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A healthful diet is important for good

health and long life.

There are many diseases one can
acquire later on in life if one does not
eat right (e.g. diabetes, high blood
pressure, certain cancers, obesity).


We eat because our bodies require

energy (like a car requires fuel) for its
normal metabolic functions. Our bodies
also need water, vitamins and

We obtain this energy from the

breakdown of certain classes of food
called carbohydrates, fats and
proteins. Each of these classes of food
has a fuel or energy value (otherwise
known as calorie/gm). Carbohydrates
have a fuel value of 4cal/gm and so do
proteins. Fats have a fuel value of
Adults require between 2000 and
2800 calories per day in order to
maintain their body weight. 55% of
these calories should come from
carbohydrate, 30% from fat and 10-
15% from protein. When we
consistently consume more calories
than we
expend, the excess calories are stored
in body fat. 1 lb of adipose tissue
contains 3500 calories.
A good way to know whether or not
one’s body weight is healthy is to
measure one’s body mass index or BMI.
This is calculated by dividing one’s
weight by height squared. Ideally
one’s BMI should be between 18 and
25. One is underweight if one’s BMI is
less than 18. Between 25 and 30 one
is overweight and one should consider
losing weight; between 30 and 40 one
is obese and losing weight is
recommended because health is at
risk; anything greater than 40 means
one is morbidly obese and losing
weight immediately is strongly

Carbohydrates from plants are the

main dietary source of energy for
bodily functions. They can be divided
into simple and complex
carbohydrates. Examples of simple
carbohydrates are sugars such as
sucrose (found in sugarcane and sugar
beet), fructose (found in fruits and
honey), maltose, lactose (found in
milk), and glucose. Complex
carbohydrates include starch (from
plant sources) and glycogen (from
animal sources). These complex
sugars can be broken down in the
human body into simple sugars like
glucose and absorbed.
Starch is a major component of the
bread group of which the following
types of food are included- bread,
cereal, pasta, potatoes, yams,
cocoyams, cassava, etc. You require
nine and eleven servings a day (one
serving is equivalent to one slice of
bread or one ounce of cereal or one
cup of cooked rice or pasta) from this
food group.

Dietary fiber is mainly composed of

cellulose that makes up the cell walls
of plants. The human body cannot
digest cellulose; nevertheless it is an
important component of the diet
because it delays gastric emptying,
slows absorption of carbohydrate and
increases the water content and bulk
of faeces. Dietary fiber is found in
vegetables and most fruits, especially
in their skin; it is also found in oat
bran, wheat bran, corn bran and dried
peas and beans. Ideally one requires
25-30 gm/day of dietary fiber a day.

Proteins are called the “building

blocks” of the body. They are
important components of many organs
and tissues in the body including
muscles, eyes, blood, nails, skin, and
connective tissues. They are broken
down into amino acids in the body.
There are twenty-one amino acids of
which nine are essential i.e. the body
cannot synthesize them and they need
to be obtained from the diet. Proteins
that are obtained from animal sources
are complete proteins and are found in
meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, and
cheese. These foods are rich sources
of protein as they contain the nine
essential amino acids. Proteins are
also found in nuts and legumes (peas,
beans etc.) but those proteins are
regarded as incomplete proteins
because they do not contain all the
nine essential amino acids.
In the diet milk and meats constitute
the food group that represents protein.
The recommended daily allowance
(RDA) for protein for an adult is 0.8
gm/kg; that comes to between 1-2
servings a day (2-3 pieces of chicken
/beef/turkey). Red meat has a higher
saturated fat content and cholesterol
content so it is not a healthy source of
protein. Fish and white meat like
chicken and turkey are much more
healthy sources of protein as they
contain much less fat and cholesterol.
Eggs and milk are also good sources of
protein but eggs are high in cholesterol
(the yolk) so it is recommended that
you eat an average of one egg a day or

Cholesterol is not a fat but an alcohol

(sterol). It is found in foods of animal
origin such as eggs (the yolk) and
organ meats such as liver and kidney.
One’s intake of cholesterol correlates
with the likelihood of developing
coronary artery disease (a disease
affecting the blood vessels of the heart
which may cause one to have a heart
attack) later in life. The metabolism of
cholesterol is linked to that of fat such
that if the intake of saturated fat were
high this would lead to an increase in
the cholesterol level. The RDA of
cholesterol is about 300gm/day (one
egg yolk is equivalent to 300gm

Dietary fat is also an important source

of energy. It can be divided into (1)
saturated (2) polyunsaturated (3)
monounsaturated. Fats from animal
sources contain saturated fat e.g.
meat, poultry, milk, butter and eggs.
Saturated fat is also found in some
plant sources such as coconut, cocoa
butter and palm oil. Polyunsaturated
fat is found in vegetable sources such
as sunflower oil, corn oil and soybean
oil. Fish oil is an animal source of
polyunsaturated fat. Margarine is
made from vegetable oils and it is
therefore healthier for us than butter.
Monounsaturated fat is also obtained
from vegetable sources such as olive
oil, canola oil and peanut oil.
Mediterranean peoples such as the
Italians use mostly olive oil to cook,
and the incidence of heart disease is
relatively low in that region of the
Nutritionists recommend that not
more than 30% of total calories should
be from dietary fat; only 10% of this
should come from saturated fat. In
order to reduce our intake of
saturated fat it is best to cook with
polyunsaturated oils such as corn oil,
or monounsaturated oils such as olive
oil and canola oil. Palm oil is
saturated oil that should be used
sparingly in cooking. It is better to
restrict one’s fat intake when one is
still young because one develops a
healthy food habit that one is able to
maintain when one gets older.
Fruits and vegetables are just above
the bread group in the food pyramid.
One should eat between 7 and 9
servings daily (that usually means
some vegetable/fruit with every meal).
Fresh fruit and vegetables (especially
citrus fruits such as oranges,
grapefruit, lemon, and lime) are rich in
vitamin C, dietary fiber, and a mineral
called potassium. Legumes such as
peas, beans and soybeans are also
good sources of both complex
carbohydrates and protein.
Sweets are high in calories and low in
nutritional value. They include such
things as ice cream, cakes, candy,
chocolate, soft drinks etc. Excessive
intake of sweets will surely lead to
weight gain that may prove difficult to
shed, as one gets older.

The human body also requires 13

vitamins and 16 minerals for good
health. Vitamins are found in a
number of foods including fresh fruits
and vegetables. Minerals include
sodium (a component of salt),
potassium, calcium, and iron among
others. The RDA for salt is 3gm/day;
most of us take much more than this
amount on a daily basis. Salt are a
hidden component of many processed
foods (e.g. canned food and processed
meats such as bacon and sausage).
People with high blood pressure
(hypertension) usually need to cut
down on their salt intake in order to
achieve adequate control of their
blood pressure in addition to being on
antihypertensive medication.
Potassium is found in fresh fruits
especially in citrus fruits and bananas.
Calcium is found in milk and eggs and
is a major component of the bones and
teeth; iron is found mostly in liver. A
shortage of iron in the body (which is
quite common in women and children)
usually leads to iron deficiency anemia
because iron is a major component of
red blood cells that carry oxygen to
different parts of the body. A
deficiency of calcium in children leads
to a disease called rickets in which the
bones become soft and the limbs bend
in an abnormal fashion. In adults the
disease is called osteomalacia and
results in easily broken bones and loss
of the teeth.
Last but not least, water is an
essential component of a healthy diet.
The body is composed of about 60%
water. We require 3 liters of water
daily, of which 2/3 is usually obtained
from water and beverages and 1/3
from food. This usually comes to
about six glasses of water a day.