When you ask someone to define nutrition, you would probably hear that person talk about food intake. While it can be defined as the act or process of nourishing the body with what we eat, there is more to nutrition that needs to be understood by everyone.
Nutrition is a science and it a critical part of an individual’s health and development. It is not just about the food intake but also about the absorption, assimilation, biosynthesis, catabolism, and excretion.
Assimilation is the process wherein the nutrients that you take in through absorption are converted into the fluid or solid substance of the body. It is the combination of two processes to supply cells with the nutrients that your body needs. The first process is the absorption of vitamins and minerals from food within the gastrointestinal tract while the second process is where the absorbed food reaches the cells through the liver.
Biosynthesis, sometimes also called biogenesis or anabolism, is the process where simple substances are turned into more complex substances. It is a form of metabolism where simple compounds are modified and converted into other compounds or joined together to form macromolecules.
Catabolism is also a metabolic process wherein complex molecules are broken down into simple ones. The process is done with the release of energy. It is known as the set of metabolic pathways that are responsible for breaking down molecules into smaller units. The smaller units are then oxidized to release energy or used in other anabolic reactions.
The Definition of Nutrition
Nutrition is the intake of food in relation to your body’s dietary needs. There is what you can call good nutrition and there is also poor nutrition. Needless to say, good nutrition combined with regular physical activity, are what everyone needs for better health and mental development.
Unfortunately, one of the common problems around the world today is malnutrition, which comes in three forms: insufficient, excessive, and unbalanced.
Insufficient nutrition refers to under consumption or the lack of enough sustenance, leading to poor health. This is common in developing countries where there is poor access to a range of nutritious foods or there is inadequate knowledge about it.
Excessive nutrition is generally referred to as over consumption. It refers to the consumption of excess sustenance over a long period of time. This also leads to poor health and sometimes, obesity. For females, this can also lead to brittle nails, hair loss, and irregular menstrual cycles.
Unbalanced nutrition is when there is too much of one or more nutrients in the diet that other types of food needed are compromised.
The Importance of a Healthy Diet
To help prevent malnutrition, it is important to consume a healthy diet consisting of nutritious food, including lots of vegetables, fruits, and dietary fibers such as whole grains.
Nowadays, a lot of people are finding it hard to stick to a healthy diet because of rapid urbanization and changing lifestyles. These mainly contribute to an unhealthy diet. Processed foods and those rich in preservatives and empty calories are readily available everywhere and most people prefer them for convenience.
But, how do we really know what is a healthy diet? The make-up of a balanced and healthy diet varies depending on the individual needs of each person. There are several things that need to be considered such as age, gender, lifestyle, physical activities, cultural context, and the locally available foots as well as dietary customs.
The World Health Organization, the agency of the United Nations concerned with international public health laid down the basic principles of what constitutes a healthy diet based on age groups.
Healthy Diet for Adults
A healthy diet for adults should contain fruits, vegetables, legumes such as lentils and beans, nuts, and whole grains such as unprocessed maize, millet, oats, and wheat. Brown rice is also recommended instead of regular white rice.
Adults should eat at least 400 grams or five portions of fruits and vegetables in a day. It should be noted that potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava, and other roots are neither fruits nor vegetables.
The diet should also contain less than 10% of the total energy intake from free sugars. That is equivalent to 50 grams or around 12 level teaspoons for a person who has a healthy body weight and consumes approximately 2000 calories in a day. Although ideally, it should be less than 5% of the total energy intake for additional health benefits.
Most of the time, free sugars are already added by the manufacturers, cooks, or consumers to food and drinks. They can also be found in sugars that are naturally contained in honey, syrups, fruit juices and concentrates.
There should also be less than 30% of total energy intake from fats. Unsaturated fats such as those found in fish, avocado, nuts, sunflower, canola, and olive oils are better than saturated fats. Saturated fats are those which are found in fatty meat, butter, cream, cheese, lard, palm, and coconut oil.
Fats which are found in processed food, fast food, junk food, fried food, pies, cookies, margarines, and spreads are called industrial trans fats and should not be considered as part of a healthy diet. In addition, only less than 5 grams of salt or approximately 1 teaspoon is recommended for the daily intake. Iodized salt is also preferable compared to rock salt as it is essentially healthier.
Healthy Diet for Infants and Young Children
The best possible nutrition is essential for infants and young children, especially in the first two years of a child’s life because good nutrition ensures healthy growth and improves cognitive development. It also reduces the risk of the children becoming obese or overweight as they grow old.
In essence, a healthy diet for children is almost the same as that of an adult diet. However, there are factors and elements that need to be considered as very important.
During the first six months of a baby’s life, breastfeeding is the best source of nutrition. In fact, babies should be breastfed exclusively, at least for six months, but better if until two years of age and beyond.
When babies reach their 6th month, breast milk should be complemented with solid food. It should be a variety of adequate, safe, and complementary food rich in nutrients. Salt and sugar should not be added.
Tips on Maintaining a Healthy Diet
Fruits and Vegetables
Eating at least 400 grams or five portions of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis can bring so many benefits to your body. Just by eating the minimum amount, the risk of getting noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) is reduced. An NCD is a disease or a medical condition which is not caused by infectious agents. It is usually a chronic disease which progress slowly and lasts for long periods of time.
Following the recommended daily consumption of fruits and vegetables also helps ensure that you have an adequate intake of dietary fiber.
When you prepare your meals, make sure that you always include fruits and vegetables. You can also eat fresh fruits and raw vegetables as snacks such as some apple slices or cucumber and carrot sticks.
