What Should You Really be Eating?

What should you really be eating?

What should you really be eating?

How little people really know about the food they are consuming!

With the startling realisation that many of our gym community friends and associates don’t actually know the difference between simple and complex carbs facing me full on yesterday during a conversation with a few gym buddies; made me horrified that most of our population out there don’t have a clue on nutrition or healthy eating.

It surprised me that my fellow gym friends were so naïve to not reading up on anything to do with nutrition or health but then I am probably the naïve one to believe that everyone out there knows about what’s good and what’s bad for us, because I come from such a knowledgeable background within this area thanks to my degree and experience in the fitness industry. I know a lot of my peers and associates spend a lot of their spare time reading articles upon articles about training methods and training intensity but they have yet to read such scholarship dissertations or reports on the basics of nutrition.

I probably take my knowledge for granted and think that most of our population have been educated in this area at school, home or if not further education than by their parents – but – now this is a big BUT – a recent study from the NHS’s State of Health’s Annual Report found that 70% of parents did not know that their children were overweight or obese! Now this is a massive starting point to understand why we live in one of the top 3 obese countries in the world to date and how as we grow and become adults that we too are not passing on vital knowledge to our children and younger generations about the importance of nutrition and healthy eating.

I could rant and rave for pages and pages about obesity and implementing a sugar tax but I know you guys just want to read the facts that will educate you quickly within knowing the basics of nutrition; in order to get you ready to be able to create your own diet plan and assist you into further reading into more in-depth and physiological articles. (And guys remember I am neither a registered dietician nor a nutritionist but I am educated at degree level within Sports and Exercise Science and combined with my previous personal training experience as well as my own diet tests and trials, I believe I can pass on some interesting knowledge for you to hopefully gain an insight into making healthier changes for yourselves and others around you.)

The Facts:


We all need fat in our diet as it is an essential to maintain our bodily functions and also use as an energy source for when we are lacking in glucose. Now there are two types of fats – good fats (Unsaturated fat) and bad fats (Saturated fat). The more bad fats we eat the more our cholesterol can raise in which increase the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and coronary heart disease. It is important to cut down on such saturated fats and choose foods higher in unsaturated fats as these ‘good’ fats contain cholesterol destroying properties which are essential for maintaining a healthy heart. We all need fat in our diet because not only does it help the body absorb certain nutrients but it is also a vital source of energy that contains specific vitamins and provides essential fatty acids that the body can’t make itself.

Good Fats:

These fats we should be eating MORE OF! (WOW something that tastes good and that we can eat more of?! Yes you heard me correctly!) Eating these types of fats not only can help lower blood cholesterol but also contain essential fatty acids such as omega-3.

Unsaturated Fats – When reading nutrition labels also look under the tab of fats and then unsaturated!

Omega-3 Rich Unsaturated Fats:

–        Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines

What should you really be eating? Fitness Fan

Avocados – A great source of ‘good’ fat

–        Nuts and Seeds as well as Peanut butter!

–        Sunflower and Olive Oils

Other unsaturated fats are also found in vegetables, such as avocados.

Bad Fats:

Saturated Fat – Fats to cut down on

According to the British Dietetic Association, most people in the UK eat too much saturated fat 20% more than the recommended maximum.

–        The average man should eat no more than 30grams of saturated fat per day.

–        The average woman should eat no more than 20grams of saturated fat per day.

Your risk of heart disease can be increased when levels of cholesterol within the body are raised. Eating a diet high in saturated fat can cause this raise in cholesterol in the blood to happen over time. Foods high in saturated fat include:

–        Fatty cuts of meat

–        Butter, ghee and lard

–        Cheese, esp hard cheese

–        Cream, soured cream and ice cream

–        Confectionary such as chocolate and crisps

–        Biscuits, cakes and pastries

Trans Fats:

These types of fats are naturally found at very low levels in some foods, such as those from animals, including meats and dairy products. Additionally, they can be found in foods containing hydrogenated vegetable oil. Foods that contain hydrogenated vegetable oil then must declare this on the ingredients list, thus increasing their trans fat level. Similar to saturated fats, trans fats can raise cholesterol levels in the blood therefore this is why it’s recommended that adults should consume up to no more than 5grams of trans fats per day. Luckily however, supermarkets in the UK have removed hydrogenated vegetable oil from most of their own-brand products thus allowing most people in the UK to not consume over the recommended average daily intake of trans fats.


We need protein to repair our body’s cells and maintain health as protein is one of our essential energy sources. The basic structure of protein is a chain of amino acids; these chemical chains are used for creating the proteins within our cells. It is a major part of the skin, muscles, organs and glands. Protein is essential to our diet because it helps our body repair its cells as well as making new ones. It is important for growth and development especially during childhood, adolescence and pregnancy.

As we eat proteins and the get digested, amino acids are left. Our human body needs a number of difference amino acids in order to break down food correctly; therefore they need to be eaten in large enough amount for optimal health. Many amino acids are found in animal sources such as meats, milk, fish and eggs; as well as in plant sources such as soy, beans, legumes, nut butters and some grains – such as wheat germ. Luckily for vegetarians (like myself), you do not need to eat animal products to get all the essential protein you need in your diet.

Amino acids are classified into three groups:

  • Essential
  • Nonessential
  • Conditional

Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body and therefore must be supplied by the food we consume. However, they do not need to be eaten at one meal as the balance over the whole day is more important. We have nine essential amino acids.

