When it comes to our diets, knowing what to eat can be an overwhelming process. With so many options, diet fads, and brands, even food shopping can produce anxiety.

To make matters worse, every item comes with questions: sugar-free or fat-free? Butter, margarine, or olive oil? Almond milk, soy milk, whole milk, fat-free milk? At what point do we stop and consider the elements listed on the food label and question what it all means? 

The Facts

dairy product, butter, margarine, sweet, milk, cheese
Haley Abram

The average sedentary or mildly active American consumes approximately 2,000 to 2,600 calories every day. You might already know this statistic, but how does that number reflect in your diet?

A calorie is the amount of heat it takes to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius (wait, what?). Simply put, this means that the foods we eat fuel our bodies with energy.

The components of food are what we know and love: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. We all know that chicken is a great source of protein and that bread is a delicious carb, but the elements distinguishing them are often overlooked. 

tea, beer, coffee
Namrata Satija

Let's take a brief history trip to the year 1980 when The Dietary Guidelines for Americans was published for the first time. On behalf of the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services, these guidelines served to produce change in a rapidly aging population plagued with chronic illnesses. People had developed the negative part of the "American Dream" and from living longer: weight gain arising from eating highly processed foods and neglecting physical activity.

Seeing these alarming statistics, it's no wonder the government decided to educate people on proper nutrition. The intentions were good, but the interpretation of the guidelines were not. 

It was this sudden overhaul of information presented in the Dietary Guidelines that created a frenzy. America was suddenly obsessed with calculating daily caloric intake, buying into any commercialized weight-loss plan that promised slim waists and dropping "5 pounds in 5 days." Yes, people were becoming aware of their eating habits. No, it was not always founded on scientific information (I recommend watching this John Oliver video for comic relief). 

Jamie Caccavaro

To make matters worse, the Dietary Guidelines pulled a fast one on us in 2010. Nutrition was suddenly broken down into components. It was no longer a study of foods working together in a meal, but an isolated review for individual nutrients. People hear the word "fat" and panic, when eating a well-balanced diet has always been the answer.

With confusion over terminology and the media clinging to every possible weight-loss plug, society today is often brainwashed by the idea of chemically injected, non-fat products. Cutting out all sources of fat is actually detrimental to human regulatory systems and—pause, for effect—can cause weight gain! 

GIF courtesy of allmoviegifs.tumblr.com 

What Is Important

pastry, sweet, chocolate, cake, candy, cream, cookie, doughnut, dairy product
Paige Stickevers

I won't get all scientific on you, but let's talk about the basics. The body is comprised of interacting systems that need healthy, unsaturated fatty acids. Healthy fats raise HDL (the good cholesterol), and can decrease the risk for cardiovascular disease.

The Dietary Guidelines recommend that 20-35% of daily calories are fat. So, those avocados, nuts, oils, and Omega-3-filled fish that get a bad reputation for making you "fatter," are actually heart-healthy.

If a person is eliminating fat from their diet, they will consume a greater number of carbohydrates to compensate for the loss of fat. Essential fats are replaced with sugar, leading to weight gain, stimulating LDLs  (the bad cholesterol), and increasing the risk for type-II diabetes. Who would have known?

Of course, not all fats are good. Some, such as trans fatty acids, deserve up-turned noses and scorn. Hydrogenation is not natural, folks.

#SpoonTip: Avoid any ingredients that you cannot pronounce!

If you've made it this far, be sure to take away this one, very important point: naturally satisfy your cravings and treat yo' self.