Many social functions revolve around food; we attend a dinner party, meet our spouse for lunch or catch up with a best friend over coffee and dessert. When food takes center stage, it's easy to forget that it functions as the fuel for the body. To keep your body running at its peak performance and maintain good health, you need to consume the right combination of foods, including fats, proteins and carbohydrates.
The Institute of Medicine recommends adults consume 20 to 35 percent of their daily calories from fat sources. Foods contain different types of fat and your body uses each type differently. Saturated fat, found in animal foods like meat and dairy products and a few plants like coconuts and coconut oil, contributes to high blood cholesterol levels. Trans fat, also called hydrogenated fat, increases bad cholesterol levels and decreases good cholesterol levels, therefore increasing your risk for heart disease. For these reasons The American Heart Association recommends limiting your saturated fat intake to less than 7 percent and your trans fat intake to less than 1 percent of your daily calories. The remaining fat percentage allowance should consist of unsaturated fats, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that can actually help lower your cholesterol levels.
Every cell, tissue and organ in your body contains protein. As your body breaks down proteins it must continually build new proteins to replace them. In order to make proteins, your body needs amino acids. Foods such as meat, milk and eggs contain complete protein, which means the protein consists of all the amino acids your body needs. Other foods, such as some vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds contain incomplete protein, defined as proteins missing some essential amino acids. As you digest protein, it breaks down into the individual amino acids your body can then use to produce new proteins. Adults should consume 10 to 35 percent of their total calories from protein sources.
The Institute of Medicine recommends you consume 45 to 65 percent of your calories from carbohydrates. Because carbohydrates make up the majority of your daily calories, it is important to choose those rich in essential vitamins, minerals and fiber to meet you body’s nutrient needs. Carbohydrates classified as whole grains, those that contain the bran, germ and endosperm of the grain, provide more nutrients and fiber than carbohydrates classified as refined grains. The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends adults consume 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories, which translates to about 25 grams for women between 19 and 50. Consuming the recommended amount of fiber helps keep your digestive system in good health and helps control blood cholesterol levels.
Fat serves as a source of energy, aids in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K, builds strong cell membranes and helps the body produce hormones. Protein helps to build strong muscle, and carbohydrates serve as the main source of energy. Following the recommended percentages for each requires you to make wise choices on which foods to put on your plate at each meal. Processed foods often contain saturated or trans fat, added sugar, very little protein and few nutrients. Consuming processed foods at every meal can make it difficult to maintain good health. Instead, choose more fresh foods, including meats, dairy products, eggs, fruits and vegetables.
Stephanie Chandler is a freelance writer whose master's degree in biomedical science and over 15 years experience in the scientific and pharmaceutical professions provide her with the knowledge to contribute to health topics. Chandler has been writing for corporations and small businesses since 1991. In addition to writing scientific papers and procedures, her articles are published on Overstock.com and other websites.