Nutrition 101 ~ beginners’ guide to healthy eating

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I’m so happy you are here, as you are probably at a time where you want to make some nice positive changes, and that’s great! The first step is wanting to change. Now, you are probably thinking: “I want to eat healthily but I feel overwhelmed and I don’t know where to start”, right? I know, there is so much information (and misinformation!) everywhere, so many diets, tips, and tricks…

But let’s start slowly. In this series of four videos, I will cover the basics and help you start eating healthy in a sustainable and enjoyable way. This first video will focus on the basics of healthy eating and nutrition, on the second one I will share some tips to make your healthy eating journey easier, the next one will focus on the mindset of healthy eating and in the last one, I’m going to show you what I have in my plant-based kitchen and dive a little bit deeper into each nutrient and food.

If you’re more of a visual learner, here is the video for this blog post:

First of all, by healthy eating, I mean “a nutritious and non-restrictive diet, composed of natural foods most of the time”. Healthy eating is about feeding your body the best – so it can perform its best. You do not have to (unless expressly indicated by your doctor, for health reasons) eat healthy 100% of the time. It is what you put on your plate most of the time that matters. And if you don’t eat as healthy at a meal, a day, or a week, simply go back to your healthy habits, without stress or obsessions.

nutritious and non-restrictive diet,
composed of natural foods most of the time

Another important thing is: these are just general recommendations because in order for me to be able to give you specific recommendations I would have to know about your needs, your goals, restrictions, diseases, activity… So, especially if you have a goal in mind, restrictions, or some disease, look for a dietitian. Right? 😊 Let’s move on!

Nutrients your body needs

Let’s start with the basics… Very briefly, nutrients are the essential components we get from the foods we eat. These are components we should ingest every day to guarantee the perfect functioning of the amazing machine that is our body. Just like calories, the needs for nutrients vary widely from person to person and their amounts should be adjusted to everyone’s needs, and as much as I would love to, I can’t talk about nutrient amounts without knowing who I’m talking to. (so as always, check with your dietitian!).

On one hand, we have MACRONUTRIENTS, which are nutrients needed in greater quantities and which provide calories – they are carbohydrates, fat, and protein. The MICRONUTRIENTS are nutrients that we need in smaller quantities, such as vitamins and minerals. All of them are essential, meaning that your body requires their ingestion through the diet to function properly.

The other day, I read about such an interesting analogy that equated nutrients with “messages”, and I couldn’t have said it better! In addition to giving us energy and becoming “part” of our body, nutrients also send messages to all the cells in our organism.

They tell them “Do this. Don’t do that. Release this hormone. Express this protein. Absorb this sugar. Turn off this gene …”

And our goal is to give our bodies not only the bricks and energy it needs, but also as many positive instructions as possible (although more isn’t always better, but that’s a topic for another post), and minimize negative ones… So let’s forget the idea that nutrients are just a way for us to get calories.

board with carbohydrate sources - pasta, chickpeas, rice, cereals, toasts, sweet potatoes

CARBOHYDRATES for example, in addition to providing energy, especially for your brain and nervous system, also instruct our body to maintain adequate levels of certain hormones. And although you might think so, carbohydrates aren’t bad for you (unless you have some medical conditions). But there are types of carbohydrates you should consume in larger quantities than others. You can find these good complex carbs in whole-grain rice, potatoes, whole-grain bread, peas, pasta, beans, quinoa, corn, and fruit.

PROTEINS, which are composed of amino acids, in addition to functioning as bricks – every cell, from bone to hair contains proteins – also instruct our immune and hormone system to function well.
You can ingest them through tofu, tempeh, legumes, fish, eggs, dairy products, meat, seeds, and nuts.

And FAT, that had a bad reputation for such a long time and is so important for our body. It not only protects our cells but also regulates hormones and inflammation, helps in the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals, supports brain health, and guarantees organ insulation.
Good sources of fat are extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado, eggs, fish, seafood…

And as for the MICRONUTRIENTS, they are nutrients like vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and zoo-chemicals that do not provide us with energy (i.e. calories). They also give our body special pieces of information… And certain functions of our body only work if these instructions are received, hence the importance of their adequate intake.

