It's easy to get answers about health and nutrition! Just send your question by email to [email protected] and Dr. Harlan will respond to selected questions of general interest. Answers will be posted in the Ask Dr. Gourmet newsletter (sign up now!) and archived in the Ask Dr. Gourmet section of the website.

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Ask Dr. Gourmet

Q: What do we need for a healthy diet?

What do we need for a healthy diet?
How do vegetarians get a healthy diet?

Hi, me again What problems do you get if you eat to much?
Thank you. this will be a help because i am doing a school project on FOOD!!

A: Dr. Gourmet Says....

These are three very big questions, Peter. Whole books have been written on such topics. If you are doing a school project, any one of the three would be enough to discuss.

The first question (What do we need for a healthy diet?) is the simplest. The most important thing is moderation. I use the term moderation because many "diets" that are popular are quite extreme, having very low calories or fat. There are diets that even restrict carbohydrates and promote high fat as a way to lose weight.

Likewise, the diet of the average American is extreme, having high calories and high fat content.

  1. Moderate calories. Most of us eat too many calories. Everybody is different, but as a rule of thumb total calories needed can be calculated by the following formula [(Ideal body weight x 10) + Ideal Body Weight].

    For a 6 foot male who should weigh about 170 lbs. the formula would be (170 x 10) + 170 = 1870 calories.

    This should be increased or decreased based on the amount of activity.

  2. Moderate fat. Most of us who eat too many calories get the extra calories in fats. There is a clear connection between increased intake of saturated fat and heart disease as well as some cancers. The best research that we have now says to eat about 30% of calories from fat and about 10% of calories from saturated fat.

    In the six foot man above this means 1870 calories x 0.30 = 561 calories from total fat and 187 calories from saturated fat. Each gram of fat has 9 calories. So, this diet should be about 60 grams of fat with 20 of those being saturated fat.

    Unfortunately, most people have taken the lower fat diet to mean low or no fat. They look at all fat as bad and it is not -- the key is moderation. Many of the products on the market today are low or no fat but the still have calories and oftentimes as many or more calories as the higher fat versions.

  3. Moderate ingredients. Trying to eat a good variety of foods is important. Just as our bodies needs some fat they also need protein and carbohydrates. This is goal of the food pyramid created by the USDA. It has a foundation of carbohydrates with a smaller amount of protein and a lesser amount of fat.

    The pyramid breaks a healthy diet into servings of each of these food groups. It's an easy way to get the 30% fat, 55% carbohydrate and 15% protein without having to carry around a calculator.

This leads into the answer to your second question about how vegetarians can eat a healthy diet. For vegetarians, a healthy diet is the same as above. Vegetarians just don't eat meat. Some don't eat any meat at all but will eat milk or cheese and others will eat eggs also.

Proteins are made up of amino acids but there are amino acids that our bodies can't make and we must get these in our diet. Meats and fish are sources of proteins as are dairy products and eggs. The proteins found in meat, fish, dairy products and eggs have a complete set of amino acids. No vegetable has all the amino acids that the body doesn't make, however, so different vegetables must be combined to get a complete set. An example would be combining beans and rice. Either of these by themselves is incomplete in some amino acids but combined they have a full set.

One problem with many vegetarian recipes is that they are not very moderate in the number of calories or the amount of fat.

The answer to your last question is pretty easy. If you eat too much, you can get fat.

Now, there is a great deal of controversy about the health effects of obesity but the most recent research says that being overweight shortens life span. It also contributes to illnesses like heart disease and diabetes.

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP, CCMS
Dr. Gourmet