Western nutrition practices reductionism. That is where the scientist break the food down into it’s individual parts such as vitamins, minerals, fats, carbohydrates and proteins. We will discuss this briefly so that we can relate to the way that the western world relates to food. I however prefer to think of food as a whole package. Western nutrition sees food mostly as fuel for the body. We will discuss carbohydrates, protein, fats, water, vitamins, minerals and air. The carbohydrates, protein and fats are macronutrients. Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients. Water and air are self explanatory and essential to our survival.
– calorie – measurement of the amount of heat and energy that is produced when a food is burned. macronutrients are measured in calories. Micronutrients are not. Carb/protein have 4 cal/g and fat has 9 cal/g. You’ll often hear about empty calories which are calories found in processed food because there are not any macro/micronutrients left.
– carbohydrate – Most abundantly from plant foods and are typically thought of as grains and starches, but they are found in all foods. Carbohydrates are produced through photosynthesis. They encompass fibers, starches and sugars. The fiber is important for digestion. There is soluble fiber (slows digestion down) which breaks down in digestion and there is insoluble (speeds digestion up) which does not break down. Soluble fiber is good for blood sugar regulation and helps lower blood cholesterol. Insoluble fiber helps with emptying your bowels faster, slows down your blood glucose increases and blood sugar spikes. They are really good at removing toxins and also clears out your colon. The insoluble fibers are the stringy stuff in your foods.
Carbohydrates are good for energy, digestion, your bodies good bacteria are fed by carbohydrates and they help your body to use the proteins and fats you consume.
Refined carbohydrates have the fiber, minerals and vitamins removed. Essentially the only thing that you are left with is the sugar. This leads to disease because the body is unable to process it properly. Refined carbs are the quickest to be digested followed by protein and fat.
– protein – Proteins are often thought of as the building blocks of the human body. They contain amino acids which make up the proteins. Most of these amino acids can be produced by your body, however some can not. The ones that can not are called essential amino acids and you must get them through your diet. You must continuously eat them since they are constantly being replaced in your body. You can find them in several sources such as animal products, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds and grains. If you eat a varied diet you will get your proteins pretty easily. Plant proteins are good for maintaining a proper PH balance in your body. Antibodies are made up of proteins and neurotransmitters are made up of amino acids. Proteins take a long time to digest so therefore they help to make you feel full longer. There is a great discrepancy as to how much protein you require. The avg. American consumes 100g/day or about 6.5 oz. Most need approx 75g or 4.5 oz and the recommended daily allowance is 0.8g/kg in the US. The world health organization suggests 0.45 g/kg.
Too much protein may cause the kidneys to work harder with increased urea and may pull out calcium. Poor quality animal proteins may cause disease. Too little protein will cause your body to break down your bodies tissue, weakness, fatigue, weight loss hair loss and decreased immunity.
– fats – term for a food
– fatty acids – structure of fats
Fats were discussed in detail earlier. These are discussed in a couple of different ways in the medical community. There are triglycerides which are approx. 90% of the fats (lipids). High triglycerides have been linked to heart disease in the medical community although there is some debate about this since it has only been shown as a correlation and that has been challenged. In order to help keep these in check you should decrease fatty food intake, decrease smoking, increase your exercise and also manage your weight.
Phospholipids (fats) are supposed to help with angina and cognitive health. Steroids (sterols) include cholesterol. This is found throughout the body. It is produced by the liver. It is only found in animal products. There are two types of cholesterol. High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) and Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL). HDL brings cholesterol from cells to the liver and LDL brings cholesterol from the liver to the cells. The body must have a proper balance of both types in order to maintain proper function. You can maintain a proper balance of these phospholipids by maintain an ideal body weight, decreasing poor quality fats, decrease alcohol consumption. Garlic and fish oil are good for cholesterol.
Fats are necessary in the body. They help with viral infections, maintaining proper cell wall structure, protects heart and organs, they decrease the aging process, increase your energy, assist with your blood pressure regulation and help transport fat soluble vitamins. You must have high quality fatty acids (saturated and unsaturated). Liquid fats are easier to digest than solid fats. Some people take lipase (an enzyme) in order to assist the digestion of fats. In order to determine how much fat you need you must listen to your body. Some of the symptoms of fatty acid deficiency are dry hair, dry skin, brittle nails and thirstiness.
– minerals – Minerals are inorganic compounds which are obtained by eating plants and or animals that have drawn them from the ground or ocean. They are critical for antioxidants, bones, teeth and cells and they work with vitamins. You can not destroy a mineral, but it can be leached out in water or something similar. There are both major and minor (trace) minerals which is determined by how much is needed by the body. The major minerals are Calcium, phosphorous, sodium, chloride, magnesium and potassium and you must have more than 100 mg/day.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral. You can find it in dairy products, leafy greens, nuts, seeds and tofu in particular.
Phosphorous can be found in dairy products, leafy greens, nuts, seeds tofu, animal products eggs, and whole grains in particular.
Magnesium can be found in sea vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes in particular.
Potassium, Sodium and chloride are all important electrolytes that conduct electricity throughout your body. Therefore it is very important that you maintain a proper balance by eating a well rounded diet.
There are many other minerals including Iodine, Selenium, Molybdenum, Silicon, Sulfur, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Zinc and Iron. They all play an important role in the bodies functions.
Sulfur is an amino acid and aids in protein structure and detoxification
Boron maintains calcium balance
Chromium assists with blood sugar regulation.
Copper is good for your hemoglobin and assists with wound healing.
Zinc is taken sometimes when people get sick in order to boost enzyme functions for immunity.
Iron is important for red blood cells.
Iodine was initially added to salt in order to combat goiter production and it also is important in thyroid hormone function.
Selenium works as an antioxidant, is anticancer and is good for fertility.
Molybdenum is good for detoxifying alcoholics.
Silicon hasn’t been researched must be seems to be important for strength of tissues, bone growth, endurance and stamina.
This is a brief snapshot of what they do.
– vitamins – Vitamins are found in plant and animals. Vita means life and min means nitrogen. However not all have nitrogen. They are organic compounds that must be maintained. If you have a decrease in vitamins you will have health problems. They are essential for proper enzyme functions. There are two types. Those types are water and fat soluble. Water soluble vitamins get excreted very quickly while the fat soluble ones will maintain longer. Therefore the water soluble vitamins must be restored regularly and the fat soluble ones can build up to toxic levels. While cooking you should cook lightly in order to not destroy the vitamins and remember that water soluble vitamins will be leached from your food during cooking with wet cooking techniques. The fat soluble vitamins are Vitamin A, D, E and K. All of the other vitamins are water soluble.
– phytochemical – Phytochemicals are what makes plants colorful, tasty and smell good. They have only recently been discovered. They fight disease and act as antioxidants (slow or prevent oxidative damage when the body uses oxygen). The common ones are Vitamin A, C, E, Selenium, flavanoids and caratonoids, polythenol and licopain. There is an ORAC rating for foods with spices, herbs, scented oils, dry fruits, nuts, deeply pigmented fruits and vegetables (artichokes, cabbage, broccoli, asparagus, avocado, beet and spinach) being high on the list.
– enzyme – Enzymes are protein based and are required in every chemical reaction in the body. There are hundreds of enzymes and are found in plants and vegetables. They are killed when cooked above 118-112 degrees F. This is why you should eat some raw foods with your meals as well.