The whole topic of human nutrition seems to be shrouded in mystery and riddled with contradictions. We have all experienced it on some level. As soon as you think you are clear on the latest nutritional advice, it changes. New research is constantly being done. However, because of the bio-individuality of the human machine, there is no “one size fits all” advice for optimal nutrition. The one thing that is one size is the mechanics and building blocks of nutrition science. The method by which we obtain energy from food is a constant. Food contains energetic bits of information in the form of macronutrients, micronutrients and phytonutrients which our bodies require to run properly. While not the only factor in physiology, it is the foundation of our understanding of the chemical process that it constantly taking place in our bodies.
Macronutrients are those compounds needed in large amounts in our bodies. Macronutrients are carbon-based compounds that our bodies metabolize into energy. The chemical energy is converted into ATP, that is utilized by the body to perform work and conduct basic functions.
The amount of energy a person consumes daily comes primarily from 3 macronutrients; carbohydrates, fats and protein. Food energy is measured in kilocalories. Food labels state the amount of energy in food in “calories,” meaning that each calorie is actually multiplied by one thousand to equal a kilocalorie. (Note: Using scientific terminology, “Calorie” (with a capital “C”) is equivalent to a kilocalorie. Therefore: 1 kilocalorie = 1 Calorie- 1000 calories
Water is also a macronutrient in the sense that the body needs it in large amounts, but unlike the other macronutrients, it does not contain carbon or yield energy.
Everywhere you look nowadays, carbohydrates are touted as the devil. Popular diets, the media and people everywhere are discussing the evil of carbs! The problem with that is that not all carbs are bad. The right carbohydrates in our diet give us readily available, stable energy, facilitate healthy digestion, and help support a healthy weight. On the other hand, a diet high in refined carbohydrates increase our risk for chronic inflammation, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. So how do you decide which are beneficial for the body?
The main function of carbohydrates is to provide us with energy. Complex carbohydrates contain fiber, which supports gut health and helps us manage our weight and reduce cholesterol. The two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream and help us avoid spikes, which allows us to maintain more consistent blood glucose levels. Soluble fiber slows digestion by increasing digestive transit time, while insoluble fiber adds bulk to stool to support digestive regularity. Remember if you are adding additional fiber to your diet, do it slowly to avoid discomfort and remember to increase your water intake as well.
Carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars during digestion and absorbed into the bloodstream as glucose. Insulin then allows the glucose to enter the cells as a source of energy. Depending on your body’s needs, any unused glucose is stored in the liver or converted to fat for later use.
The recommended daily allowance for carbohydrates is 45%–65% of your total calories. Each gram of carbohydrate contains four calories.
The majority of carbohydrates in a nutritious diet come from whole foods, and intake of refined grains and added sugar is limited. As with everything, consider bio- individuality and keep your body and lifestyle in mind as you explore carbohydrates.
Fats, also known as lipids, are a necessity in our diets to achieve optimal health. For a long time, through the 80’s, 90’s and into the 2000’s, fats were the sworn enemy. We now know that the quality and type of fat we’re eating plays a huge role in our health and that by avoiding it, we’re doing ourselves a disservice. Monounsaturated fats, like those in the Mediterranean Diet, help to reduce the risk of chronic disease and support longevity. Whereas, trans fats and hydrogenated oils actually contribute to heart disease and other metabolic disease. Health benefits aside, fat helps our food taste delicious and, because fat takes longer to digest, keeps us feeling satisfied after a meal.
Fat are necessary for a variety of functions, including the proper absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Fat also supports proper brain development, provides cushioning and insulation to internal organs, and plays a role in hormone synthesis.
At nine calories per gram, fats are the highest energy source per gram of any macronutrient (protein and carbohydrates each have just four calories per gram). The general recommendation is to get between 20% and 35% of your daily energy from healthy fats. Despite the previous belief that dietary fat causes weight gain, eating quality fat may actually help promote a healthy weight.
Proteins are considered the building blocks of life. In fact, our skin, bones, muscles, hair, nails, and cartilage are mainly made of proteins. Most enzymes and hormones in our bodies are also proteins. Our protein needs shift as our activity levels change and throughout our life cycle, but most people can easily obtain adequate protein from their diets, whether or not they consume animal foods.
Protein has so many functions in the body aside from just giving us energy. It helps provide structure to our tissues and cells, supports our immunity, and even helps support growth. In addition, protein is used to create many of our hormones, which help our bodies maintain homeostasis by signaling that a particular action should either begin or cease. Enzymes, which help precipitate chemical reactions, are another type of protein in the body.
Protein digestion occurs mostly in the stomach and ends in the small intestine. In short, when food is digested, dietary protein breaks down into usable amino acids in the gastrointestinal tract to be transported to cells throughout the body to perform a variety of functions.
Protein contains four calories per gram. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. To determine your needs, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 (to get your weight in kilograms). Then multiply this number by 0.8. Most of us need about 10%–35% of our total caloric intake from protein. Our protein needs are higher when we’re sick or growing (e.g., children or pregnant women), as we age, and with intense physical activity.
Micronutrients are equally as important to the body, they are simply required in lower amounts. Micronutrients are the essential vitamins and minerals the body needs to function on every level.
In contrast to macros, micronutrients are not used directly for energy. Instead, they are the building blocks of the enzymes that facilitate the chemical reactions in the body. They are involved in all aspects of body functions from producing energy, to digesting nutrients, to building macromolecules. These processes are responsible for carrying molecules through cell membranes, the creation of all the hormones and neurotransmitters, literally every chemical reaction in your body is affected by the availability of these compounds.
Minerals are solid inorganic substances that form crystals and are classified depending on how much of them we need. Trace minerals, such as molybdenum, selenium, zinc, iron, and iodine, are only required in a few milligrams or less. Macrominerals, such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and phosphorus, are required in hundreds of milligrams. Many minerals are critical for enzyme function, while others are used to maintain fluid balance, build bone tissue, synthesize hormones, transmit nerve impulses, contract and relax muscles, and protect against harmful free radicals in the body that can cause health problems such as cancer.
The thirteen vitamins are categorized as either water-soluble or fat-soluble. The water-soluble vitamins are vitamin C and all the B vitamins, which include thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, biotin, folate and cobalamin. The fat-soluble vitamins are A, D, E, and K. Vitamins are required to perform many functions in the body such as assisting in energy production, making red blood cells, synthesizing bone tissue, and supporting normal vision, nervous system function, and immune system function.
Vitamin deficiencies can cause severe health problems and even death. For example, a deficiency in niacin causes a disease called pellagra, which was common in the early twentieth century in some parts of America. The common signs and symptoms of pellagra are known as the “4D’s—diarrhea, dermatitis, dementia, and death.” Until scientists discovered that better diets relieved the signs and symptoms of pellagra, many people with the disease ended up hospitalized in insane asylums awaiting death. Other vitamins were also found to prevent certain disorders and diseases such as scurvy (vitamin C), night blindness (vitamin A), and rickets (vitamin D).
We will cover each class of nutrients in more detail as the challenge progresses. This week take this information and see if it helps change your perspective on what exactly you are fueling your body with. Ask your body what does it really need to feel nourished today? Don’t forget to hydrate!!!
And , yes, occasionally your body will say it needs ice cream!
Have an amazing week!
The information provided is strictly informational. It is not intended to diagnose, treat or heal any medical or health related issues. Before making any changes to diet or lifestyle, please contact a health professional that is familiar with your personal health.
Some of the information in this article was obtained from:
Institute of Integrative Nutrition