Nutrition is the nourishment your body receives for its growth, survival, and maintenance - meaning the food you eat does more than satisfy your taste buds. It plays a very important role in disease prevention and can also help you manage diseases effectively. It's worth it to take time to learn the best way to satisfy your taste buds and get the maximum health benefits from the food you eat.
Calories: What You Need to Know
A calorie is simply a unit to measure energy.
The food you eat supplies your body with energy for everything you do. Even while you sleep your heart, brain, and other organs function non-stop - and need energy to do so. The food you eat provides this vital energy, and that energy is expressed as calories.
Different foods have different calorie content. For example, the calories you get from eating 100 grams of baked beans do not equal the calories you get from 100 grams of roasted nuts. In addition, the amount of food you eat combined with how you cook it contributes to caloric content.
Counting calories does not mean you have to literally weigh the caloric content of everything you eat. However, you do need to know how many calories are in the foods you eat on a regular basis. Knowing this will help you make wise choices that can keep you healthy. If you eat more calories than required for the activities you do, the excess calories get stored in your body as fat cells for future use. The gradual accumulation of excessive fat cells will make you overweight or obese which can lead to diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and high cholesterol.
The key is to balance physical activity with a diet that provides the right number of calories to fuel the activities you do.
Calorie requirements differ between people. Some require less and some more. Your calorie requirements depend not only on the physical activities you do, but also on your age and gender.
In addition to providing energy, your food performs many other functions. The important nutrients your food provides are known as macronutrients.
Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are called macronutrients. They are "macro" because they have to be taken in large quantities compared to other nutrients.
Carbohydrates provide the majority of the calories your body needs while you are awake and while you sleep. Fats and proteins also provide energy but it is recommended to get between 45 to 65 percent of your energy requirement from carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are available in three main forms: simple sugars, starches, and fibers.
Simple sugars are minimal carbohydrates made up of only one or two units of glucose. These are digested quickly. Simple sugars are naturally present in foods: fructose in fruits and honey, lactose in milk, sucrose in table sugar or cane sugar, and maltose in grains. This form of sugar is also added to food at the table or during processing. Added sugars are found in sweetened beverages and baked products. While added sugars supply energy, they do not provide nutrients.
Starches are also called complex sugars because they consist of several units of glucose linked together. Starches must be broken down into simpler forms before your body can absorb them; the energy release from starches is slow and steady. Foods containing high amounts of starch are rice, grains, potatoes, lentils, seeds, and nuts.
Fiber is also a form of complex carbohydrate that comes exclusively from plants. Your body cannot fully digest fiber, but uses it for other important functions. Fiber aids in easy stool formation and helps your digestive system by preventing constipation. A fiber-rich diet can help prevent heart problems and some cancers, particularly cancer of the large intestine. It also helps to control blood sugar levels in diabetics and lowers blood cholesterol. Foods with high fiber content include fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, seeds and nuts.
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber is fiber that can be partially digested and is believed to help reduce the amount of ‚Äúbad‚Äù cholesterol in the blood. Oats, beans, and lentils are excellent sources of soluble fiber.
Insoluble fiber is fiber that your body cannot digest. It passes through the gut and helps other food and waste products move through your intestinesmore easily. Wholegrain bread, brown rice, wholegrain breakfast cereals, fruits, and vegetables all contain insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber helps keep bowels healthy and stops constipation, which means you are less likely to get some common disorders of the gut. Foods rich in insoluble fiber are also more bulky and make you feel full, thereby helping you to eat less.
Proteins are a vital part of all the cells in your body. The protein you get from your diet helps repair and replace body cells that naturally wear out during the course of your life. Protein is also important during periods of rapid growth like adolescence and pregnancy.
Proteins provide energy for your body when you do not consume adequate amounts of carbohydrates and fats. When you use protein as a body fuel, you compromise the other vital benefits that proteins provide. The best way to make maximum use of protein is by consuming adequate quantities of carbohydrates and fats.
Proteins are found in animal foods such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products such as yogurt and cheese. Vegetable sources are soybeans, beans, peas, nuts, seeds, and grains.
Fats serve several important functions. Next to carbohydrates, fats are an important source of calories. Each gram of carbohydrate or protein that we consume contributes four calories of energy, whereas fat gives more than double the amount of energy for the same weight.
Fat is also important for our health. It carries the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K in the blood and distributes them to different parts of the body. Without the help of fats, your blood cannot circulate these vitamins. Fat helps with the growth and maintenance of healthy skin. It also controls your hunger, as it takes longer to digest fat than carbohydrates and proteins. Fat also forms a layer under your skin to insulate your body from heat and cold. However, not all fats are good for you.
Saturated fats and trans fatty acids are fats that increase the level of "bad cholesterol" in your blood. You should limit the intake of foods that are high in saturated fats and you should try to avoid trans fatty acids altogether. Examples of saturated fats, which you should eat only in limited quantities, include red meat, the skin from chicken and other birds, butter, whole milk and whole milk products, coconut oil, and chocolate.
Trans fats are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oils. Trans fats are not found in nature, but you will find them in many processed foods and fast-foods.
Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are the good fats that are known to protect your heart. Foods containing these fats are avocados, olives, certain nuts, and certain oils including olive, canola, and sunflower oils. Many fish also contain healthy fats such as salmon, trout, and herring.
Your fat consumption per day should be limited to less than 35 percent of your total caloric intake. Of this, not more than 10 percent should come from saturated fats, and less than 1 percent - preferably zero - should come from trans fats.
Time to Start
Now that you know the facts, don't wait to begin making wise food choices. Include foods from all the nutrient groups to get a balanced diet because all nutrients are equally important - getting them in the right amount is the key to good health.