Saturday, November 4, 2017

Nutrients: Vastly Knowledgeable Nutrition Guide

Nutrients: Vastly knowledgeable nutrition guide illustration by Sneha
A complete nutrition guide: Back to treasure of nature!

Do we eat food just for getting rid of starvation? Many of us never bothered about why we really eat and have been finding ‘nutrients’ a term for only nutritionists or doctors. But trust me, in reality, the term ‘nutrients’ is too imperative to understand and easy to shake hands. Don’t believe? Try reading below, a vastly knowledgeable nutrition guide covering all about nutrients in simple terminology!

What Are Nutrients?

Nutrients are simply those healthy elements of a diet for which we eat any food. While supplying food to our body, we just think that we eat to make our tongue feel pleasant and give energy to our body, but the job of this food is way vast than what we can think.

If someone asks for describing nutrients in a paragraph, here you are, the complete nutrition guide in a quick glance. Nutrients which we need in larger amount are Macronutrients that are: Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Others nutrients are called micronutrients which are: Vitamins, Minerals, and trace elements. Carbohydrates like sugar, starch, and fiber give energy and their sources are cereals, pulses, nuts, grains, seeds, and veggies. Proteins help in building, repairing and replacing the body tissues and their sources are milk, fish, meat, nuts, egg, etc. Fats are used for energy when our body lacks carbohydrates and the sources of good fats are mustard oil, olive oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, etc. Vitamins (A, B, C, D, E, K, P) are used for maintaining the good health of teeth, bones, skin, body part and organs, and their sources are fruits, vegetables, nuts eggs, whole wheat, grain, salad, pulses etc. Minerals and trace elements are also used for maintaining the normal health and supporting other nutrients, hormones, and reactions. That’s it! Now you know pretty much about nutrients, their functions, and food sources which are rich in nutrition.

Consumption of Food and Utilization of Nutrients

Plants and humans consume nutrients using different methods and processes. Where plants use roots to intake nutrients from soil or leaves to absorb nutrients from the air, humans or animals have got a digestive system. This amazingly brilliant system uses macro-nutrients for energy need by breaking it down. Further for metabolism and anabolism, micro-nutrients play the heroes. Thus from breaking down the food to constructive synthesis, nutrients are utilized as the core ingredient.

When we eat food, we supply different types of nutrients to our organism in form of food components. Our organism utilizes them from survival and growth, and for this, thousands of mechanisms and reactions are performed inside which need different types of nutrients in specific combinations. You need all of them in the different amount to make your diet nutritious and healthy.

Our body stores some fat-soluble nutrient like vitamins in it and need other nutrients continuously in higher or lesser amount on a regular basis. If we fail to supply these nutrients to the body, it can lead to poor health and growth, and can also cause diseases and disorders. In some cases, such lack of nutrients or malnutrition or nutrition deficiency can also lead to death.

There are several nutrients that our body can't synthesize and many nutrients that our body can produce, but somehow in insufficient quantity. We eat food to provide our body all the necessary nutrients in sufficient amount so that our body mechanism doesn't suffer. Mostly food items contain a mixer of different types of nutrients, phytochemicals, toxins, and antioxidants. The necessity of each of those elements, which we intake in form of food, is not established yet.

Nutrients and Metabolism

Dietary minerals such as copper and iron are those trace elements (a type of nutrients), ions or salts which are as important as carbs, meats, and proteins. Some are indeed essential for proper functioning of human body.

Vitamins are those organic compounds which are essential nutrients for the body and can't be ignored as they not only themselves play a vital role, but also help proteins as co-factors or co-enzymes.

A major part of the human body consists of water, an essential, important and vital solvent which helps all the chemical reactions to happen.

Categories and Types of Nutrients

This part of nutrition guide shares the classification of nutrients so that they can be understood easily as per their specialty, capability and amount needed for the body.

  • Nutrients can be put in the category of organic nutrients (vitamins, carbohydrates, proteins, fats, etc.) and inorganic nutrients (water, minerals, oxygen, etc.).
  • One more categorization of nutrients is on the basis of nutrient synthesizing capability of body. On this basis, nutrients can be seen as essential nutrients and non-essential nutrients.
  • Essential Nutrients: There are some nutrients that can't be produced by the body, so we need to rely on external sources to them available for various chemical reactions of our body. Such nutrients that we are unable to synthesize internally are called essential nutrients.

    Examples of Essential Nutrients for humans: Essential fatty acids, vitamins, dietary minerals, essential amino acids, etc. Although water and oxygen are also consumed externally and are essential too, yet they are not considered in the list of essential nutrients, or rather as food.

