Proper health is an essential part of life. Although it is possible to live for quite a while without being healthy, one’s quality and enjoyment of life are likely to be greatly compromised. Luckily, there are nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that will greatly help individuals to achieve a desirable level of health.
The first essential food nutrient to be discussed is macronutrients. Macronutrients are nutrients that provide energy for the body to burn. Since “macro” means “large” or “many,” macronutrients need to be consumed in large quantities. These nutrients are actually quite simple; fats, carbohydrates, and proteins are the primary macronutrients needed for human consumption in large quantities (Ministry of Health, 2003, p. 9).
Fats, carbohydrates, and proteins can be found in a variety of foods. For fats, butter and other natural sources of fat (as opposed to trans-fats, typically found in “junk” food and other consumables meant to be eaten in very small quantities) such as oils are excellent ways to get fat energy; for carbohydrates, bread, pasta, and potatoes; and for proteins, meats, nuts, and certain vegetables are very high in good, easily-digestible protein.
To understand why each of these macronutrients are important, let us go through them one by one, starting with fats. When one thinks of fats, one may think of the bad parts of fat, such as high cholesterol and weight gain. However, fats are actually an essential part of the human diet. They form cell membranes, provide natural insulation for the body, and help the body to store energy. Cholesterol, largely thought to be “bad,” is actually a huge part of cell function, as it helps the cell membranes to layer smoothly (Nutrition and Diet, 2010, p.4). It is when the cholesterol concentration in the blood becomes too high that problems, such as atherosclerosis, develop.
The second macronutrient, carbohydrates, have three primary functions. They provide energy for bodily functions including brain function, they combine with fats and proteins to form connective tissue such as cartilage and tendons, and they contribute to stool function in the form of fiber (Nutrition and Diet, 2010, p. 3). Carbohydrates combined with protein and exercise also help to build up muscle tissue.
Proteins, the third macronutrient, form a major part of muscle, including internal muscles such as the heart. Inadequate protein in the diet will result in low energy and even muscle and organ deterioration over time, and so it is essential to eat a diet with adequate protein (Nutrition and Diet, 2010, p. 2). Food high in protein can include meats, cheese, nuts, and, as mentioned before, certain vegetables. All three of these macronutrients help with cell and organ function, as well as promoting muscle growth and overall energy.
Another important part of a nutrition-rich diet is vitamins. Some people elect to take vitamin supplements in order to consume an adequate amount, but there are also certain foods rich in certain vitamins that can be eaten instead. Vitamins A and C, which can help the immune system, are largely found in fruits and vegetables; all B vitamins except vitamin B12 are found in breads and cereals; vitamins A, B12, and riboflavin are found in milk and milk products; and lean meats, seafood, poultry, and other low-fat foods are high in vitamins B12, niacin, and thiamin (Ministry of Health, 2003, p. 5).
Vitamins have a wide variety of functions when it comes to nutrition, as do minerals. These can include mood effects, immune system function, organ function, and digestion, among many others. Important minerals can be found in many of the same foods as vitamins, which include fruits and vegetables, breads and cereals, meats and meat products, milk and dairy, eggs, nuts, and seeds. Minerals contained within these groups include magnesium, calcium, potassium, iron, zinc, phosphorous, iodine, selenium, and copper, among others (Ministry of Health, 2003, p. 5).
Certain people can survive on low amounts of nutrients where others require high amounts of nutrients. However, “surviving” and “thriving” are two very different things. There are many other vitamins and minerals than what is listed here, but to list all of them and fully explain their function and where they are found would take an entire book, or even a series of books. One essential aspect of nutrition that is not covered in macronutrients, vitamins, or minerals is water. Water is essential for not only thriving, but surviving. If we become too dehydrated, we can die. There are no exceptions to the fact that humanity needs water to survive. All bodily functions, including the beating of the heart and the functioning of the lungs, brains, and all other organs depend on water (Nutrition and Diet, 2010, p.8).
Dehydration at its best is uncomfortable and at its worst is life-threatening. At only one to two percent water loss, reduced mental and physical function can start occurring, and by the time someone becomes thirsty water loss and dehydration have already set in significantly. Muscle cramping, a common dehydration symptom (Nutrition and Diet, 2010, p. 8), is often what alerts people to the fact that they need to re-hydrate or face much more severe symptoms. People at higher elevations or those who get a large amount of exercise likely need more water than those who live sedentary lifestyles at low elevations (Nutrition and Diet, 2010, p.8). The higher one’s activity level, the more water one will go through.
Different bodies and health levels require different types and amounts of various nutrients. What works for one person may not work at all for another, so it is very important to carefully work to find what is best for the individual. Nutrition is important, and so doing it right is worth the effort.
- Intellectual Reserve, Inc. (2010). Nutrition and diet [Brochure]. Author. Retrieved June 17, 2015, from https://www.providentliving.org/bc/providentliving/content/english/self-reliance/health/pdf/nutrition-and-diet.pdf?lang=eng
- Ministry of Health. (2003). Food and nutrition guidelines for healthy adults: A background paper [Brochure]. Author. Retrieved June 17, 2015, from https://www.health.govt.nz/system/files/documents/publications/foodandnutritionguidelines-adults.pdf