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What is nutrition and how is it working?
Do you ever think about why you eat? The easy answers are because you are hungry, or your'e tired, or because your stomach is rumbling. You might also eat because you are bored, sad, happy, or just because that chocolate-covered donut looks so good (sorry, but chocolate really isn't all that heart-healthy).
Those are just a few of the emotional and physical reasons why you eat, but do you ever put much thought into why your body needs food? Not just any food, by the way, but healthy, really good-for-you food? Why is nutrition important? What is nutrition, for that matter?
Nutrition is the process of getting food into your body and using it as raw materials for growth, fuel for energy, and vitamins and minerals that keep your body healthy and functioning properly.
Macronutrients - Carbohydrates, Fats, and Protein
The foods you eat provide the energy your body needs to function. Just like you need to put fuel in your car or recharge your cell phone battery, your body needs to be fed energy-providing foods every day because carbohydrates are the best source of energy for your body.
Your body has the easiest time digesting carbohydrates like sugar and starch. Carbohydrates are broken down into individual glucose, fructose or galactose units. Glucose is your body's favorite form of energy. If you don't get enough carbohydrates, your body can make glucose from protein through a processed called gluconeogenesis, and if you get too many carbohydrates, your body is very good at converting them to fat for storage in your adipose tissue.
Protein comes from the foods you eat and is broken down into individual amino acids. There are many different amino acids; they all have a similar structure, but are differentiated by their side chains. Your body uses the amino acids to build and repair the various parts of your body for example: your immune system, hormones, nervous system, and organs.
Your body also needs fats to be healthy. Membranes that contain fats surround all the cells of your body. Your brain has fatty acids, and fats are also needed to signal hormones. Here's more about fat structure and function.
Micronutrients - Vitamins and Minerals
The vitamins and minerals you get from your food are just as important as carbohydrates, protein and fats, even though you only need them in small amounts. They usually function as co-enzymes, which means they help some of your body's chemical reactions happen a lot faster. For example, many of the B-complex vitamins help burn carbohydrates for energy, vitamin A is needed for vision, zinc is involved in many metabolic processes, and vitamin C helps keep connective tissue strong and your immune system functioning. Calcium has several functions in your body, but it's best known as the mineral that is stored in your bones and teeth. You need calcium from your diet to keep your bones and teeth strong.
Your food needs to provide
adequate amounts of all of these
Good nutrition provides more than energy, structural components, vitamins and minerals. There are other substances in the foods that you eat that have become better known over the last few years.
Antioxidants help protect your body from damage that comes from the sun, pollution, smoke, and poor dietary choices. They are found in the phytochemicals of fruits and vegetables, as well as some vitamins and amino acids. Phytochemicals are antioxidants found in plant-based foods. Although they aren't required for body functioning, they may have a very powerful impact on your health. For example, quercetin (found in red apples) functions like an antihistamine and has an anti-inflammatory effect.
When you eat food, you usually don't eat just carbohydrate, fat, or protein. You eat a piece of apple pie, a steak, or a serving of mashed potatoes. Most of the foods you eat are made up of varying amounts of all three of these nutrition components. Good nutrition means getting the right balance of carbohydrates, fats and proteins, plus all of the required vitamins and minerals. Great nutrition means getting a lot of the phytochemicals and antioxidants, too.
Take carbohydrates for example. What are good carbs and what are bad carbs? Since your body breaks them all down into individual units, the carbohydrates themselves aren't necessarily good or bad. The problems occur when you eat too many, or if the other ingredients in the food containing the carbohydrates aren't so good.
Look at a chocolate-covered donut, for example, which has lots of sugar and white flour. If you eat too many of them, you'll take in extra calories that will be stored in your body as fat. The donut also contains lots of fats, probably trans-fats, that can raise your risk of heart disease. The donut doesn't provide you with much in the way of vitamins, minerals or other substances, such as natural antioxidantsor healthy fatty acids. When you think of it this way, that donut may not sound so good any more.
A good source of carbohydrates would be almost any fruit or vegetable. These options allow you to get the carbohydrates you need for energy, plus fiber for a healthy digestive system, vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants.
This concept works with proteins and fats, too. A healthy protein source is one that does not add extra unhealthy fats (and maybe offers some fats that are good for you). Navy beens are a good example, They provide protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates. An example of an unhealthy protein is bacon. Bacon, and other processed meats like it, contain lots of saturated fats and calories which can impact your heart health, expand your waistline, and even increase your risk of cancer.
Healthy fats come from foods that contain polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fatty acids, like olive oil, fish, walnuts, soy, flax seeds and canola oil. While these fats and oils contain a lot of calories, you do need the fatty acids they provide. Saturated fats in red meats and trans-fats, found in some stick margarines, baked goods and processed foods, are very bad for your health.
Good Nutrition Means Good Health
- A healthy food will give your body the right amount of energy, enough raw materials and all of the "little helpers" you need to stay healthy.
- Good nutrition will also provide phytochemicals and antioxidants that will help keep you feeling young, looking great, and perhaps even disease-free.
A bad food will give you too many or too few calories, not enough vitamins and minerals, and will actually make you need more of the antioxidants that you aren't getting.