Thursday, March 08, 2007

Nutrition #2 - Food groups

The three basic food groups are - protein, carbohydrates and fat. Making sure your diet contains the the correct proportions and quantities of these food groups will help your body work efficiently.

Current recommendations from clever people who 'know a thing or two about what we should and shouldn't eat' say you should aim for:

• 40% carbohydrate
• 30% protein
• 30% fat

Carbohydrates - sugars and starches - are found in bread, potatoes, rice, cereals and pasta. Undigestible carbohydrate called 'fibre' is present in wholegrain and unprocessed foods such as wholemeal pasta, brown rice and whole-wheat bread. Fibre helps food move through your body at the correct pace. Fresh fruit and vegetables are an excellent source of carbohydrates and fibre.

Protein is found in meat and fish. Nuts, eggs, beans, peas and lentils are also rich in protein.

Fat is found in just about everything you like the taste of. Bodies (especially female bodies) need fat to function properly.

There are four different types of fat. The first three are (in the right proportions) good for you.

• Polyunsaturated fats: Sunflower oil, Safflower oil, Corn oil

• Monounsaturated fats: Peanut oil, Olive oil, Avocado oil

• Saturated fats: Butter, Coconut oil

The 'baddies' of the bunch are synthetic trans fats. Synthetic trans fats are created by bubbling hydrogen through vegetable oil. They are what make most margarines and spreads 'spreadable'. And they are currently being blamed for everything from high cholesterol, heart disease, narrowing blood vessels, obesity and diabetes, to gun crime and global warming.

In the UK the term 'trans fats' doesn't have to be included on food labels, but when you see 'hydrogenated vegetable oil' on the ingredients list this means there are trans fats in the product. Other aliases for trans fats include partially hydrogenated vegetable fat or trans fatty acids.

Trans fats can be found in just about all processed foods from biscuits to pastry and cereal. Most fast food and take-out restaurants use hydrogenated vegetable oils for deep fat frying.

In Denmark trans fats are banned and in America it is now obligatory to put them on nutritional labels.

The occasional portion of chips is not going to kill you. But minimising trans fat consumption is a good idea.

Oh, and to make these three food groups usable, we need vitamins and minerals. These are the ingredients that facilitate the thousands of chemical reactions that make our body work, as well as providing the building blocks for bones and other structural tissues. Fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains, meat and fish are good sources.

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