Elements of Nutrition? The term nutrition means many things to many people. If you have ever wondered why, consider the fact that nutrition encompasses an incredibly vast and complex subject. From a biological standpoint, nutrition refers to the energy, materials, and elements necessary to sustain life.
From a dietary standpoint, it refers to the specific combination of nutrients necessary to maintain and improve health. From a culinary standpoint, it is the art of preparing food so that its nutrients are most accessible and bioavailable.
Regardless of the meaning you attach to the term, there is one thing you can be sure of, nutrition is important. From the performance of your brain to the maintenance of your bones, your body relies on a balance of nutrients to perform at its best. This article will explore the most essential elements of nutrition and outline why you need them to stay healthy.
6 Elements of Nutrition
There are 3 types of fats: saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated. The main saturated fat is animal fat, while polyunsaturated fats can be found in plant and fish sources. Monounsaturated fats are considered the “good fats” because they are associated with reduced cholesterol, reduced risk of heart disease, and improved metabolic function. The best dietary source of fat is olive oil, followed by canola oil, avocados, and other vegetables.
Carbohydrates are organic compounds that contain sugar (or sugar-like compounds) along with amines and other organic compounds.
There are 2 types of carbohydrates: simple and complex.
- Simple carbohydrates are those that are quickly broken down into sugar in the body. This sugar is then released into the bloodstream, where it is attracted to body tissue, causing an increase in blood sugar and insulin secretion.
- Complex carbohydrates need to be broken down via digestion before they produce energy. Fermentation of these carbohydrates in the digestive tract releases oxygen into the bloodstream, promoting health and longevity.
Proteins are made up of amino acids, which are essential for the growth, maintenance, and repair of bodily tissues. Unlike carbohydrates and fats, which are macronutrients, proteins require specific amounts of both fat and water to be digested and used by the body.
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that does not cause digestive problems, and therefore it is classified as a “bulk” nutrient. Fiber promotes healthy digestion, helps regulate blood sugar levels, and prevents digestive cancers. Soluble fiber, found in oat bran, psyllium husk, and some fruits and vegetables, dissolves in water and becomes a gel in the digestive system, helping to prevent digestive cancers. Insoluble fiber, found in flaxseeds, nuts, and whole grains, passes through the digestive system without dissolving and acts as a scrubber in the colon, removing toxins and bacteria.
5. Vitamins and minerals
Vitamins and minerals are organic compounds that are not broken down or absorbed by the body. Therefore, they are considered “non-essential.” Some vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C and calcium, are known as “conditionally essential,” meaning that they are not essential for life but are necessary for health and wellbeing in specific circumstances (for example, during pregnancy).
The most important vitamins for health and nutrition are vitamin A, vitamin B (e.g., folic acid), vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamin C, magnesium, and calcium. The most important minerals for health and nutrition are iron, zinc, folate, magnesium, vitamin B (e.g., folate), copper, and phosphorus.
Sadly, this is the most overlooked and undervalued element of all. Water is essential for life, and yet it is the least emphasized and taken for granted. Water makes up 70% of our bodies, and yet most of us know little about its importance or how to best get it.
Strategies for good nutrition
Although the science and research behind nutrition are incredibly complex, there are some general principles that most nutritionists agree on:
- Eat a variety of foods. Consuming a combination of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and soluble and insoluble fiber from a variety of plant and animal sources will provide your body with a sufficient variety of nutrients.
- Eat three meals a day. Although there is limited research on the advantages of a mid-day snack, there is good evidence that intermittent fasting (eating only during an 8-hour window) can result in an energy dip and a resulting crash. Eating three meals per day prevents this from happening.
- Avoid extremes. It is important to consume foods from a healthy variety of nutritional categories, but it is also important to remain within a certain range of caloric intake, protein intake, and fiber intake (e.g., don’t consume too little protein or calories, don’t consume too much protein or calories, don’t consume too little fiber, don’t consume too much fiber).
- Balance calories. Although macronutrient (fat, carbohydrate, and protein) intake should be balanced, calories should be watched more closely. Consuming too little energy (calories) results in a negative energy balance, while consuming too many calories results in a positive energy balance.
Nutrition is the science of maintaining and improving health through the intake and absorption of nutrients. Dietary recommendations are based on many factors, including age, sex, individual health conditions and lifestyles, and the environment.
The Food and Nutrition Board (FNBO) of the U.S. Institute of Medicine maintains a strict definition of nutrition: “Nutrition is the science that studies how humans and animals obtain energy, produce amino acids, grow, tissue, and maintain health via the metabolism of nutrients in the diet.”
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