Photo courtesy of  Flickr

Photo courtesy of Flickr

We all know that we should eat healthy. And most of us have at least a vague sense of what that actually means — we know we shouldn't really be munching on those Doritos, and we know that we should probably eat salads more often. But, to a large extent, the world of nutrition is a confusing one. Many of us feel lost when we think about nutrition, and that can lead to us shrugging off important decisions and giving up on eating healthy.

That's no good. Let's take a moment to talk about nutrition! Here's a crash course in what you need to know.

The Basics: Calories and Macronutrients

You're probably aware of calories. Calories measure the energy content of food — or, at least, one dimension of it. Many diets are based on calorie deprivation: consume fewer calories than you burn, these diets claim, and you'll lose weight. Their math isn't way off, but the picture they paint is overly simplistic. Worse yet, studies show that calorie deprivation diets don't last — even if you succeed in losing some weight using one, you'll likely gain that weight back when you stop depriving yourself and go back to old (bad) habits.

It's better to take calories as one basic measure of a food's worth and to remember some other major players — particularly the macronutrients. Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are the three major types of nutrients that experts call "macronutrients," and getting enough — but not too much — of each is key to a healthy, sustainable diet. If you balance the three macronutrients and consider calories at the same time, you'll fall into a rhythm of eating that keeps you full and healthy at the same time.

Next-Level Nutrition: Micronutrients, Vitamins, and More

Of course, our bodies need a ton of specific things, too: individual vitamins and specific types of carbohydrates that our big-picture view above ignored. Fortunately, you can count on getting most of what you need without much effort. If you're balancing macronutrients, it's unlikely that you're facing serious deficiencies of specific nutrients. Still, it never hurts to take a look at what you're getting — tracking things more carefully for even a week might help you spot ways to fine-tune your diet.

You can also supplement your diet with natural supplements from trustworthy companies like NetNutri. A multivitamin is no substitute for a healthy diet, but it can help you cover your bases as you proceed with regular healthy eating. And other supplements can help shore up specific deficiencies or work with your diet to make you feel better and more energetic. Before adding various supplements to your diet, make sure you consult with your primary care physician or family medicine specialist.

But Wait: What Do You Eat?

We've given you a lot of information about nutrients and nutrition basics, but we haven't yet connected this science to real-world foods. Fortunately, it's very easy to do so.

You can eat a healthy diet without having to track every last nutrient if you simply eat what we humans were meant to eat: whole, unprocessed foods. Those include fruits and vegetables as well as meats, though the last of those should be eaten in some moderation. Experts recommend shopping around the "edges" of supermarkets — look for the veggies, get fresh meat from the deli counter, and steer clear of the center aisles of the store, which tend to be full of processed foods like cereals, chips, sweets, and other nutritional no-nos.

Combining a general preference for whole foods with a little bit of label-checking can give you a very effective diet with relatively little effort. You'll be able to eat reasonable portions, because you'll be eating less calorie-dense foods, like vegetables. And since you won't be so hungry all of the time, you should find that this nutritional solution is far more sustainable than any calorie-deprivation diet.

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