The Basics of Nutrition
Dec 6, 2022
Dr. Darren Bowles
Whether you’re vegan, gluten-free, keto, MED, OMAD, or any other acronym of your choice, we all have opinions on what the best diet is for us, but what exactly is in the food we eat ?
We explore nutrition here, but the purpose of this article is not to convince you that one diet rules supreme. The purpose of this article is to highlight: what is in the food we eat & what a healthy diet aims to do.
Macronutrients are the nutrients that the body needs in large amounts to function properly. These include carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. These nutrients provide the body with the energy it needs to perform daily activities, and they also play a role in maintaining healthy body tissues and organs.
Carbohydrates provide us with energy, helps with digestion, and regulates cholesterol & hormones.
Carbohydrates are broken down into simple vs complex carbohydrates.
Simple carbs ( or simple sugars ) are rapidly absorbed, used, or stored. Examples include fruits and soft drinks.
Complex Carbohydrates break down into simple sugars over a period of time, giving a more stable source of energy. Examples include beans and vegetables.
You may have also heard of:
Starch: a complex carb, found in lentils, beans and rice, that contains vitamins and minerals - as well as energy. Given that it takes a while to break down starch into usable sugars - you don’t see the spike in your glucose level that you might get from simple carbohydrates.
Fibre: a carbohydrate that is not digested and instead helps with your bowel motions.
Carbohydrate containing foods have what is called a GI index:
High GI foods contain carbohydrates that are broken down quickly and cause a rapid increase in blood glucose.
Low GI foods are broken down more slowly and cause a gradual rise in blood sugar levels over time.
Fruits apples, bananas, and berries
Vegetables potatoes, peas, and corn
Grains wheat, rice, and oats
Dairy products milk, yogurt, and cheese
Legumes beans, lentils, and peas
More than just a bodybuilders key to eternal greatness, protein lays down the structure for virtually every cell in our bodies. Protein is also a key component for enzyme reactions and for molecule transportation in our cells.
Proteins are broken down to their simplest units - amino acids.
Amino acids are further broken into the following categories:
1.Essential Amino Acids: These amino acids are not made by the body, instead consumed in food.
2.Non- Essential Amino Acids: These amino acids are made by the body.
3.Conditionally Essential Amino Acids: The making of these amino acids are affected by certain conditions including disease or illness.
Meat, poultry, and fish
Dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt
Beans, lentils, and other legumes
Nuts and seeds
Tofu and other soy-based products
Whole grains, such as quinoa and oats
Fats had a very bad reputation up until recently, but, as we will find out, fats have a very important function in our bodies. These functions include:
Providing us with energy
Insulating and protecting the body's organs
Maintaining cell structure and function
Helping us absorb key vitamins
Unsaturated fats are a type of fat that can be beneficial for health when consumed in moderation. They are typically liquid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats help out by:
Reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke by lowering levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) in the blood
Improving insulin sensitivity, which can help to prevent or manage type 2 diabetes
Promoting healthy skin and hair
Unsaturated fats are further divided into monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat.
Monounsaturated fats: found in avocados and nut oils
Polyunsaturated fats: Omega-3 and Omega-6 oils, found in fish, vegetable oils and nuts.
Unlike unsaturated fats, saturated fats can be harmful to your health if consumed in excess. They are typically solid at room temperature, and are found in animal fats and 'heavier' oils like coconut oil, palm oil and kernel oil.
Saturated fats cause a raise in your bad cholesterol (LDL), which can form plaques in your arteries leading to stroke or heart attack.
Some trans fats can occur naturally in beef and dairy products, but the majority of trans fats are made industrially via the hydrogenation of vegetable oil. This is done to extend the shelf life of food, but this process does not play well with our health.
Unlike saturated fats, not only do trans fats raise our bad (LDL) cholesterol, but they also lowers our good ( HDL) cholesterol. This accelerates cardiovascular disease, which as we know - increases your risk of heart attacks and strokes by a significant margin. They can also promote inflammation, and are extremely calorie dense, meaning they can easily lead to unwanted weight gain.
The main foods containing trans fats include:
Refrigerated dough - including biscuits and rolls
Fried foods, - French fries, doughnuts and fried chicken
Micronutrients are essential nutrients that the body needs in small amounts to function properly. Our micronutrients include vitamins and minerals, which maintain healthy body processes.
From supporting our nervous system to preventing our cells from damage ( antioxidants), vitamins have thousands of functions throughout our body.
Vitamins are classified into two categories:
1.Fat Soluble Vitamins
Fat soluble vitamins are transported and stored in our body's fatty tissues and liver. Unlike water soluble vitamins, they do not need to be frequently restored.
2.Water Soluble Vitamins
These 9 water soluble vitamins need frequent replenishing, owing to the fact that they are not stored in our body's tissues.
Trace minerals are required by the body in small amounts for proper growth and development. As the name suggests, we don't need them in huge amounts, but a low reserve a certain trace mineral can cause an array of problems based on the mineral that is missing.
A Healthy Diet
A healthy diet provides you with enough resources to stave off malnutrition, gives you a reasonable reserve to fight illness, and does not impose any risk to your health via too much, or too little, of a certain nutrient.
In addition to making sure you have an adequate calorie intake, a healthy diet includes the right amount of macronutrients, vitamins and trace minerals to keep you at your best.
With this in mind, it's important to note that the best diet is the one you can actually stick to, not for days or weeks , but for the rest of your life.