Having a good understanding of basic nutrition information is important for achieving and maintaining optimal health. Nutrients are the parts of food that your body needs to grow, function properly, and fight disease. Nutrients are broken down into the following categories: macronutrients, micronutrients, and phytochemicals
Macronutrients are the components of food that we consume in the largest quantities and are necessary for the human body to function properly. Carbohydrates, protein, and fats are considered macronutrients.
- Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy and can be found in fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. There are two types of carbohydrates—simple and complex.
- Simple carbohydrates can be found in white bread, white rice, and sugary drinks. Simple carbohydrates are “simple” because they are easily digested by the body and can cause blood sugar levels to drastically spike.
- Complex carbohydrates are found in whole grains, fruits, beans, and legumes. Complex carbohydrates are better for your health because they are digested more slowly, causing smaller spikes in the blood sugar level.
- One gram of carbohydrate provides four calories. For example, if one slice of bread has 65 calories and has 12 grams of carbohydrates, 48 of those calories come from carbohydrates.
- Protein can be found in meat, poultry, eggs, fish, beans, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. The body requires protein to repair tissue, promote immune function, provide building blocks for growth, and produce essential hormones and enzymes.
- Protein also contributes four calories per gram. If the bread example provided earlier contains
two grams of protein, then eight calories come from protein.
Protein is made up of amino acids, some are essential to the body and others are non-essential. The most complete protein sources contain all nine essential amino acids and are found in meat and other animal products such as milk, cheese, egg, and yogurt. Choose protein-rich options such as beans, nuts, tofu, fish, chicken, or eggs over red and processed meats. Plant-based proteins do not provide all the amino acids the body needs but should still be included as part of a balanced nutritious diet.
- Fat are found in animal and dairy products, oils, and nuts and seeds. Despite its bad reputation, fats are necessary for your body to grow and work properly. Fat promotes normal growth and development, provides a source of energy, helps to absorb certain vitamins, maintains cell structure, and regulates body temperature.
- Fats are the most calorically dense macronutrient, having nine calories per gram. Using the same
bread example, if the bread contains one gram of fat, then nine calories are from fat.
There are three different types of fats:
- Unsaturated fats are the healthiest type of fat and are found in oils, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish. Unsaturated fat helps to lower “bad” LDL cholesterol while raising “good” HDL cholesterol.
- Saturated fats are found in animal and dairy products and should only be eaten in limited amounts.
- Trans fats are found in many processed foods and should be eliminated from our diet.
While only needed in small amounts, micronutrients play an important role in what the body needs for optimal functioning. Vitamins and minerals are two types of micronutrients. Like macronutrients, each vitamin and mineral presents a different role in maintaining health in the human body. Some of the more common vitamins and minerals include: vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K, the B-complex vitamins, calcium, sodium, magnesium, zinc, iron, and potassium. Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables (at least 9 servings per day), will help to ensure you are getting the vitamins and minerals your body needs.
Phytochemicals, also known as phytonutrients, are found naturally in plants and offer benefits to the human body but are not considered “essential” nutrients. Research on phytochemicals show that certain components of plant based-foods do contribute to human wellness and disease prevention. Phytochemicals generally influence some property of the plant in which they are derived, such as the deep purple colour of blueberries or the compound that provides the distinct smell in onions and garlic. Having an eating plan that is rich in brightly coloured and diverse fruits and vegetables is recommended to ensure you attain enough of these disease-fighting miracle compounds.
Source: www.whfoods.com; Brown, Judith E. (2011). Nutrition Through the Lifecycle, Cengage Learning
Disclaimer: Content provided is for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.