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Wellness Education - Nutrition

Getting Back to Basics

You know that eating right will help you maintain a healthy weight and my even protect you against a variety of chronic diseases, including coronary heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and various cancers. But with so many avenues presenting nutrition advice and tips, what to eat and what not to eat, it can make something so simple seem so very confusing.

Despite the vast amount and variety of foods available, you might not be getting the best nutrition. In fact, according to the most recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, only 33% of adults consume the recommended servings of fruits and 27% get the recommended servings of vegetables each day. In addition, 67% of the U.S. population is overweight or obese. As the population continues to get fatter, the standards and perceptions of what is overweight get skewed, so many people do not realize that they have a weight problem, so they ignore health advice and warnings.

There are many obstacles to eating well: your busy lifestyle, the ready availability of convenience foods, too-large portion sizes, and conflicting information on nutrition and weight loss.

So…Let’s Get Back to Basics!


There are two broad categories of nutrients:


Calories measure the amount of energy in a food. Carbohydrates and proteins contain four calories per gram, fats contain nine calories per gram and alcohol contains seven calories per gram. All calories consumed in excess of what you body needs for energy, whether in the form of carbohydrate, protein, fat or alcohol, will get stored as fat.

How many calories do you need? Visit to find out your recommended calorie intake.


Carbohydrates are starches and sugars obtained from plants. Sugars are known as simple carbohydrates and starches as complex carbohydrates. All carbohydrates are broken down in the intestine and converted to the liver to glucose, a sugar that is carried through the bloodstream to cells, where it is used for energy. Some glucose is converted into glycogen, which is stored in limited amounts in the liver and muscles to meet future energy needs. Carbohydrates are converted into fat when intake exceeds your immediate needs and your body’s capacity to store glycogen.


Proteins are substances that make up your muscles, bones, cartilage, skin, and antibodies as well as some of the hormones and all of the enzymes in your body. Proteins in food are broken down in the intestine into amino acids, the building blocks of proteins in your body. The body can manufacture 13 of the 22 amino acids present in proteins; these 13 are called nonessential amino acids because they do not need to be obtained form the diet. The other nine are known as essential amino acids because they must be supplied by food. If you are a vegetarian or vegan you need to pay particular attention to what you are eating to make sure you are getting all nine essential amino acids from plant-based foods.

Fats and Oils

Fats and oils belong to a group of substances called lipids. All fats are combinations of saturated and unsaturated fats. Fats are vital for the proper functioning of your body. They are used to store energy, are required for the membranes of cells, are converted to important hormone-like substances, and form triglycerides that provide a layer of insulation under the skin. Since the body cannot manufacture all the types of fats it needs, certain ones that must be obtained from foods are called essential. In addition, dietary fat is needed to help the intestine absorb vitamins A, D, E and K.


Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance produced mainly in the liver that can also be made by all cells (except red blood cells). The liver produces all of the cholesterol the body needs, but cholesterol is also found in animial foods, such as meats, fish, eggs, butter, cheese, and milk. (Plant foods contain no cholesterol). For transport in the blood, cholesterol is bound to certain proteins to form lipoproteins. Cholesterol is present in the membranes of all cells, acts as insulation around nerve fibers, serves as a building block for certain hormones, and is needed for the formation of bile acids, which are required for the absorption of fats from the intestine.


Vitamins are needed to regulate metabolic functions within cells. They do not supply energy, but one of their jobs is to help convert macronutrients into energy.


Minerals serve many functions, including helping to build certain tissues (particularly bones) and to maintain the water content and pH (acid-base) balance in the body.


Fiber is present in fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes (peas and beans). Fiber is not digestible and has no nutrients or calories. Its value lies in its ability to speed foods through the digestive tract and (possibly) bind toxins so they do not harm the intestine. Some types of fiber also help control blood glucose and cholesterol levels.


water is an essential nutrient because it is involved in all the processes in your body. Since water needs vary with diet, physical activity, environmental temperature, and other factors, it is difficult to pin down an exact water requirement. Water is not the only option for meeting fluid requirements: You can also drink milk, fruit juice, coffee, tea, or soda and eat foods that contain a large percentage of water (such as fruits, vegetables, and soups), although drinking water as your main source of liquids is a much better option as it contains no added calories, sugar or stimulants. A general recommendation for water or liquid consumption is drinking half your body weight in ounces of water per day. If you are active you need to drink 16 to 24 ounces for every 1 pound lost during exercise (water/sweat loss).  Everyone has different sweat rates so it is best to weigh in before and after exercise to replace water lost.

More Nutrition Information

Nutrition Links

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Contact Information

HealthyU Employee Wellness Program
York Village, Building #7
Orono, ME 04469
Phone: (207) 581-4058 | Fax: (207) 581-4085
The University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469
A Member of the University of Maine System