Nutrition And Health

How nutrition is important to your body to keep you healthy and energetic, including a discussion of the three basic groups of nutrients

Good nutrition is essential to good health. Food furnishes your body with chemical substances called nutrients, which are essential for life. These nutrients are necessary for building, repairing and maintaining cells and body tissues, regulating the body processes, and providing energy. To survive, you must eat a certain amount of nutrients.

By following a balanced diet, one can secure the basic food requirements necessary for general good health. The body needs food for three main purposes: to obtain energy, to grow, and to repair worn-out tissue. Children and adolescents need more growth materials, such as protein, than do adults. When you age, body tissues will wear out and must be replaced with ample protein. If certain vitamins are not in your food, then you will suffer disease from the deficiency. Some of the important materials needed for your body are iron for your blood corpuscles, iodine for the thyroid gland, ordinary salt (sodium chloride) for fluid regulation, and zinc for enzymes.

There are three basic groups of nutrients that the body uses: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.


Carbohydrates are compounds containing carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Carbohydrates are your chief source of energy. As your body metabolizes carbohydrates, it forms glucose. Glucose is measured in the body as blood sugar and is "burned" as fuel by the body tissues. Some glucose is converted to glycogen and stored by the liver for later use. Sugars and starches are examples of carbohydrates that are important in the diet. The body uses carbohydrates to obtain its energy by breaking down sugars. Starches can be easily converted to sugars in the body and therefore can also supply energy.

When you digest carbohydrates, the digestive process breaks down the complex sugar or starch molecules into simple sugars that can be absorbed and used by the body. Some carbohydrates, such as starches, are complex carbohydrates, so called because of their more elaborate chemical structures. Complex carbohydrates include bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, grains, breakfast cereals, and beans. Complex carbohydrates are more likely to be found in foods with more protein, vitamins, and minerals than are simple carbohydrates.

The chief source of carbohydrates are potatoes, sugars, cereals, legumes, and bread. Since carbohydrate products are inexpensive they usually make up a large production of the daily diet. Fruit and milk are healthier sources of simple sugars than are some other items because fruit and milk also contain essential vitamins and minerals; fruit also contains fiber.

If you consume too few carbohydrates, you could be fatigued, depressed, and have a lack of energy. Ingesting too many carbohydrates will not leave you room for foods that contain other nutrients necessary for health. It is recommended that you get about 55 to 60 percent of your calories from complex carbohydrates. Try to choose whole grain breads instead of white, and enriched grain products. Also, try to either reduce your intake of simple sugars, alcohol, and other processed foods with high sugar content as they add no nutrients to your body, only empty calories.


Fats also contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, but there is less oxygen in fats than in carbohydrates. Fats are used by the body as a source of energy. Fats are not as easily digested as carbohydrates; thus, they tend to remain in the digestive system longer and force the body to use carbohydrates first. If the body doesn't need the energy from the fats, the fats will be stored for future use.

If you are watching your weight, you are probably trying to avoid sweets and starchy foods. Fat contains more than twice as many calories for its weight as any other ingredient in a food. An ounce of fat has 255 calories; an ounce of protein has only 113. Ounce for ounce, fat has more than twice as many calories as even lean meat. You need some fat in your body to avoid becoming overweight because the fat that remains in your digestive system during the long digestive process prevents you from being hungry.

Fat occurs in different forms; the most prevalent are triglycerides, a chemical name for fat. Triglycerides appear in two forms, saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats are obtained from foods of animal origin. These include butter and fats in meat. They are usually solid at room temperature. Saturated fats will increase the amount of cholesterol in the body, a substance normally found in the nerves, the brain, and the blood. If excess cholesterol forms deposits on the walls of blood vessels, the blood is unable to pass through the vessels. A blockage can cut off circulation through a blood vessel and can result in a heart attack. Experts recommend that less than 10 percent of our fat allowance come from saturated fats, less than 10 percent come from polyunsaturated fats, and the remaining come from monounsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fatty acids are found in olive, peanut, cottonseed, and avocado oils. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are found in corn, soybean, safflower, sunflower, or flaxseed oils. Saturated fats include all animal fats, such as butter, fat on meat, and lard, as well as palm and coconut oils and hydrogenated vegetable oils.

Many foods contain both saturated and unsaturated fats. Your diet should include some foods containing both types of fats. Normally, you will get the proper amounts of fats if you eat only a balanced diet. Eating too many foods that are very high in saturated fat should be avoided.


Proteins contain carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen. The cells of the body are mainly composed of protein. Proteins are the essential building blocks of the body and are digested and then used for the growth of new cells and the repair of damaged ones. If carbohydrates and fats are not available, the body can obtain energy from protein. Protein is necessary for growth and repair of body tissues, including muscles, blood, skin, internal organs, hormones, and enzymes. A healthy body needs 22 amino acids; though your body synthesizes 13 of these naturally, you must obtain the remaining 9 through your food intake. Proteins obtained from foods of animal origin usually contain all the necessary amino acids, which are called complex proteins. Proteins are considered complete if they provide all the essential amino acids needed by the body and incomplete if they lack some of these essential amino acids. Examples of complete proteins are cheese, fish, meat, and milk. Frequently, foods from plant origin lack one or more of the needed amino acids and are therefore incomplete.

Proteins are an important part of your red blood cells. The basic units of all proteins are amino acids, which are components of hormones. These hormones control body functions such as growth and development. Amino acids are components of antibodies, which are substances that help the body fight disease.

To ensure your daily need for iron, zinc, and other minerals packaged in protein foods, it is recommended that you have two servings of protein foods every day. The best way to accomplish this is to mix and match animal and vegetable protein foods. Dairy products also provide you with protein and many other essential nutrients, but be very careful as your diet should not include too much diary and meat. You need to find a balance for your protein intake. The balance is 0.8 grams per kg of ideal body weight for adults.

It is very important to eat the right amount of protein as too much protein either passes through the body as waste or is stored in the body as fat. The extra protein stored as fat is not needed by most people. If you consume too little protein in the diet, your body will use its own protein as an energy source.

A good diet will consist of eating three, well-balanced meals each day. These balanced meals should contain all the tissue-building and energy-producing nutrients you need. Many nutritional experts recommend that your daily dietary requirements be met by selecting something each day from the following basic groups of foods:

1. Meat, fish, cheese, legumes, or poultry (at least one serving)

2. Milk (one pint for adults, one quart for children; milk used in food production may be included)

3. Fruits (includes tomatoes; two or more servings; citrus fruits are best)

4. Vegetables (two or more servings besides potatoes; both green and yellow vegetables should be included, one of which should be raw)

5. Eggs (one each day or at least four or five during the week)

6. Cereals or bread (one or both at each meal; the bread should be whole grain or enriched)

7. Butter or margarine (about two tablespoonfuls daily; may be used on bread or in cooking)

8. Iodized salt

9. Water (four to six glasses daily)

© High Speed Ventures 2011