Nonessential amino acids are made by the body from essential amino acids or in the normal breakdown of proteins. We have four nonessential amino acids.

Conditional amino acids are usually not essential, except in times of illness and stress. We have eight conditional amino acids.

But remember … A diet high in meat can contribute to high cholesterol levels due to the amount of saturated fat you would be consuming. Additionally, a high-protein diet may also put a strain on the kidneys.

When eating a nutritionally balanced diet it provides enough protein for our bodily functions to grow and repair, therefore healthy people rarely need to take protein supplements. Even vegetarians are able to get enough essential amino acids by eating a variety of plant proteins.

The recommended daily protein amount depends upon your age and health. For most adults, two or three servings of protein-rich food will meet the daily needs.

The following are the recommended serving sizes for protein:

  • 60 – 90grams of cooked lean meat, poultry or fish
  • ½ cup of cooked dried beans
  • 1 egg, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter or 30 grams of cheese.

Choose from:

  • Turkey or chicken with the skin removed
  • Lean cuts of beef or pork
  • Fish or shellfish

Other sources of protein:

What should you really be eating? Fitness Fan

Nuts & Seeds

  • Pinto beans, black beans, kidney beans, lentils, split peas, or garbanzo beans
  • Nuts and seeds, including almonds, mixed nuts, peanuts, peanut butter, sunflower seeds, or walnuts
  • Tofu and other soy protein products
  • Low-fat dairy product


Carbohydrates are the essential source of energy for the human body. The reason for this is because they can be converted more readily into glucose, the form of sugar that’s transported and used by the body, more than proteins or fats can.

However, a diet too high in carbohydrates can upset the delicate balance of your body’s blood sugar level, resulting in fluctuations in energy and mood which leave you feeling irritated and tired; and can cause you to eat more carbohydrates resulting in eating more than the day’s calorie recommendation.  Therefore it is better to balance your intake of carbohydrates with protein, fat and fibre.

These bad boys are split into 3 groups:

  1. Simple – Sugars
  2. Complex – Starch
  3. Poloy – Sweeteners –  sugar alcohols

Net carbs – carbs that don’t impact your blood glucose (sugar) levels – minus the fibre and sugar alcohols (i.e. polys) from the total carb amount = net carbs

Complex carbohydrates:

These are often referred to as starch or starchy foods, and are found naturally in foods (like oats) and also refined in processed foods (like biscuits).

Natural starches are found in:

What should you really be eating? Fitness Fan

Rolled Oats

  • Brown rice
  • Wholemeal bread
  • Wholemeal pasta
  • Wholegrain cereals
  • Beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Oats
  • Sweet potato
  • Root vegetables

Refined starches are found in:

  • Biscuits, cakes and pastries
  • Pizzas
  • White rice
  • White pasta
  • White bread

Simple carbohydrates:

These are also known as sugars. They also exist in either a natural or refined form.

Natural sugars are found in:

  • All fruit and vegetables.

Refined sugars are found in:

  • Chocolate
  • Sweets
  • Soft drinks
  • Snack bars
  • Jams
  • Jellies
  • Prepared sauces
  • Cakes, pastries and biscuits

Complex and Simple – The difference between them:

When any carbohydrate is digested they form glucose. Glucose is transported around the body via blood and taken into cells to be converted into energy.

The hormone insulin controls the uptake of glucose by your cells and the pancreas gland secretes this hormone. When the body has any excess glucose, this is converted into glycogen; which is stored in the liver or in fat around the body – leading to excess weight gain.

A second hormone is secreted by the pancreas called glucagon when your body needs more energy. This converts the store glycogen back into glucose for energy which is then released into your bloodstream for your cells to use.

The body’s metabolism is the cycle of glucose, insulin and glucagon reactions.

  • The slower the release of glucose and hormones, the more stable and sustainable the energy levels of the body.
  • The more refined the carbohydrate, the faster the glucose is released into your blood. This can cause peaks and drops in your blood sugar level and less stable energy levels in the body.

Thus, complex carbohydrates provide a slower and more sustained release of energy than simple carbohydrates.

Complex carbohydrates found in their natural form contribute to long-term good health, appetite control and sustained energy levels, and therefore more aesthetically pleasing bodies.

The current advice is that we should get half our energy needs from carbohydrates, with at least one third of our daily intake of body being natural starchy carbohydrates. According to the British Nutrition Foundation the average adult’s daily intake meets this target with women getting ~50% of their daily energy from carbs (203g) and men ~50% (275g).

However not all carbohydrates are equal: refined sugars should make up only 11% of your daily diet – however if we are trying to lose weight or gain a lean physique then personally I would cut out refined sugars all together.

So the magic question we all want to know the answer to … Do carbohydrates make you fat?

Regardless of what foods you get your energy from, eating too much will lead to weight gain. Yet while low carb diets have had much debate, gram for gram carbohydrates contain less calories than fat, protein and alcohol:

  • 1g of carbohydrate contains 3.75 calories
  • 1g of protein contains 4 calories
  • 1g of fat contains 9 calories
  • 1g alcohol contains 7 calories

However when we consume too many carbohydrates the unused glucose is converted into glycogen and up to 100g is stored in the liver and then the rest is stored as fat within the body. Therefore, we will put additional weight on if we eat over our recommended daily allowance of carbohydrate or any other food group.

Written by Hayley Madigan

Follow Hayley on Twitter @HayleyMadigan