The Basics of Great Nutrition

Nutcracker season is upon us and our schedules are getting busier!  Midterms are also approaching soon, so everything is increasing in mass and time.  With all of this, it’s important to stay aware of our health and wellness.  This blog post will serve as a guide to outline for you some of the basics of nutrition.  I hope you find it helpful!

Types of Food

There are two types of nutrients that are important to our health: macronutrients and micronutrients.  The macronutrients consist of carbohydrates, protein and fat.  The micronutrients group holds vitamins and minerals.  They are both very important to your overall health.  Examples of micronutrients are iron, potassium and vitamin D.

The five major food groups, which should be relatively balanced in your diet, are listed below.  Examples of each one are underneath:

  • Grains
    • Pasta
    • Bread
    • Cereal
  • Vegetables
    • Carrots
    • Peas
    • Avocados
  • Fruits
    • Apples
    • Pears
    • Bananas
  • Protein
    • Nuts
    • Seafood
    • Chicken
  • Dairy
    • Milk
    • Cheese
    • Yogurt

Grains

The main macronutrient in grains are carbohydrates.  As I talked about in my newsletter yesterday afternoon (subscribe here!), carbohydrates provide glucose, which your body in turn breaks down to give you energy.  While the “low carb” diet is becoming popular nowadays, it isn’t necessarily the best option to supply you with sufficient energy for a difficult day of dancing.

There are two types of grains, refined and whole.  It’s best to have more whole grains in your diet rather than refined ones, because they provide more nutrients for your body to digest.  Some of the nutrients that are provided in whole grains include fiber, healthy fats and protein.

Whole grains come with foods that are not broken down or processed into something different than their original state.  For example, you can get whole-wheat bread rather than white bread, which has a lot more refined grains.

Often, the types of grains you eat result from snap decisions in the grocery store.  Even though it is more expensive, it is much better to pay an extra 50 cents to get the whole grain loaf of bread rather than the white bread.  You will thank yourself in the end!

Vegetables

Vegetables are a very important whole food and it’s difficult to find these processed and altered in any way.  Vegetables are full of potassium, fiber and many vital vitamins to help you maintain optimum health.

You can eat vegetables cooked and uncooked (raw).  While eating vegetables raw is usually as good choice because it preserves water content, cooking vegetables can also be beneficial.  For example, cooking can reduce the rigidity of the cell walls and therefore make it easier to digest and resorb nutrients, vitamins, and nutrients from the vegetable.  This article from health.com is helpful in determining whether or not to cook a certain vegetable.

Many vegetarians believe that vegetables are also a more viable source of protein than meat.  Some studies featured in the movie Forks Over Knives have shown that meat-based protein can contribute to cancer and other chronic diseases.

Fruits

Another great source of energy and carbohydrates in your day is fruit.  It is very portable and quick to eat, and therefore it is useful for a quick snack between class and rehearsal or in the ten minutes before a performance.  Fruits contain natural sugars, glucose and fructose, which are all used for energy.

Something to discuss with fruits is the difference between natural and processed sugars.  Natural sugars are completely fine for you and are in fact good for your health.  They are the beneficial types of sugars found in many fruits and vegetables.  Processed or added sugars can have detrimental health effects and can result in diabetes and obesity.  It is well-known and accepted that added and processed sugars are bad for you. Yet, some people don’t realize that natural sugars are not unhealthy.

You can eat fruit in the form of a fruit juice or whole.  Whole fruits are best, as many store-bought fruit juices, even processed orange juices, have added sugars, sweeteners and preservatives to enhance flavor.  Remember that any time you are buying something processed at the store, your purchase is also a commercial act that benefits business.  Their first and foremost goal may not necessarily be to supply shoppers with good health. It is mainly to make money.

Protein

Protein provides energy and helps strengthen your bones.  It can be provided from many accessible foods, such as nuts and seeds, eggs, chicken, fish, peanut butter, and more.  This is one of the easiest food groups to acquire in my opinion.

As I mentioned earlier, many people believe that plant-based proteins can help prevent chronic diseases and are ideal for the healthy diet.  Plant-based proteins would include nuts and seeds in addition to proteins from vegetables.  Meat-based proteins are heavy in chicken and other meats.

Protein is a very important nutrient for dancers because it keeps us going through longer, harder days at the ballet.  I make sure to have lots of protein on show days or long rehearsal days.  Everybody should!

Dairy

Dairy products have lots of nutritional value for your body.  They are very important for many vital nutrients including Vitamin D, Vitamin A, and calcium.  Most dancers have trouble eating enough diary because it is difficult to take on the go and that is vital to our busy schedules – and for that reason we lack some of those vital nutrients.  I especially struggle in this area because there aren’t a lot of dairy-dense foods that I like the taste of.

I know many dancers that supplement bananas for the calcium they would otherwise be gaining from dairy.  I also know a lot of dancers that take a vitamin D supplement.  Because we are inside the studio for so long, even in the summer, it is rare that we get enough sunlight for our bodies.  Along with a lack of dairy, vitamin D is a very lacking nutrient.  A simple, reputable supplement can help if you talk to your doctor first.

I hope this was helpful and helps you figure out some of the basic nutrients in a good diet!  Have a great day.

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