run then you can treat yourself!

So what should you eat? Here are 7 FAQs about nutrition to help you make wise choices.

Is all sugar bad?

There is added sugar and there is sugar that occurs naturally in food, for example in fruit. Sugar’s bad press is in relation to added sugar. This is because energy (calories) derived from added sugar tends to be thought of as empty because they contain no nutritional content. However, because sugar is high in calories and addictive (added sugar contains high levels of fructose that makes the brain resistant to the hormone leptin, which controls hunger), large amounts of sugar in your diet will not only cause you to be deficient in nutrients, you could also gain unwanted weight. Add to this the association with Type II diabetes, then one can safely say that added sugar in your food is bad for you.

Why are vegetables good for you?

Vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals and contain fiber. Fiber is essential for healthy digestion and makes you feel full faster so you don’t over eat. Vegetables also contain antioxidants. Eating a wide variety of vegetables will improve your health and vegetables have been associated with a lower risk of many diseases. (Now you have a better answer than "because I told you to" next time a small child asks you why they have to eat up their veg!)

What foods should you focus on to control your weight?

As mentioned above the principle factor in weight control is controlling how much you eat so that the energy you consume is equal to or less than the energy you expend. Whatever you believe about your metabolism, e.g. it is slower than other people’s, if you eat fewer calories than your body requires to function you will lose weight. Conversely, if you eat more than your body requires then you will gain it. It is true that some types of food, such as those high in protein or fiber, will keep you feeling fuller for longer therefore reducing the risk of over eating. However, if you want to control your weight, remember that it is calories that count.

Why are people advised not to eat red meat?

Red meat is rich in important nutrients like creatine and carbonise, both of which are important for cell renewal, principally in the muscles and brain, B vitamins, Iron, Zinc and selenium. The issues associated with eating too much red meat, i.e. cardio vascular disease or cancer, come from studies that have focused on processed meat and meat from intense/factory farming. Grass fed organic meat is very different, so it is important to make a distinction. If you eat meat, red meat can be part of a nutritious, balanced and healthy diet. When selecting meat cuts choose ones that are leaner and have less visible fat.

Do elite athletes have different nutritional needs from ordinary people who exercise regularly?

Whether you are completely inactive, take regular exercise for health and fitness benefits, or are a competitive athlete, your basic nutritional needs are the same. However, if you burn up a lot of calories through an intensive training program, providing you eat a nutritionally balanced diet, your need to eat more will help ensure that you get the appropriate amounts of carbohydrate, protein, vitamins and minerals. Always check with your doctor if you exercise regularly and have any concerns, as there are particular health conditions that may require you to take additional food supplements.

What foods make the best snacks?

If you are a snacker, choosing the right snacks will make a significant difference in your ability to maintain a healthy weight. Many snacks are high in sugars and fats, and also very calorie dense. This means they contain a lot of calories in relatively small portions so they don't immediately satisfy your hunger. Hence it is very easy to eat too many.

Eating snacks that contain the right ratio of nutrients and calories will help keep you feeling energized and support you to maintain or get to a healthy weight. Look for snacks that are high in protein because protein plus exercise promotes the growth of lean muscle mass. The more muscle mass then the better your body becomes at burning off calories. Snacks high in fiber release their energy more slowly so you feel fuller for longer and help cure sugar cravings. They also aid digestion. Smart snack choices like these help your body to operate at maximum efficiency. As a general guide, aim for snacks that are under 200 calories, with 10 grams of protein and around 5 grams of fiber.

Are frozen fruits and vegetables less nutritious than fresh ones?

Despite the popular misconception, frozen fruit and vegetables are not less nutritious than fresh ones. Frozen fruit and vegetables are usually processed within hours of being picked. Very little of the nutrients get lost in the freezing process. Nutrients in fruit and vegetables are broken down by heat, light and oxygen. Therefore the fruit sitting in your fruit bowl or the vegetables in the cupboard lose more of their nutrients the longer you keep them. Storing fruit and vegetables in the refrigerator will prolong its life.