Foods and Nutrients our Body Needs
In order to function properly, our bodies need certain categories of foods and nutrients, which are provided by a healthy nutritious diet. Certain nutrients are called essential nutrients because our body cannot synthesize them on its own. Essential nutrients must be provided by the food we eat daily. These essential nutrients, provided by a healthy and varied diet, consist of certain categories of foods called macronutrients (proteins, fats, carbohydrates), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), and water.
Proteins are a vital element for the functioning of our bodies. Proteins provide amino acids. There are 20 amino acids. Nine of those are called essential amino acids because we cannot survive without them. Proteins containing these nine amino acids together are called complete proteins. The body needs amino acids for all its functions: they are a component of all body cells, they are needed for the building and repair of body tissues, including muscles, and for the functioning of our brains and immune system. Good sources of complete proteins include fish, poultry, meat, offal, eggs, dairy, soya products and quorn. Incomplete proteins are found in cereals, beans and lentils as well as nuts and seeds. Depending on individual weight, each adult person will need between 50 to 70 grams of protein per day, which can be found in 150 to 200 grams of fish, chicken or meat. Alternatively, vegetarians can obtain such requirements by eating 250 to 300 grams of cheese, tempeh, 2 eggs or 300 to 400 grams of quorn for example.
Fats and oils (lipids) are also critical for all our body functions. All cell membranes in our bodies are composed of phospholipids (a type of fat). Our brains are also largely composed of fat. In fact, 60% of our brains is fat. Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are vital for the structure, the integrity and the proper performance of the brain (in particular for the proper functioning of neurons). EFAs cannot be synthetized by our bodies and must therefore be obtained from foods. Eating a diet which includes good fats is therefore essential for all, but it is even more important for children whose brains are developing. Eating an extremely low fat or fat free diet is actually very unhealthy. Fats are divided into saturated fats and unsaturated fats. Saturated fats are found in animal fats such as dairy products, red meat, skin and fat of chicken, palm and coconut oils. Unsaturated fats comprise two subgroups: monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats include the omega 9 family of fats found in olive oil, avocado oil, macadamia nut oil and high oleic sunflower oil for example. Polyunsaturated fats include the omega 6 family found in meat, poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds, soya, corn etc. Polyunsaturated fats also include the omega 3 family found in oily fish, flaxseed oil and to a lesser extent in hemp, soy and rapeseed oils for example. Our bodies need all these types of fats in proper balance. Unfortunately, modern western diets are usually too high in saturated fats and omega 6 fats, which promote inflammation, and too low in omega 3 fats, which are anti-inflammatory. The ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats should range from 1.1 to 5.1. Modern diets may have a ratio of up to 50.1 omega 6 to omega 3!
Trans fats are another type of fats. They are widely used in processed goods and are usually obtained industrially through the process of hydrogenation. Hydrogenation is a chemical process which adds hydrogen to an oil, causing it to become solid at room temperature. Trans fats are also called hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. They are present in a wide variety of processed foods such as baked goods, margarine, snacks (potato crisps for example), deep fried foods such as fish and chips and donuts etc. Trans fats are extremely damaging to the health. Their regular consumption increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Our diets should include between 10 and 20 per cent of good fats such as oily fish, olive oil, nuts and seeds etc. A little butter can also be used as it is a good source of vitamins A and D.
Carbohydrates provide energy for all cells in our bodies and fuel (in the form of glucose) for muscular activities and for the central nervous system. Carbohydrates, unlike proteins and fats, can be manufactured by the body from the breakdown of fats and proteins. Carbohydrates include refined carbohydrates such as white sugar, sweets, white bread, cakes, white rice etc. have been stripped of a lot of their nutrients, including vitamins and minerals. Refined carbohydrates have a higher glycemic index/ glycemic load than unrefined, complex carbohydrates (such as whole grains). It means that they are quickly released into the bloodstream and quickly raise blood sugar. Unrefined carbohydrates, such as whole grains, beans, lentils and potatoes are released more slowly and do not lead to spikes in blood sugar. They allow for a longer, slower energy release. Good sources of carbohydrates include wholegrain breads and pasta, unrefined cereals, beans, lentils, potatoes and sweet potatoes. Carbohydrates should represent 30 to 60 per cent of a healthy diet, depending on the level of physical activity. Persons with a high level of physical activity (such as athletes) can consume 50 to 60 percent of their daily food intake in the form of carbohydrates.
Vitamins and minerals can only come from food or supplements. Our bodies cannot produce them and they must come from a varied diet, which includes plenty of fresh fruit and vegetable. Vitamin and mineral supplements, while they can be useful in specific cases, are not assimilated by the body as well as those found in foods. In order to obtain plenty of vitamins and minerals, it is essential to eat a nutrient rich diet. This means including a wide variety of foods into daily meals. Vitamins are essential to the proper functioning of the body. There are 2 types of vitamins: fat soluble vitamins, vitamins A, D, E and K. Good sources of fat soluble vitamins include vegetable, offal, nuts and seeds and their oils, eggs, fish and dairy products. Water soluble vitamins include vitamins in the B group as well as vitamin C. Water soluble vitamins may be found in vegetable, fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds for example. Certain vitamins, like vitamin C, are destroyed by cooking. It is therefore important to include raw foods in one’s diet. Minerals must also be present in our diets. Each of them has specific functions in body processes. 16 different minerals must be provided by diet to maintain the integrity of bodily functions. Minerals are divided into two categories: macro minerals and trace minerals. Macro minerals include sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and sulfur. Trace minerals include iron, zinc, copper, iodine, selenium, manganese, chromium, selenium, fluoride and molybdenum. Good sources of minerals include vegetable, whole grains, nuts and seeds, animal proteins, fruit, beans and lentils and dairy products.
Water is life. It is critical to all bodily functions. In fact, over 60 % of our body weight is made up of water. Water performs a number of essential functions such as keeping all bodily tissues moist, protecting body organs and tissues, prevent constipation, carrying oxygen and nutrients to cells, flushing out waste matters, regulating body temperature and allowing the body to access water soluble vitamins and mineral. It is important to replenish your body with water throughout the day. Individual requirements for water vary from person to person. The current recommendation of 8 glasses of fluid a day represents the water intake of persons with an average activity level. In case of strenuous exercise or in hot weather conditions, water intake should be increased to prevent dehydration.
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