Your diet and nutrition are one of the most fundamental aspects of your lifestyle. You can’t be healthy if you don’t eat healthy foods. You can spend every day of your life exercising, but if you’re stuffing your body with food that doesn’t contain the nutrients it needs, this is going to adversely impact your health in a myriad of ways.
Food is a constant presence in our lives. It is available to us everywhere, but among the potential drawbacks of this are the choices we make. We often decide what we want to eat based on how the food tastes, how sumptuous it looks, or how hungry we are. That isn’t all bad unless we develop bad eating habits that contribute to the development of disease in the body.
So one of the essential components of healthy living is eating right. Eating right is incredibly important, but it may also take more effort to eat healthier.
This may mean you have to plan your meals, prepare your food (which typically takes time), and most importantly, understand the impact of different nutrients in your foods, and how they affect the body.
Nutrients from the food we eat are needed by the body for daily sustenance and continued growth. To understand how nutrients work, nutrients can be divided into two groups – macronutrients and micronutrients.
Macronutrients or macros are nutrients needed by the body in larger amounts, but which the body doesn’t readily produce on its own. They supply the body with energy in the form of calories.
There are three main sources of macronutrients. They are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. All of these supply the body with energy but additionally fulfill different bodily requirements.
Carbohydrates are macronutrients that the body needs in the largest amount. They are present in fruits, vegetables, and grains in the form of starch, sugar, and fiber. Carbohydrates supply the body with energy which we relate to as calories.
These get broken down into glucose and serve as an energy-delivering fuel for the muscles and most importantly the brain to function optimally.
With an increasing awareness that carbohydrate intake is a major factor in weight control, there has been some confusing demonization of carbs generally. However, when it comes to human health, not all carbs are created equal. There are two types of carbs and not all carbs are bad! Your body needs carbs, but what it really needs are good carbs, which are called complex carbs.
- Simple Carbs – The ‘bad’ carbohydrates are simple carbs that release sugar much faster in the body. They are high in refined sugar content and low in nutrients and fiber. Think cake and donuts.
- Complex Carbs – The ‘good’ carbohydrates are complex carbs. They are more nutritious and processed more slowly in the body. They are high in fiber, nutritious, and low in saturated fats. Think fruits and vegetables.
Fats often get a bad rap because of misinformation presented decades ago by a very influential sugar lobby, that unfortunately for a time came to be considered fact. Many people have been led to believe that fat makes you fat. This is not true. Dietary fat does not automatically become body fat.
Ingested fat breaks down slowly, meaning it doesn’t cause blood sugar spikes, allowing it to be used in a structured manner as needed. (Simple sugars on the hand are broken too quickly for the body to use and are rapidly converted to body fat).
Fats provide useable energy, create hormones, help with cell membrane integrity, and allow the absorption of some fat-soluble vitamins. Fats can either be trans fats, saturated fats, or unsaturated fats. The latter is what’s most needed by the body and helps with crucial bodily functions. Trans fats especially are toxic to health and should be avoided.
Proteins are macronutrients that the body needs to help build body tissue, as well as provide slow-release useable energy. Their nutritional value lies in how much essential amino acids are available in the food.
Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals needed by the body in smaller amounts but are crucial to optimal functioning. Each of the vitamins and minerals performs a certain role in the body’s functioning. The best way to have enough essential vitamins and minerals is to eat a varied nutritious diet that ensures the presence of most of these vitamins and minerals.
Micronutrients not only play a role in specific bodily functions, but they can also provide powerful antioxidants which help protect the body against diseases. In the right quantities, vitamins and minerals help protect the body from sickness, and even though they are needed in very small amounts, a deficiency in any of them can affect your health.
Understanding the role that nutrients play in our food can make it easier for us to become more mindful and selective of what we eat. Understandably, life can be stressful and busy, which is often the excuse we have for having a bad diet.
However, taking enough time to plan and prepare our meals, choosing healthier options for food instead of basing choices solely on taste, and not always giving in to our cravings will ultimately be more beneficial to our health and longevity.