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What is nutrition?

11th March 2020

Nutrition is the study of the foods and drinks that we consume and how our body uses the ingredients that they contain. This can then be further broken to understand the connection between diet, health and disease.

Your body requires a number of different nutrients in order to stay nourished and it’s important to get these in the correct amounts to achieve a balanced diet.

Macronutrients

The first subsection of nutrients that your body needs are called ‘macronutrients’ because your body needs them in fairly large quantities. These are easily recognisable and it’s fairly simple to understand how much you’re getting of each one because they are the names that we categorise foods by.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are your main source of energy and these can either be simple carbs (sugars) or complex carbs (starch). The difference between the two is how your body breaks them down.

Simple carbs are broken down quickly and absorbed by the body to generate rapid energy. However, they don’t leave you feeling full and can cause spikes in blood sugar levels. This can not only lead to “sugar crashes” but over time, frequent spikes in blood sugar levels can increase your risk of type-2 diabetes.

On the other hand, complex carbs take a lot longer to be broken down and absorbed, which is why they provide slow-release energy and can make you feel fuller for longer. Examples of complex carbohydrates include whole grains and starchy vegetables like potatoes.

Proteins

Protein can also serve as a fuel source, but the main function is to act as a building block for body tissue. This is why protein is essential for growth and muscle repair.

Amino acids make up proteins; some foods provide complete protein (all 20 amino acids) while others contain various combinations of them. Meat and fish is high in complete protein while a number of legumes and vegetables are high in non-complete protein.

Fats

It’s important to include fat in your diet to promote healthy joints, brain and organs. Although some people assume that fats are bad for you, it’s actually necessary in the right quantity.

Too much saturated fat can lead to high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity, but unsaturated fats offer a better alternative. Typically, animal products (butter, meat and lard) are high in saturated fat, while non-animal products (olive oil and avocado) are healthier alternatives.

Water

Needed for various processes throughout the body, water is essential. It actually makes up 60% of the human body and you should aim to drink around 2 litres per day to stay properly hydrated.

Micronutrients

Micronutrients are equally as important as macronutrients but the body requires them in much smaller amounts. Each one of them performs a different role but together they contribute towards strong bones, a healthy immune system, soft skin, properly-functioning hormones, good blood flow and cognitive development.

Examples of micronutrients include minerals (such as potassium, iron, zinc and sodium) and vitamins (such as vitamin A, vitamin C and 8 different B-vitamins).

How do I make sure I get good nutrition?

Good nutrition means that your body is getting the appropriate macro and micronutrients that it needs to function optimally every day. Although you may struggle to track this all the time, the best thing to do is to eat a wide variety of protein sources, fill up on fruit and vegetables, drink plenty of water and avoid highly processed foods.

Not eating a healthy balanced diet can lead to malnutrition or obesity. If you’re struggling with obesity but diet and exercise alone haven’t helped then you may benefit from weight loss medication such as Orlistat.