    Non-Essential Nutrients: Non-essential nutrients can be produced by the body and are mostly absorbed by the food. These also are significantly impactful with their participation. Such as human digestive tract does not absorb dietary fiber which is an important nutrient that aids in bowel movement and keeps constipation at bay.

  • However nutritionists mostly see nutrients categorized as macro nutrients and micro nutrients, which the most popular categorization. There are many macro and micro nutrients that exist in a food together in mixed form with other substances, such as various types of toxins.

Well, we categories them in whatever way, we produce them or intake from external sources; they all are essential and important to the body.

List of Popular Nutrients: Science and technology still fails to make a complete list of all nutrients. No nutrition guide can claim to cover all the nutrients in one list. However, there are some that we know well, which are most important and we all must be aware of them for watching a good health.

Let's understand what these two big terms macro and micronutrients really mean with listing all the important nutrients and their types right at one place, here in this nutrition guide!

Macronutrient (Macro-nutrient)

Macronutrients are those nutrients which are needed in the larger amount, such as water, carbohydrates (Sugar, starch, and fiber), protein and fats. Other than water and fiber, all macronutrients support the growth system through providing structural material and energy to the body.

Macronutrients work as a source of bulk energy that is used by the organism in functions of its metabolic system. They are being either converted or used for the energy needs. A major part of nutrition guide dedicates to this section because of the importance of nutrients coming into this category.

  • Carbohydrate is the major source for fulfilling the energy requirement of a body.
  • Proteins that are made of amino acids help in tissue growth, repair and replacement.
  • Fats that are made of lipids help in building cell membranes and signaling molecules.

Macronutrients: What We Intake in Larger Amount through consuming Food

  • In terms of chemical compounds and major energy sources, we intake carbohydrate, proteins and fats nutrients the most.
  • We intake water and oxygen also in the larger amount but do not consider them as nutrients or food.
  • In terms of chemical elements, we consume carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, sulfur, phosphorus, and CHNOPS the most.
  • In the list of macronutrients that are required in the larger amount in body, calcium, magnesium, salt, potassium, etc can also be kept, yet they are considered as macro minerals, instead of macronutrients.

Macronutrients as Energy Providing Nutrients

The moment the word macronutrients comes into the light, we think of them as energy providers and elements that are required in a larger amount to our body.

Energy content in nutrients:

  • Carbohydrate: 4 kcal/g or ~16.7 kJ/g
  • Fat: 9 kcal/g or ~37.7 kJ/g
  • Protein: 4 kcal/g or ~16.7 kJ/g
  • Alcohol as Energy Source: Macronutrients vs. Alcohol
  • Energy content in Grain Alcohol or Ethanol: 7 kcal/g or ~29.3 kJ/g

Though alcohol is also a comparable energy source, yet it is not an essential substance for body growth, maintenance or functions. Also, it is certainly not a nutrient that secures a significant place in nutrition guide.

Carbohydrate

One of the macro nutrients, carbohydrate molecules contain the atoms of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Carbohydrates are made of different sugar units in specific numbers, as per which they are classified too.

Range of Carbohydrate as per Number of Sugar or Monomer Units
  • Simple Monosaccharide: Glucose, fructose, galactose
  • Disaccharide: sucrose, lactose
  • Oligosaccharides
  • Polysaccharides or Complex Monosaccharide: Starch, cello pulse, glycogen (with multiple, branched long chains of sugar or monomer units)

Dietary Fiber

Dietary fiber is a type of carbohydrate nutrient which is incompletely absorbed by the body. It is an indigestible food item, such as cellulose, which can’t be disassembled by the available enzymes in the body. These nutrients can be divided into two categories.

First category of fat nutrients contains soluble fibers such as peas, beans, oats and many fruits which are soluble in water and so make a gel in the intestinal tract. It slows down the food movement in intestine and absorption of sugar. Thus this aids in lowering or maintaining the blood glucose levels. It is always recommended to introduce a significant portion of fiber nutrients to your plate. Fiber-containing food sources amazingly increase the nutrition meter of your diet.

The second category of fat nutrients contains insoluble fibers such as nuts, whole wheat flour, and vegetables which support the muscular activities like the contraction in the intestine. It helps digestive tract through maintaining the rhythm of the process.

It is also believed that fibers, especially whole grains, lessen the insulin spikes reducing the probability of type 2 diabetes.

