Q. Why is protein important? Out of protein, calories, fat, fiber and carbs, what should I focus on for healthy eating?
A. Thinking about nutrition and trying to make sure you are getting the right amount of everything can make your head spin! Protein, carbohydrates and fat are referred to as macronutrients – they provide calories for energy and are critical for survival. In addition to energy, they also serve many roles in helping the body operate. In short, proteins essentially build muscle, fats protect organs and serve as reserved energy, and carbohydrates are quick fuel. It’s best to eat a variety of foods including fruits and vegetables to achieve optimal nutrition and to make sure you are getting all the vitamins and minerals also needed (micronutrients). When choosing carbohydrates (bread, pasta, cereal, etc.), select items that are higher in fiber (think whole-grains). Including proteins from plant sources (quinoa, tofu, beans, etc.) will help provide another source of fiber and additional micronutrients. Lastly, choose fats derived from plants (olive oil, sunflower oil, canola, etc.) to avoid cholesterol. If your head is still spinning, use the USDA’s half-your-plate as a guideline for eating the right foods. You can also talk to a dietitian in your area for help.