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Basics of Eating Healthy and Why it Matters?

Understanding the basic components of the nutrition of the foods you eat can help you make better choices which will serve your body in the long run.

Knowing the function of vitamins, minerals, macronutrients and micronutrients in your body, will help you see the importance of eating a wide range of food items.

Basics of Eating Healthy and Why it Matters?

The human body is made up of inorganic and organic nutrients, respectively these include minerals, water and fat, carbohydrates, proteins and vitamins. These macro and micronutrients all serve a purpose in maintaining optimal bodily function (hair and nail growth, muscle synthesis, fat loss, energy production to name a few). The foods we eat not only provide us with pleasure senses but also nourishment which is needed for maintenance, growth and repair of tissues. Eating a well-balanced diet, which incorporates a wide range of foods, will ensure your nutrient intake is adequate for wellbeing. Being too strict in your food options may leave you lacking essential nutrients, which in time may lead to a deficiency or hinder proper bodily functions such as production of red blood cells. Understanding the basic components of the nutrition of the foods you eat can help you make better choices which will serve your body in the long run.

What are Vitamins and Why are they Important?

Vitamins are biochemicals that do not provide the body with energy but aid in release of energy contained in the food as well as proper functioning of the body. There are 13 types of vitamins, these include water soluble and fat-soluble varieties. The water-soluble vitamins include B vitamins which predominantly work in releasing the energy from food and vitamin C which aids in protecting the immune system. These vitamins can be found in whole grains, seeds, nuts and legumes.

The fat-soluble vitamins include vitamin A, D, E and K and these all have special functions in the body. Vitamin A helps with eyesight and red blood cell production. Vitamin D, which can be obtained by the sun, helps regulate the absorption of calcium for bone health as well as cell growth. Vitamin E helps the body fight against degenerative diseases as well as cancer. Vitamin K helps provide the clotting agents that are necessary for blood coagulation required to stop you from bleeding out. These can be found in whole leafy greens, fish, seeds, nuts and legumes.

What are Minerals and Why are They Important?

There are 16 minerals essential for human nutrition, these can be broken down into major and trace minerals. Major minerals are present in large amounts in the body, these include calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, sodium, chloride and magnesium. Trace minerals are present in very small amounts include iron, zinc, copper, iodine, manganese, selenium, fluoride, chromium and molybdenum. Each mineral plays a specific role in the body. For example, the major minerals help regulate the body’s fluid balance, nerve impulse transmission, muscle contraction, blood pressure bone and teeth synthesis. The trace minerals like iron help production of red blood cells and zinc help with wound healing and cell growth. Fruits, vegetables, legumes and seafood are all good sources of minerals.

What are Carbohydrates and Why are They Important?

Carbohydrates are an energy source for the body and are made up of glucose, fructose, sucrose, fibre and starch. There are two types of carbohydrates, simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are fast digesting and are normally made up of simple sugars making them high in glycaemic index (GI). Complex carbohydrates have a good mix of sugars, fibres and starch and take longer to be digested classifying them as low GI items. Carbohydrates can be found in grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy as well as proteins. Simple carbohydrates include muesli, baked potatoes, dates and white bread whereas complex carbohydrates include, brown rice, rice bran, quinoa, bananas, grapefruit, apples, tomatoes and cucumbers.

What are Proteins and Why are They Important?

Proteins are made up of amino acids; every cell in the body contains protein. Proteins are composed of essential and non-essential amino acids. Essential amino acids (histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine) must be obtained from our food because our bodies cannot produce them, whereas the non-essential (alanine, arginine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine and tyrosine) can be made by the body. Proteins are not only essential for muscle growth but are required for making enzymes hormones and antibodies as well as for the transportation of vitamins and minerals in the body. Proteins can be found in meat, eggs, legumes, milk, grains and vegetables.

What are Fats and Why are They Important?

Fats are lipids and triglycerides which are composed of glycerol and fatty acids for use as energy stores in the body. The fats can be classified as saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Saturated fats are composed of fully hydroxylated carbon chains (making them solid at room temperature) and are typically found in fatty meats, cheese and butter. Saturated fats have historically been implicated in the development of cardiovascular disease but recently been shown to comprise a part of a healthy and nutritious diet. Monosaturated have been associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and make up a key part of balanced and healthy diets. Monounsaturated fats can be found in olives, avocados and nuts.

The last category of fats comprises polyunsaturated fats which are mainly found in oily fish, linseeds, flaxseed, walnuts, chia seeds. These fats contain anti-inflammatory health benefits and helps keep skin looking soft and healthy. Some polyunsaturated fats are classified as omega 3 fatty acids which have been shown to beneficial in healthy heart and brain development.

Written by Ana dos Santos on 08 October 2021

Sources: “Understanding Nutrition” Ellie Whitney and Sharon Rady Rolfes, eleventh edition, 2008.


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