Nutrition: Nutrient Breakdown—Eating for Better Health
Nutrition Facts: Proteins, Carbohydrates, Fats, Antioxidants, Vitamins and Minerals.
Proteins, fats, and carbohydrates compose much of the general population diet. Macronutrients, such as protein, carbohydrates, and fats are essential components of human dietary needs. Additionally, micronutrients serve to help the human body metabolize energy and support other nutrient absorption. Trace elements like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, to name a few, keep humans healthy by helping the human body to process energy and fight disease. Antioxidants include foods like red and black beans, dark vegetables, dark small berries, and fruits with skin. Antioxidants include beta-carotene, lycopene, metabolic enzymes, vitamins C, E, and A.
What is protein?
Protein is made of chains of amino acids divided into two groups. One group of amino acids are known as essential amino acids because they are found in foods we eat and cannot be manufactured by the body. These amino acids are leucine, isoleucine, valine, lysine, threonine, tryptophan, methionine, phenylalanine and histidine. The other group of amino acids is known as non-essential amino acids including arginine, alanine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamine, glutamic acid, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine. Nonessential amino acids do not need to be consumed because are they are formed naturally in the body. Protein aides in recovery, maintenance, and regeneration all bodily systems on a cellular level.
What are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are a group of nutrients that include organic compounds such as sugar, cellulose, starch and fiber. Sugar, starch, cellulose, and fiber breakdown in the body at different rates allowing for slow, moderate, and fast digestion and absorption. Carbohydrate calories (or energy) are used to fuel all systems of the body. It is essential to include carbohydrates in a healthy diet because carbohydrates, in whole food form, provide fiber, fuel the body for activity, and aid in brain health.
What is fat?
Fat is a macronutrient that provides the body with 9 calories per gram. Fats help the body to maintain healthy skin and hair, protect body organs against shock, and maintain body temperature. In addition to providing dense calories per gram of fuel, fat aids absorption of fat soluble Vitamins A, D, E, and K. Fats are also sources of essential fatty acids. Essential fatty acids must be eaten because the body cannot manufacture these fatty acids on its own. Essential fatty acids can be found in fish and shellfish, flaxseed oil, soya oil, canola oil, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, leafy vegetables, and walnuts.
Saturated, Trans, and Unsaturated Fats
- Saturated fats are typically found in animal and some plant food sources. Saturated fat is found in animal food sources including, meats, eggs, lard, butter, cream, whole milk and high fat cheese. Plant sources include coconut oil, cocoa butter, palm oil and palm kernel oil. Saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature and, when eaten in large amounts, are thought to increase the risk for developing heart disease. Saturated fats directly raise total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels in the blood stream.
- Trans fats are unsaturated but directly raise low density lipoproteins (LDL or bad cholesterol) and lower high density lipoproteins (HDL or good cholesterol) in the blood. Trans fats are often described as hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils. These oils are typically used in foods that require extended shelf life. These oils are solid at room temperature and cause significant health problems related to heart diseases. Unsaturated fats include Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats. These fats are liquid at room temperature but begin to solidify at cold temperatures. Foods that contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are corn oil, safflower oil and sunflower oil, olives, olive oil, nuts, flax seeds, peanut oil, canola oil and avocados. Some studies have shown that these kinds of fats can actually lower low density lipoproteins (LDL bad cholesterol) and maintain high density lipoproteins (HDL good cholesterol).
- Polyunsaturated fats are also liquid at room temperature. These are found in safflower, sesame, corn, cottonseed and soybean oils. This type of fat has also been shown to reduce levels of LDL cholesterol, but too much can also lower your HDL cholesterol.
With this fundamental understanding of micronutrients, macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, and trace elements, like antioxidants, people can better plan and eat whole foods based—largly vegetable based meals that can help the body fight disease, maintain ideal and healthy body weight, and supply adequate fuel or calories for activities of daily living, physical exercise, and physical recovery.