Food sources of Dietary Fiber: Vegetables, whole grains, and Fruits such as figs, prunes, and plums

Need/ Use of Dietary Fiber

Dietary fiber is highly beneficial in biochemical and mechanical reactions and mechanisms. It is light and easy to digest nutrient. High fiber diet helps in reducing the probability of gastrointestinal issues. By softening, it eases the bowel process and keeps diseases like diarrhea and constipation at bay. So if you want to have good nutrition, don't forget to include fiber in your dish.

Carbohydrates are a large part of many foods such as bread, noodles, rice, and grain, etc. It is believed that simple carbohydrates are easy and quick to absorb, so can increase blood sugar levels quickly in comparison to complex carbohydrate. Though still there are many complex carbohydrates that can be digested easily and similarly quickly.

Protein

Proteins, another important macro nutrient support our growth, maintenance, and repair functions being the structural material for hair, nails, skin, and muscles. Protein nutrients help to form the enzymes that are responsible for controlling various chemical reactions within our body. If you are looking for a muscle-full body, emphasis on proteins than other nutrients. Like fats, proteins or their basic unit amino acids cannot be stored, so needs to be taken as essential part of any plate of diet.

When amino acids join with peptide bonds, they make organic compounds called proteins. There are some amino acids called essential amino acids, which our body cannot produce, and so we need to rely on our diet for them. Other known as non-essential amino acids can be produced within our body. There are about 20 types of amino acids that play part in making proteins and contribute in various mechanical and bioreaction in our body, among them all about 10 types of amino acids are essential, for which we need to watch our diet for fulfilling their requirement of nutrition. The excess of amino acid is passed through urine.

Fats

Fats nutrients are made of glycerin molecule that is the attachment of three fatty acids consisting unbranched hydrogen chain. When these chains are connected with single bonds, they make saturated fatty acids, and when they are connected with both single and double bonds, they make unsaturated fatty acids.

  • Unsaturated fats are considered as healthy good fats, such as liquids like flaxseed oil, olive oil, etc.
  • Saturated fats, mostly got from animal sources, are considered as bad fats.
  • Trans fats are put in the category of worst and are advised to completely avoid. They are mostly found in a solid state at temperature.

Fat nutrients are required in various body mechanisms such as functions of the cell membrane, body organs insulation against shock, stabilization of body temperature, maintenance of hair and skin, etc. Being the supporter of so many activities, proteins should not be ignored while considering on supplying nutrition.

Some fatty acids can’t be synthesized internally by the body and so are called essential fatty acids for which we need to depend on external food sources. If you are on weight loss mission or diet and skipping fats, don't forget that it is also an imperative nutrient like other nutrients and you need to supply essential fatty acids with extra care.

Other than supplying the body with essential fatty acids and watching while selection among unsaturated, saturated and trans fats, one more aspect is important here- Balance. The moment essential fatty acids term comes in light, omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids come into mind. Taking them in an appropriate balance or in right ratio is too imperative for good health. The intake of fat nutrients in right amount prove to be beneficial for cardiovascular health and in heart relate diseases like heart stroke or heart attack, etc. The issue of imbalanced ratio or amount has also increased nowadays because of too much use of processed oils which affects the immune system, cell division, inflammation, and hormonal functions.

Water

Our body consistently loses fluid in many forms such as sweat, urine, feces, and vapor while breathing out. So we need to replenish our body with water inadequate amount for rehydrating and compensating the loss in excretion. It is not considered in the list of nutrients officially though, yet it is something that we can't live without. Despite this, a nutrition guide will be incomplete if not mentioned about water.

For maintaining proper hydration and good health, it is recommended to intake about 6-8 glasses of water every day. However, the exact amount depends on various factors such as what we eat, in what surrounding or temperature we live, etc. Majorly, it fluctuates as per urine osmolarity values and consumption of energy units. In the context of food consumption, as per ordinary standard, a person is advised to consume about one milliliter per calorie of food.

Standards of Water Intake: Recommendation for Water Requirement
  • Recommended Water Intake for Adult Males: 2 Liter per day
  • Recommended Water Intake for Adult Females: 2.5 Liter per day

This recommendation includes water supply in all the forms whether it is in form of beverages, vegetables fruits or food. On an average, we fulfill the 80% of water requirement from beverages and 20% from food or other sources.

One thing that we need to consider here is, if we supply our body any beverage, the part of added sugar should not be more than 10% of total energy consumption.

The above-mentioned recommendations and measures are normally good for people with healthy kidneys, living in normal conditions, and performing normal physical activities.