  • Some tell our immune system to function more powerfully.
  • Some help in cell regeneration.
  • And others trigger the conversion of other nutrients in energy.

There is so much to say about each nutrient that I could easily make a post about each one… If you’re interested in knowing more about each one of them, I will dive deeper into this topic in future posts, so let me know if you would be interested in the comments!

plate with plant-based protein sources - tofu, burgers, nuts, protein powder, yogurt, seeds, legumes

Foods to eat

“So, what can I eat?”

So now that you know about the nutrients, “what can you eat?”. I believe that, unless you have a medical condition that prevents you from eating certain foods, you can eat everything! Let’s forget the all-or-nothing mentality and treat healthy eating as it deserves, with realism and flexibility. I don’t like to look at foods as bad or good, but… some foods do better promote your health than others. So instead of creating strict lists of what you can eat, let’s create a spectrum that goes from foods we want to eat LESS OFTEN to foods we want to eat MOST OF THE TIME.

The last ones are the natural and unprocessed or minimally processed foods. These are usually foods that didn’t go through any processing or have been changed slightly, like washed, cooked, peeled, sliced, or dried. These foods are typically packed with more goodness, unlike their processed counterparts. One way to distinguish whole foods from processed foods is to ask “does this food exists like this in nature?”. If yes, it is probably a great and nourishing option.

They include protein sources such as fish, meat, or eggs for those who eat them, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and good fat sources such as olives or avocado… Then you have slightly more processed foods like tofu, tempeh, protein powders or bars, pasta, cheese, instant oatmeal that are more convenient and still nourishing options.

If you can eat these unprocessed or slightly processed foods 80 to 90% of the time, don’t be surprised if you find yourself with a better mood, better digestion and regular bowel movements, healthier skin and hair and a lot more energy. In the remaining 10% of the time, there is always room for…

fat sources - avocado, peanut butter, olive oil, chocolate, nuts and seeds

Foods to eat less often

The ultra-processed foods – these foods are generally the result of several steps of processing and to improve the final product, they may have added sugars, salt, additives, colors, and preservatives, some of them known to be harmful to your health. As your body has a natural preference for these types of flavors and textures, it is natural that you end up overconsuming them. They’re designed for that! You probably know what they are, but let’s review them again:

Rich in refined carbohydrates foods — pastries, fruit juices, syrups, chips, cookies, soda, granola bars — some of them also rich in saturated and trans fats and salt.

Processed meats — bacon, ham, sausages or salami — rich in additives that potentially increase cancer risk like nitrates and nitrites, salt, and saturated fats.

Salty snacks — chips, crackers, French fries, microwave popcorn — rich in trans and saturated fats and salt.

Frozen meals or ready-to-eat meals — rich in additives, salt, saturated fats and some refined carbohydrates.

Fast food — rich in trans and saturated fats, refined carbohydrates, additives and salt.

Refined grains — white bread, white rice, white pasta, instant noodles.

These foods can’t certainly be considered desirable in an ideal diet, as their ingredients can increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies, weight gain, and a whole lot of other health problems. But, let’s forget the rules around these foods, the times you can eat them, the days, the bans. Unless you have a medical restriction, all of these foods have a space in your diet. And you don’t want to deny your cravings to the point of exhausting your willpower so much that you end up bingeing.

And now that you have a foundation of knowledge about the nutrients and foods to eat often and foods to avoid, we have to find ways to eat more of what makes us good, and less of what’s not so good! I’m going to share all of these tips in the next post of this series! Meanwhile you can dive deep in other articles I’ve shared on the blog:

I hope this post has been helpful to you and that you’ve enjoyed it, and hope to see you in the next post of this “healthy eating for beginners” series! If you’d like to find more tips on nutrition, healthy habits, and lifestyle, join our community on InstagramFacebook and, YouTube! Wishing you an amazing and healthy week!

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