This month, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages people to make healthy choices with National Nutrition Month®. Understanding nutrients and the roles they play can be key to achieving optimum health.
The six basic nutrients are carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals and water. Nutrients are abundant in whole, unprocessed foods and furnish the body with heat and energy, provide material for growth and repair, and assist in the regulation of body processes.
Macronutrients include carbohydrates, fats and proteins, which are the body’s main source of fuel and their potential is expressed in calories. Foods that are high in potential energy are high in calories. Fats contain nine calories per gram. Carbohydrates and proteins are four calories per gram.
What do carbohydrates do? They are the best source of energy for all body functions, and they are used by the brain, nervous system and for muscle exertion. They assist in digestion and, with the exception of milk, come exclusively from plants. Simple carbohydrates are quickly absorbed by the body and include table sugar, pasta and white rice. Complex carbohydrates, which include brown rice, vegetables and whole grains, contain fiber and take longer for the body to break down.
Fats provide 60 percent of the body’s energy during rest, act as carriers for fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and contribute to a healthy complexion and shiny hair. Excess fat is stored in the liver first, and under skin and throughout the body second. The liver provides limited amounts of energy and when its stores are depleted, body fat is metabolized.
After water, protein is the most plentiful substance in the body. All tissues, bones, and nerves are mostly made of proteins. Initially, the body does not use protein for energy. It is the major source for building muscle, blood, skin, nails, hair and internal organs. Excess protein is converted by the liver and stored as fat.
The next time you eat, consider the nutrients. If you balance your diet with adequate amounts of wholesome complex carbohydrates, lean protein and small amounts of quality fats, and include regular exercise
, you can build a foundation for optimum health.