We often here the term “nutrition” and associate it with our individual interpretation of what it actually means. Understanding the correct definition of nutrition and following a nutrition plan that meets our individual needs is vitally important. Poor nutrition leads to many chronic diseases, like obesity, heart disease, stroke, cancer, high blood pressure and even bone loss, to name a few. Poor nutrition also leads to not getting enough vitamins and minerals to support a healthy body. A lack of vitamins and minerals can cause many serious health issues. A good example is lack of vitamin C. When we become deficient in vitamin C, for longer periods, and it isn’t corrected we develop scurvy (yes, what pirates often got due to long voyages with no fruits like oranges). Scurvy causes fatigue, depression, connective tissue defects, and impaired wound healing.
Nutrition is the science that interprets the interaction of nutrients and other substances in food (e.g. phytonutrients, anthocyanins, tannins, etc.) in relation to maintenance of growth, reproduction, health and disease of an organism. It includes food intake, absorption, assimilation, biosynthesis, catabolism, and excretion.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines nutrition as “Good nutrition, an adequate, well balanced diet combined with regular physical activity is the cornerstone of good health. Poor nutrition can lead to reduced immunity, increased susceptibility to disease, impaired physical and mental development and reduced productivity.”
We can further break down what nutrition is by including food and energy. In short, the food we eat becomes the fuel that provides our bodies with energy. As we use our stored energy, just like refueling your car, we must refuel our bodies each day. The type of fuel we use matters, bad fuel, like processed foods, fast foods, high fat foods, and high sugary foods provides quick but short-lived burst of energy. However, good fuel like lean proteins, healthy carbs and fats provide long-lasting energy along with the vitamins and minerals our bodies need to not only fend off diseases, but keep our bodies healthy and improve longevity.
Components of nutrition
Nutrition is made up of two components, macronutrients and micronutrients; combined they provide all the fuel and ultimately the energy our bodies need.
Macronutrients are the nutrients our bodies need in large amounts. We measure macronutrients in the form of “calories”. A calorie is made up of kcals, 1,000 kcals is equal to one calorie. One calorie is the amount of energy it takes to raise one kilogram of water by one degree. Macronutrients are made up of protein, carbohydrates and fat; again these are the nutrients we need in large quantities.
Micronutrients are the nutrients our bodies need in small amounts and are made up of vitamins and minerals. Vitamins are necessary for energy production, immune function, blood clotting and other functions; while minerals are vital for growth, bone health, and fluid balance.
What is protein?
Protein comes from the Greek word for “primary” or “first”. Proteins are made of long chain amino acids and play a critical role in building and repairing tissue as well as making hormones. Protein is responsible for creating blood, skin, bones, cartilage and of course building muscle.
What are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates (carbs) are all about energy and are found in foods like fruits, vegetables, breads, pasta, and dairy products. These foods are used to make glucose and store it in our muscle tissue, which is our primary energy source. Carbs are also the brains only fuel source. If you know someone who is on a low-carb diet and they become easily frustrated, lack focus or in general cranky; its because they are starving their brain of the fuel it needs to function properly.
What is fat?
Fat is an essential nutrient because is gives our bodies energy, supports cell growth, and some vitamins are “fat soluble” which means our body will only absorb the vitamin if we combine it with fat (of course a healthy fat). Fats are broken down into three types, saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. Avoid saturated fats as much as possible. Instead look for mono and poly unsaturated fats; they are heart healthy and help control cholesterol.
What is good nutrition?
We’ve just learned the components of nutrition, which are important to overall health. However, good nutrition is more than just micro and macro nutrients. To achieve good nutrition we want to create a balance between what we consume and what our bodies need to function (the energy we need).
By adopting a healthy nutrition plan we begin to feel better physically and mentally. We also begin to perform better both at work and during exercise. The better we feel the more likely we are to continue following a good nutrition plan and exercise program which leads to a leaner, healthier body and ultimately that translates into more confidence in our appearance.
Following a good, well balanced nutrition plan also removes harsh restrictions some people “think” they need for successful weight loss or maintenance. Nutrition is not about restriction, other than the bad foods, rather its about including those foods (fuel) that gives us the best energy sources. A perfect example is the myth that to lose weight we should remove or severely restrict carbs. Let me be clear, carbs do NOT make us fat, too many calories and a sedentary lifestyle makes us fat (sugar does too but I’ll save that topic for another day). Also, we need to ask ourselves, why would we want to remove one of the three “necessary” components of a balanced fuel/energy plan? Doing so leads to poor performance both physically and mentally. If you want to be strong, fast, keep up your endurance and think clearly, don’t restrict carbs. Instead embrace healthy carbs and your body will thank you!