Eating a healthy balanced diet combined with regular physical activity is the key to weight maintenance and good health.  All experts agree on that.  The arguments start when you ask about what foods to eat, what foods to avoid and what kind of exercise is best. 

There are those that say you can eat whatever you want, as long as you limit portion sizes.  Others will say that you can eat whatever you want, as long as you consume no more than 30% of your calories from fat.  They don’t differentiate between good and bad fats, either, which is actually very important.

Then, there are the individuals and companies that say calories don’t count, as long as you cut out the carbs.  But, they don’t differentiate between good and bad carbs. 

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Whether you are currently at your ideal weight, need to gain weight or need to lose a hundred pounds, you can follow the same guidelines.  Only your caloric needs will be different.

Calories are energy or fuel to the body’s cells.  The amount of energy that your body needs depends on your weight, your age and your level of physical activity.  When you are planning a healthy balanced diet, you should be sure that it provides enough calories to support your body’s needs. 

Otherwise, you will eventually lose muscle mass and the density of your bones will be reduced.  Both of those things will cause problems as you get older.  There are calorie counters online where you can get an idea of how many calories that you need.  But, if you need to lose weight, don’t follow their guidelines. 

They promote severe calorie restriction, which will not work in the long run.  You may lose weight at first, but you won’t be able to stick with the plan, because it’s not a healthy balanced diet.  So, use the calculators only to get an idea of how many calories you need to support your body at rest and your level of physical activity.

When it comes to exercise, everyone, regardless of their age, unless they are suffering from a disease, should have a regular plan that includes some sort of aerobic activity for heart health and weight training or strength building exercises.  Research has shown that regular physical activity reduces the risk of bone loss and fractures in the elderly.  Your ultimate goal should be to live a long life, free of disease, dementia and injury.

When it comes to a healthy balanced diet, about a third of your calories should come from protein.  About a third should come from carbohydrates.  About a third should come from fat.  That would be a perfect balance.

It’s okay to play with the percentages.  But, be sure to get enough protein, at least a half gram per pound of body weight.  Choose complex, not simple carbohydrates and choose polyunsaturated, rather than saturated fat.

Avoid trans-fatty acids and hydrogenated fats, whenever possible.  Today, they are found primarily in biscuits and other baked goods.

There are many other factors to consider for a healthy balanced diet.  What you have read about here are just some of the most important.

If you need to lose weight, you still need to make sure that you have a healthy dietary intake of fats, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and other nutrients.  Not only will it make you feel better and be better for your long-term health, it may make it easier for you to stick to your eating and exercise plan.  Here are a few suggestions.

Number one, in anybody’s book, should be to get enough protein.  If you don’t get enough protein every day, you will be hungry and you will not be able to build muscle. 

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In fact, if there is inadequate protein in your diet, your body will cannibalize the muscles that you currently have, in order to get at the essential proteins stored there.  If there are not enough calories in your diet, your body will break down muscle tissue to get at the glucose stored there, because your brain must have glucose to survive.

If you lose muscle mass, you will become flabbier and your body will burn fewer calories at rest, which will make it harder for you to lose weight, as time goes by.  Plus, once you start eating more, again, you will gain back the weight faster, because you will have slowed down your metabolism; your body’s ability to burn calories and fat.

A healthy dietary intake of protein is ½ to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.  To make that calculation, start with your current weight, not your goal weight.  If you lose 10 or 20 pounds, you may need to reduce the amount of protein in your diet, just as you reduce the number of calories.  30-40% of your daily caloric intake can come from protein. 

Any healthy dietary guidelines will tell you that carbohydrates are essential.  But, they don’t always differentiate between the “types” of carbohydrates.  There are two basic types; complex and simple.

Complex carbohydrates are the natural ones.  They include most fruits, vegetables and whole grains, such as wild rice and oatmeal.  They provide vitamins, antioxidants, fiber, minerals and a variety of other nutrients that may help you lose weight and live a longer, healthier life. 

Simple carbohydrates are mostly products of man.  They are digested quickly, contain very little fiber, cause spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels, and have a high caloric value relative to the number of nutrients that they contain.   

If you determine that your healthy dietary caloric intake is 1500 calories, 450-600 (30-40% of the total) of those calories should come from complex carbohydrates.  Add that to the calories from protein and you have a total of 900-1200 calories.  The rest of your daily caloric intake should come from good fats.

Good fats include those found in fish, olives, walnuts and avocado.  We must have some fat in our diet.  It’s just that most people get too many trans-fatty acids and too much saturated fat, primarily from eating processed and prepared foods, but also from popular spreads like mayo.

Here are two final pieces of advice.  Learn as much as you can about healthy dietary guidelines and never forget the importance of exercising.  That should keep you fit and in good health for life.