When we hear the word “nutrition”, we associate it with health, and that’s why I’ll start describing the nutrition word. Nutrition is the discipline that studies the relationship between food and health.
To lead a healthy lifestyle, people recommend us for our diet to be balanced, and that is where we must begin to relate this connecting link of food and nutrients. Food gives us energy, helps us build and maintain all the cells of our body. The nutrients are the substance obtained from food, and they are vital for the growth and healthy maintenance of our body.
There are essential and non-essential nutrients:
The essential nutrients come from the food we eat, and the non-essential ones are produced by our body thanks to certain components.
Nutrients that produce energy (carbohydrates, lipids and proteins) are considered macronutrients, since we need large amounts so they can achieve their function in the body. Water is considered a macronutrient.
Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), as their name indicates, the body needs small amounts of these nutrients for their function in our body.
Carbohydrates have always been very controversial, since over time many people associate them with weight gain. However, carbohydrates are the main source of energy for our body.
Carbohydrates are divided into simple, which are sugars. The most common are: fructose, which is found in fruits, and lactose, which is found in dairy products. Our body breaks them down into glucose, or blood sugar. Glucose is essential for the functioning of the brain, nervous system, muscles and various organs.
The complex carbohydrates, which are starches and fibers, are found naturally in most grains, vegetables, and fruits. Most are low in fat and calories, and contain other vital nutrients such as potassium, folate, vitamin A, and vitamin C.
Fiber helps the proper functioning of the colon, preventing some types of cancer, heart attacks and other ailments. The adequate fiber intake is 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men.
High fiber foods:
- Integral rice
- Wheat bran
Lipids are energy dense. Per gram, fats provide more than 2 times the energy of carbohydrates or proteins, so we must be very careful with certain types of fat, as they can contribute to cardiovascular diseases. However, lipids also have some beneficial functions for our body:
- Provides energy to our body
- Heat source
- Serve to transport and absorb certain nutrients such as Vitamin A, D, E and K
- Supply fatty acids to the body, essential for certain chemical processes in our body, such as the production of sex hormones and prostaglandins, the formation and function of cell membranes and the transport of other molecules in and out of cells
Fats are classified according to their chemical structure:
Saturated fats: This type of fat generally comes from animal sources (meat, fat, cheese, butter), but also from some plants (palm and coconut oil). Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. This type of fat is associated with risk factors for heart problems, high cholesterol content, prostate and ovarian cancer, among other diseases.
Unsaturated fats are healthier than saturated fats. Unlike other fats, they help reduce the risk of heart problems by helping to keep blood cholesterol levels low and blood pressure low. Most unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature.
Unsaturated fats are classified in two:
- Monounsaturated fat: olive and canola oil
- Polyunsaturated fats: divided into Omega 3 and Omega 6, safflower oil, sunflower, corn, nuts and fish
- Trans fats: This type of fat is created when vegetable oils undergo hydrogenation. It is recommended to have a very limited intake. The main foods that we find this type of fat are:
- Vegetable shortening
- Fried foods, such as potatoes
Proteins are a crucial nutrient for our body, every cell in the human body needs protein in order to grow and repair itself. Every human being requires them, but mainly growing children, adolescents and pregnant women. Protein has many functions, among them are: to produce hemoglobin, to produce enzymes and hormones, to help strengthen muscles.
Proteins are made of amino acids. There are more than 100 amino acids, but the human body requires 20 of these essential and non-essential amino acids.
Essential amino acids (9):
The essential amino acids must be consumed from food, as the human body cannot produce adequate amounts.
Non-essential amino acids (11):
- Aspartic acid
- Glutamic acid
Our body can produce adequate amounts of this type of amino acid, without the need to ingest them in food.
The quality of protein is dependent on the origin consumed and its amino acid composition. Animal protein contains more of the 9 essential amino acids, while plant protein lacks one or more essential amino acids. This does not mean that they are not healthy, you just need to make a good choice and combination of certain amino acids.
Vitamins are organic substances that the body needs. The amounts depend on age, gender or any persistent disease. There are 13 essential vitamins that are divided into two classes:
- Water-soluble: These are vitamins B and C. These types of vitamins are not stored in the body, the body discards what it doesn’t need through urine
- Fat-soluble: These vitamins A, D, E and K need fat for absorption and storage in the body
Here is a brief description of the main functions of vitamins:
Vitamin A (Retinoids and Carotenoids):
This vitamin is fat soluble. 90% of vitamin A is stored in the liver and the remaining 10% is stored in the adipose tissues, kidney and lungs. Its function is to help maintain healthy epithelial cells, vision, prevent cardiovascular problems and maintain healthy skin. Some foods in which you can find vitamin A are: spinach, carrot, melon, mango, beef liver, tuna, cheese, eggs, olive oil, butter, kale lettuce.
Vitamin D (Calciferol or Calcitriol):
Vitamin D is fat soluble, and it is the only nutrient that is also a hormone. The body produces it with the help of sun exposure for 10 to 15 minutes at least 3 times a week. Its functions are to help our body absorb calcium to maintain healthy bones and teeth. It is difficult to find this nutrient in food.
Vitamin E (Tocopherol):
Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant in the body, important for the formation of muscles, red blood cells and the central nervous system. Some foods rich in vitamin E are: sunflower oil, almonds, pistachios, avocado, salmon, egg, mango.
Fat soluble vitamin. Its main function is to help blood coagulate. Most foods rich in Vitamin K come from plants such as spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, but we also find it in eggs and dairy products.
There are different types of vitamin B. Its main function is to provide energy and cell formation. These are the variations of vitamin B:
- B1 (also called Thiamin)
- B2 Riboflavin
- B3 Niacin
- B5 Pantothenic
- B7 Biotin
- B12 (Helps nerve function, DNA production, red blood cell formation)
- Folic Acid
Vitamin C must be ingested, since the body does not produce it and does not store it, so it is important to consume foods rich in vitamin C daily.
Vitamin C has several functions: it forms a protein to help synthesize collagen, it helps the immune system due to its high content of antioxidants, it participates in the absorption of iron. Foods rich in vitamin C are mainly citrus fruits, but we can also find them in potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, strawberries.
Minerals are elements that our body uses to carry out chemical reactions. These make up 4% of body weight. These are categorized according to the amount of minerals we need per day, of which more than 100 mg are required. They are called essential minerals and these are: calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chlorine and sulfur.
The minerals that require less than 100 mg per day are: iron, fluorine, zinc and iron.
The minerals that are needed less than 1 mg are: iodine, chromium, molybdenum and selenium. And there are minerals with polluting elements such as: lead, cadmium, mercury, arsenic, boron, aluminum, lithium, barium, among others.
There are ailments with which we must be very careful regarding the consumption of certain minerals, such as hypertension, since the only thing they can cause, with a large intake, are severe complications.
Vital element for human existence, we simply could not exist without water. Our human body is made up of 50 to 70% water.
Water has many functions in our body:
- Transports and disposes some nutrients
- Maintains body temperature
- Eliminates toxins or substances through the kidneys
- Lubricates the digestive system
- Protects joints of our body
Not only by sweating we lose water in our body, but we also lose water in urine, breathing, digesting and metabolizing food, so we must always take care of the amount of water we drink during the day. Like everything, excess can be very harmful to our health, if we do not consume the right amount.