Fat, protein and carbohydrates are all important energy sources in our diets. Consuming appropriate amounts of certain foods with these nutrients on a daily basis helps keep us in good health. The average person consumes around 2,500 calories per day, but the proper amount of calories varies from one individual to the next. Plan your diet around the recommended intake percentages for these nutrients, allowing for some flexibility depending on your caloric needs, activity level and personal fitness goals.
Carbohydrates should be the primary source of energy in your diet, making up the majority of your caloric intake for the day. A 2002 publication by the National Academies suggests that the average person consume a diet in which approximately 50 percent of caloric intake comes from carbohydrates. Eat complex carbohydrates (those in whole-grain form such as whole-grain breads, oats, muesli and brown rice) rather than simple carbs (more refined carbs that are usually found in foods with fewer nutrients, like cake, candy and white bread) whenever possible. Individuals who want to lose weight should reduce the percentage of carbohydrates to somewhere between 30 and 40 percent, substituting lean protein and vegetables in place of carbs.
Fat is an important source of energy. It assists in the absorption of vitamins in the body, and certain fats such as omega-3 fatty acids have other health benefits such as reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Some fats are also harmful, particularly saturated fats, which increase the level of bad cholesterol in the bloodstream. The article by the National Academies recommends a diet where 20 percent of your calories come from healthy fat sources such as eggs, nuts, milk and olive oil.
Protein provides energy and vital amino acids, essential for building and repairing muscle tissue. According to the National Academies, most diets should include around 30 percent protein. Some sources of protein are more healthy than others. Bacon, beef, and cream are all rich in protein but not particularly healthy. High levels of saturated fat and cholesterol in some protein-rich foods negate the health benefits. Opt for lean sources of protein such as fish, poultry, eggs, nuts and legumes.
Don't forget to eat other foods to round out your diet. Fruits and vegetables are essential for good health. They contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Other Health Factors
Other factors contribute to a healthy lifestyle. Calorie consumption and nutrient percentages are only one part of living well. Adults and children alike should stay physically active to maintain cardiovascular health and proper weight. A daily minimum of 30 minutes of exercise was suggested in a Surgeon General's report back in 1996. This is not enough according to the National Academies Food and Nutrition Board, which recommends aiming for at least one hour of moderately intense physical activity each day.