But in some special cases such as if someone is an athlete or a pregnant or lactating woman, the requirement of water increases. A pregnant lady needs to intake additional 300 ml water per day than a non-pregnant woman. A breastfeeding or lactating mother needs to consume additional 700 ml water per day in comparison to the non-lactating woman.

If someone does rigorous exercise, perform workout, or lives in warm humid atmosphere, drinking little amount of water can be harmful to health.

Although most people suffer from the problem of dehydration, yet if someone consumes the excessive amount of water, it can lead to overhydration, water intoxication or other kinds of serious or fatal conditions.

Micronutrients

Micro-nutrients are those nutrients which are needed in a smaller amount such as Vitamins, minerals, and others. These are not used directly in providing energy to the body but are used for other important purposes. These are as vital as macro-nutrients and deserve equal space in a nutrition guide.

Micro-nutrients participate in building and repairing of organism tissues and regulate various processes of our body.

Minerals

Just like organic chemical elements such as oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen, present in the organic compounds, some inorganic chemical elements are also importantly required for well being of our organisms. These are minerals, one of the vital micro-nutrients. Although these are less common elements, yet vital part of a diet. These are comparatively heavier elements such as metals, and mark their presence in the body as ions. They can be taken through food in ionic form by natural inorganic sources such as ground oyster shells or as complex compounds. Other than absorbing them in readily form or as compounds, they also can be supplied through artificial supplements added in diet, such as iodine in iodized salt which helps in prevention of goiter.

Macrominerals

The nutrition elements, which are essential, are called ‘bulk minerals’. They are mostly structural or electrolytes.

Some of such popular elements and their functions or usages are as below:

  • Calcium (Electrolyte): Required for healthy muscles and digestive system, strengthening bones, formulation of neutralized acidity, clearing toxins, nerve signaling and functions of membrane.
  • Sodium (Electrolyte): Required in large quantity, taken as salt or sodium chloride through food.
  • Excessive consumption of sodium can result in osteoporosis and high blood pressure due to calcium and magnesium depletion.

  • Chlorine (ions): A common electrolyte
  • Magnesium: Supports ATP processing and various activities such as bone making, flexibility enhancement, alkalinity increase, etc.
  • Good Magnesium sources: pumpkin seeds, bran muffins, buckwheat flour, garbanzo beans, soybeans, spinach, trail mix, low-fat yogurt, and halibut steaks, etc.

  • Sulfur: It is consumed as sulfur added amino acids and required to supply three essential amino acids that are body cannot produce itself. Thus it helps in the building of many proteins which is used further in making of hair, nails, liver, skin, pancreas and other organisms.
  • Phosphorus: Needed as a bone component and necessary element for processing the energy.
  • Potassium (electrolyte): Required for healthy heart and nerve

Trace Minerals

There are some elements of proper nutrition that are required as just trace elements and do not help directly in body mechanisms or reactions, but play a vital role for them as a catalyst in enzymes. Let's know some which come into category of trace elements, one of micro nutrients.

  • Iodine: Used in thyroxin biosynthesis and important for many organs such as the stomach, breast, thymus and salivary glands. As this is required in a larger amount than other minerals, it is often listed in macrominerals as well.
  • Copper: Used in iron transport and making of hemoglobin

    Copper Rich Sources: Brazil nuts, oysters, cocoa, black pepper, blackstrap molasses, sunflower seeds, wheat bran, green olives, nuts, etc.

  • Zinc: Important for many enzymes
  • Chromium: Required for metabolism of sugar
  • Cobalt (coenzyme): Used in Vitamin B12 biosynthesis.
  • Manganese: Needed in oxygen processing.
  • Molybdenum: Needed for oxydases
  • Seleium: Vital for peroxides and useful for antioxidant proteins

Phytochemicals and antioxidants are also important. Many other mentioned nutrients protect or influence the systems of a body, but are not mentioned as necessary as vitamins and minerals.

Note: Highly nutritious diet doesn't mean too many nutrients. Proper nutrition means first, introducing all the nutrients; second, to intake nutrients in adequate yet right amount.

This vastly knowledgeable guide about nutrition is not just for people who are health conscious, but it is for them all too who have been taking health as less prior affair than the job and other materialistic stuff. Knowledge of nutrients not only makes you aware of food treasure but also develops a sense of care for the body which makes us see, listen, taste and feel this beautiful world. So don’t underestimate the power of nutrients, rather shake hands with them because they “really” can make a difference. There is no bliss or pleasure than owning a healthy and maintained physic. And for relishing this happiness, make ample space for nutrients in the diet. Live healthy! Keep enhancing knowledge!


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