It is always a great idea to indulge on fruits and vegetables that are in season. That way, you will not have any difficulty finding them in markets and groceries. Prices are relatively lower as well when the produce is in season.
Make sure that you eat a variety of choices so that you will not get easily bored with eating the same type of fruits or vegetables. If it would help, plan your meals in advance so that you can always look forward to what you will be having for the rest of the week.
When you reduce your total fat intake to less than 30% of total energy intake, it can significantly help prevent unhealthy weight gain. In addition to that, the risk of developing NCDs is also lowered when you reduce your intake of saturated fats to less than 10% of total energy intake and your intake of trans fats to less than 1% of total energy intake. It is even better when you replace both with unsaturated fats.
You can reduce your fat intake by changing your cooking habits. When you cook, it is better to remove the fatty part of the meat and just stick to the lean meat. Avoid frying as much as possible and instead, try boiling, steaming, or baking your food. If you really have to fry and use oil, choose vegetable oil over animal oil. There are a lot of vegetable oils such as olive oil, canola oil, corn oil, coconut oil, and more.
You should also avoid eating processed foods as they contain a high amount of trans fats. Instead, be creative and come up with your own recipe from scratch.
Lastly, limit your consumption of food which contains high amounts of saturated fats. It takes a lot of sheer determination to do this, especially since we are talking about foods like cheese, ice cream, and fatty meat.
Salt, Sodium, and Potassium
The common scenario with most people’s food intake is that they consume too much sodium and not enough potassium. The sodium intake comes from salt, which corresponds to an average of 9 to 12 grams of salt per day.
When you consume a high amount of salt, but an insufficient amount of potassium, the effect is not good. It can contribute to high blood pressure and can increase the risk of having heart disease and stroke.
You may think that too much salt consumption is not really a big deal but according to statistics, 1.7 million deaths could be prevented each year if our salt consumption were reduced to the recommended daily intake.
Most of the time, you may not be aware of the amount of salt that you consume. Salt usually comes from foods such as hams, salami, bacon, and other processed meats, as well as ready meals, cheese, and other salty snacks. Sometimes, it can also come from food that you frequently eat such as bread.
Salt can be added to food during cooking in the form of seasonings, cubes, soy sauce, and fish sauce, but sometimes, it can also be added in its raw form like a table salt.
The key to a healthier you is to reduce your salt consumption by not adding salt and other condiments which contain salt during cooking. It would also help if you do not have salt readily available on the table as it would somehow reduce the temptation to add salt to your food.
When snacking, limit the consumption of salty snacks and instead, eat raw fruits and vegetables like those in a salad. As much as possible, choose products with lower sodium content. Make sure that you always check the labels of products to see how much sodium is in it.
The intake of free sugars should be reduced to less than 10% of total energy intake and that is applicable to both children and adults. What is even better is if you can reduce it to less than 5% as it will definitely provide additional health benefits.
When you consume free sugars, you increase the risk of having dental problems or tooth decay. It can also contribute to unhealthy weight gain and if not addressed immediately, can also lead to obesity.
You can limit your sugar consumption by avoiding types of food and beverages that are known to have high amounts of sugars. Also, instead of indulging in sugary snacks, it would be better to eat fresh fruits and vegetables instead.
Maintaining a healthy diet can be challenging for most people, especially if there are no enough knowledge to keep them informed. With the rapid rise of malnutrition cases all or the world, different approaches and actions may be needed to address the issues. A good nutrition program is a good start to create awareness so that people can know what they should and should not be eating.
It is also important to know the different kinds of nutrients that we take in through the food that we eat. We can only give nutrition meaning if we totally understand the different components that are related to it.
What are Nutrients?
Simply put, nutrients are the building blocks of all organisms. It is a component found in foods that we digest and break down into basic parts in order to survive and grow. The two main types of nutrients are called macronutrients and micronutrients.
Macronutrients provide the energy that we need in order to function and are needed to be consumed in large quantities. We need this type of nutrient to carry out the things that we need to do. There are three types of macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
Among the three, carbohydrates are required in the largest amount because they provide the major source of energy to do our daily activities. The recommendation is that carbohydrates should supply 45 to 65% of our total daily energy intake. Carbohydrates can be found in starchy foods, fruits, milk, and yogurt.
Protein is important as it defines what an organism is, what it looks like, and how it behaves, simply because our body is made up of thousands of proteins. They are used to produce new tissues and repair damaged ones. They are also vital in regulating body functions. Proteins can be found in meats, poultry, fish, cheese, nuts, and legumes.
Fats or lipids may be related to heart disease and weight gain, but there are also fats, which are essential for health and wellbeing. The recommended daily intake of fats for energy requirement is 20 to 35%.
Micronutrients are what we commonly refer to as vitamins and minerals. They play an important role in the regulation of metabolism, heartbeat, cellular pH, and bone density. They are the substances that we need to consume only in miniscule amounts. But, take note that micronutrient deficiency can lead to a lot of health problems such as rickets, scurvy, and osteoporosis.
Vitamins are needed to help the cells make energy. The major six vitamins needed by the body are Vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K as they have different critical roles. They can be absorbed through our food intake but there are some who also take supplemental vitamins through pills.
Minerals help our bodies develop and function and are also essential for good health. Minerals that we need in larger amounts are calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, and potassium. We also need iron, copper, iodine, zinc, and fluoride, but only in small amounts.
Now, when you define nutrition, you will definitely have more to say than just food intake. A good nutrition is vital to ensure that you will live healthier and longer. Having the right information on what types of food you should avoid can make you more conscious of your food intake and make you more concerned about what you put inside your body. If only everyone can have access to the right information as well as sufficient sources of food, then malnutrition will no longer be an issue.