I've been talking a lot about eating healthy carbs lately and how a balanced diet of carbs/fat/protein is the best diet solution for any person exercising fairly regularly. Diets that highlight or eliminate one of the three macronutrients don't provide your body with what it needs!
A quick review:
Carbs are our body's immediate energy resource. They are easily digested and are essential for the body to perform daily functions, as it is stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver. Insulin regulates the storage of carbohydrate, but if there is too much to handle, or if too much of your carbohydrate is sugar or "white," your body won't be able to utilize it fast enough and will store the remainder as fat. For some reason, many athletes and people trying to get fit seem to think that protein intake is more important than carbs, when in reality both are equally important. The truth is carbs are more directly related to performance and energy. Carbs get a bad wrap, but you couldn't live without them, so don't go "no-carb," go "smart carb." More on how to later!
Fats help absorb certain vitamins (A,D,E, and K), are the body's long term storage mechanism and help us feel full when we eat - a certain amount of fat (around 20% of diet) is necessary. They also make food taste good! Watch out for saturated fats which tend to be from animal fat. Good sources of fat are fish, avocado, olive oil, canola oil, and nuts. The body specifically needs the two essential fatty acids - Omega 3's and Omega 6's, which it cannot manufacture on it's own. Trans fats are a no-no, and are easily identified by seeing the words partially hydrogenated, or hydrogenated on a food label.
Proteins deliver amino acids to the body, which are the building blocks of all tissues - muscle, hair, skin, nails, etc. Other important functions are controlling osmolarity (fluid balance), creating antibodies for the immune system, and formation of enzymes and hormones. Animal sources of protein (meat, eggs, dairy) and soy are the main complete proteins, while other plant proteins are incomplete, meaning they don't contain all of the essential amino acids. Weight lifters keep special attention to the 3 branched chain amino acids, Leucine, Isoleucine, and valine, (think LIV) which simply stated are most related to building muscle.
As you can see, your body needs all 3! In general carbs can make up as much as 60-65% of your diet if you are exercising regularly, depending on your goals. However, if burning fat if your main goal, a 40/40/20 carb/protein/fat balance is probably recommended.
Many people lack quality protein in their diet, but on the other side of the coin, over consumption of protein is common among people in a muscle gaining program. Realistically no more than 1.2-1.7g per kg of body weight (about .5-.8g per lb of body weight) is needed to promote muscle growth. Body builders will typically eat more, at least 1g per lb of body weight. It's important to note that muscle anabolism and muscle definition are two different things - bodybuilders are eating way more calories during their build phases than somebody who is trying to burn fat should eat. You will look muscular and toned as you burn fat, which is how you get that ripped look. Often over consumption of protein is just added unnecessary calories to someone who is looking to get "toned" or "ripped."
So now the BIG QUESTION. How do I know what kinds of foods to eat, within my daily carb/protein/fat ratio?
Well, it's never been easier. Have you ever seen Michi's Ladder? This is a tool that is perhaps the easiest visual aid to describe what foods are good and what foods are not as good. There are 5 tiers, and if you stay within the 2 bottom tiers, you are almost guaranteed to lose weight. Simply substitute foods you are currently eating in the upper tiers with foods on the lower tiers and you will be off to a great start! Check it out!
Some tips with Michi's ladder:
1) Fruits and Veggies are technically carbs, and very healthy ones at that! However, calorically they are so small I suggest eating a little bit of startchy complex carbs too to get your daily intake. Check out sources in the lower tiers like quinoa, chickpeas, lentils, etc. which also are plant protein sources.
2) Why is Soy not in tier 1? Because even though soy is a complete protein, tofu is not a very dense source of protein, and additionally soy acts as a phtyo-estrogen in the body. Many vegetarians rely on soy and hormone balance can be affected negatively in men and women (for different reasons if you get my gist...)!
3) Does this take into account gluten and dairy free? Actually, in some ways yes. You'll notice that tier 1 is practically gluten and dairy free, which says something!
4) One of the cool things is you can watch how a "good" food can become a "bad" food in lower tiers. Fish, vs. fried fish for example. Oatmeal vs. instant flavored oatmeal. Olive oil vs. big brand vegetable oil.
So when somebody asks you "How do you eat healthy?" Don't look at the food pyramid or the new food plate (which is closer but still kind of confusing). Check out Michi's Ladder!! Enjoy!