It is impossible to discuss all interesting topics related to nutrition in one relatively short article. Therefore, this article will focus on some key aspects of nutrition, while our upcoming articles will discuss individual topics in more details, which will hopefully help you with leading a healthy lifestyle.
So, let’s start with defining nutrition. Oxford Dictionaries provide several definitions:
- The process of providing or obtaining the food necessary for health and growth.
- The branch of science that deals with nutrients and nutrition, particularly in humans.
I like both definitions because they are broad and encompass different aspects of what nutrition is. On one hand, nutrition is a process. On the other hand, nutrition is a science.
As a process, nutrition takes place whether we think about it or not. It involves not just the physical process of eating an apple, for example.
It actually starts before the eating process commences, i.e. when your brain sends you signals urging you to eat something and your body gets prepared or anticipates the upcoming consumption (e.g. saliva secretion, production of acids in your stomach, etc.).
The nutrition process doesn’t end when you finish eating an apple either. The digestion process will continue with an apple being processed in your stomach and then digested by your intestinal flora. The nutrients released will be dissolved in your blood and travel to the remotest cells in your body. While food waste and toxins will eventually be eliminated from your body.
So, various nutrition processes are probably taking place in your body as you are reading this article.
As a branch of science, nutrition is a very important discipline that leverages on many other disciplines, including chemistry, biology, medical sciences, pharmacology, agriculture and many other sciences and helps us to survive, grow, heal, and remain healthy.
Nutrition studies not only nutrients and how they are processed in our body but also various other aspects of eating and consumption, including behavioral aspects, psychology of eating, preventing diseases and healing, environmental factors, and many other angles.
Since we talked about nutrition itself, let’s now take a quick look at the core focus of nutrition, namely nutrients.
What are the essential nutrients? These are broadly categorized into six main categories: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water. The first three are called macronutrients because your body needs them in large quantities, while minerals and vitamins are micronutrients since you need them in much smaller amounts.
Carbohydrates (and fiber): Carbohydrates (or simply carbs) are one of the main nutrients that your body needs as they are the most important energy source. There are simple carbohydrates (e.g. glucose, fructose, lactose, etc. – commonly sugars) and complex carbohydrates (e.g. starch). There is also a third type of carbohydrates called dietary fiber. Fiber is a type of complex carbs that cannot be digested by the body. But fiber is important as it helps to regulate the body’s use of other carbs and helps moving food through the digestive system.
Proteins: are complex molecules made up of many small components called amino acids. Proteins play a very important role in your body as they help to make new cells and repair the existing ones. Your body uses proteins to make various body chemicals, including hormones and enzymes. Your bones, tissues, muscles, blood and skin made of proteins.
Fats: Fats (or lipids) are a good source of energy storage. In addition, fats help with processing vitamins; they help to maintain the body’s temperature acting as an important insulator, and provide many other benefits. There are two major types of fats: saturated fats (e.g. coconut oil, butter) and unsaturated fats (vegetable oil). At the room temperature, saturated fats are typically solid and unsaturated fats are liquid.
Vitamins: are organic compounds that the body needs in small quantities for maintaining normal functions such as metabolism and immunity. Like all micronutrients, they must come from the diet as they cannot be produced by the body in sufficient quantities. There are broad types of vitamins: fat-soluble (e.g. vitamins A, D, K) and water-soluble (e.g. vitamins B, C).
Minerals: is another type of micronutrient. Unlike vitamins minerals are inorganic substances. Minerals are important components of teeth, bones, body tissues and fluids; they are important for nerve transmission and other organic processes. There are two broad types of minerals: macrominerals and microminerals (or trace minerals). Macrominerals are needed in relatively larger amounts (e.g. potassium, calcium, chloride), while trace minerals are required in much smaller amounts (e.g. iron, fluoride, zinc).
Water: is an essential nutrient the benefit of which cannot be underestimated. Most of our blood is made up of water. Water is a fluid and universal solvent; it is essential in transporting dissolved nutrients to cells in our body as well as removing waste and harmful substances from the body. Water can carry heat throughout body.
So, each of the above essential nutrients is very important for functioning of our bodies. But how much of each nutrient do you need and in which form? How much is too much? What is balanced nutrition? We will try answering these questions in our later posts as these are very broad subjects and will require a separate discussion. But what we can tell you right now is something you already know: everything is good in moderation.
As a final note, I would like to share a very revealing quote on nutrition, which I found in one of the nutrition articles: “nutrition translates into health, and health is freedom”.