Nutrition - a guide to healthy eating and healthy food.
What is nutrition?
Nutrition is the intake of food and drink by the human body and the subsequent chemical and physical processes that occur within the body when the food is broken down and the nutrients needed to maintain the body and keep it in good working order are released.
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Why is good nutrition so important?
Food and the nutrients obtained from food are vital to keep the body healthy and alive. Nutrients are required in order to build and repair cells and body tissues, maintain the organs and bones in optimum working condition and to provide energy, fuel and warmth.
Good nutrition is essential for good health and eating nutritious food can help to prevent against common ailments, as well as more life threatening illnesses and diseases.
Medical scientists now believe that a third of all cancers and most cases of heart disease are related to poor diet.
Nowadays, we are becoming more aware of how our diet is important to our health and that it is vital that we eat the right kinds of food to stay healthy and fit.
How is good nutrition achieved?
Different types of food provide the body with different nutrients. It is impossible to obtain all the necessary nutrients needed for good health and growth, solely from one type of food. Therefore, good nutrition and good health is achieved by eating a well-balanced, healthy and varied diet.
What is a balanced diet?
Food can be broken down into 5 major groups. These groups are carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals and water. The body needs varying amounts of these types of food so that the adequate amount of nutrients is supplied to the body. A well-balanced diet does not mean an equal amount of each type of food, as our body requires more of some nutrients than others.
Each type of food plays a significant role in our body but excesses or deficiencies of certain types of food can also harm the body and produce a negative impact on our health.
It is very important that we know how much of each type of food we are supposed to consume and that we eat in a sensible way. This means eating regular meals at least three times a day and drinking plenty of water.
What are carbohydrates and how much should we eat?
Carbohydrates provide the body with fuel and energy to keep going throughout the day and should make up half the daily intake of food.
Carbohydrates can be classified as simple or complex. Simple carbohydrates are made up of sugars, which are quickly broken down by the body to give a sudden energy rush and these should be limited in the diet.
A good, healthy diet should contain a high proportion of complex carbohydrates, which are high in fibre and low in fat.
Complex carbohydrates are broken down less quickly by the body and provide a longer lasting and steadier flow of energy to the body.
Complex carbohydrates come in the form of bread, pasta, cereals, rice and potatoes and if possible the wholemeal variety should be consumed i.e.: brown rice, wholemeal bread, whole wheat pasta.
According to nutritionists working for the American Government, a person should eat between 6 - 11 servings of complex carbohydrates a day.
What about proteins?
Proteins are necessary for the growth and repair of the body's muscles, cells and tissues. They protect the body from infection and disease and are also good sources of some vitamins and minerals.
Proteins are essentially obtained from products of animal origin, such as meat, dairy products, eggs and fish, however, as they also contain certain amounts of fat, they should be consumed in smaller quantities than other types of food.
Proteins can also be derived from vegetable products such as beans, lentils, nuts and rice.
Experts advise us to consume 2 - 3 servings of meat, poultry, seafood, eggs or pulses a day and 2 - 3 servings of dairy products.
Which types of food supply us with the correct vitamins and minerals?
Fruit and vegetables provide us with vitamins and minerals and should make up the second largest part of our daily diet.
Vitamins and minerals keep the body healthy and help to prevent against many illnesses and diseases. They are vital to the correct function of our immune and nervous systems and are paramount to good health.
A person with glowing and radiant skin, shiny hair and an abundance of energy is sure to eat a diet that is full of vitamins and minerals.
A healthy diet is made up of 2 - 4 servings of fruit and 3 - 5 servings of vegetables a day. It is important to note that raw fruit and vegetables are much better for the body, as they retain most of their nutrients. Many nutrients can be lost during the cooking process.
Should we eliminate fats from our diet?
Not all fats should be totally eliminated from our diet, as some types of fat are actually good for us in small quantities, and are essential for our bodies to function properly.
We should avoid saturated fats, which are the "bad" fats, which if consumed in excess can lead to cardiovascular disease amongst a whole range of other illnesses.
Saturated fats are found in unhealthy processed foods such as crisps, cakes, biscuits, and in most animal and dairy products such as sausages, beef burgers, bacon, pork, lamb, some cheeses, butter and full fat milk.
The "good" fats are polyunsaturated fats in particular and monounsaturated fats, which can both actually lower the cholesterol levels in our blood and prevent heart disease.
Good sources of these fats can be obtained from oily fish such as sardines, mackerel, salmon and trout, olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables and wholegrain cereals.
It is recommended that no more than 10% of our daily calorie intake is made up of saturated fats and that 25 - 35% of our daily calorie intake is from fats in general.
Do we really have to drink so much water?
Water is vital for life and our body depends on it. Around 70% of our body is made up of water and therefore water is essential in order for the body to function correctly. Without water our body will become dehydrated and eventually ill.
Every process that takes place within the body relies on water. Water is needed to transport nutrients and oxygen all around the body to where they are needed and is necessary for processes such as digestion, circulation and the excretion and elimination of toxins and waste to take place.
All foods are made up of varying percentages of water but this is not enough and experts recommend that 8 glasses of water should be consumed per day for good health.
And to summarise?
Basically, for optimum health a well-balanced diet should include plenty of complex carbohydrates, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, a moderate amount of meat and dairy products, 8 glasses of water a day and a limited amount of saturated fats and sugars.
A well-balanced diet should also be complemented with plenty of exercise, a small intake of alcohol and no smoking whatsoever.