Nutrition Basics

Nutrition Basics: your body uses nutrients to meet its needs. There are six classes of nutrients that your body must have to function properly.

Water is your body’s most important nutrient.  Essential for nearly all physiological functions, water helps to maintain body temperature, lubricate and cushion joints and organs, transport nutrients, and flush toxins from the body.  You should drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day.

Carbohydrates fuel the body.  During digestion, carbohydrates break down into glucose molecules.  Glucose enters the bloodstream and feeds the brain, organ, and muscle tissues.  Carbohydrates can be divided into two categories:  simple and complex.  Simple carbohydrates include refined sugars (such as table sugar and corn syrup) and naturally occurring sugars (found in fruit and milk).  Refined sugars provide only empty calories, while foods containing naturally occurring sugars usually give you additional nutrients such as fiber and vitamins that are beneficial to your health.  Foods such as breads, grains, cereals, pastas, fruits, and vegetables are full of complex carbohydrates, also known as starches and fibers.  Complex carbohydrates provide a variety of benefits to the body.  You should get fifty to sixty percent (50-60%) of your daily calories from carbohydrates.

Fat insulates the body, protecting organs and nerve pathways and provides storage area for fat soluble vitamins.  Too much fat contributes to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.  There are two types of fat:  saturated and unsaturated.  Saturated fats are solid at room temperature.  These fats pack together tightly and squeeze into small spaces, such as arteries, causing blockages.  Unsaturated fat does not pack as easily making them less of a threat for contributing to heart disease through clogged arteries.  The recommended level of fat for daily intake is 25 – 35 percent of your total calories.  To fulfill your fat requirement, try to keep to unsaturated fats such as olive oil, nuts, and avocados.

Proteins are essential for the growth and repair of all body tissues.  They are comprised of amino acids which are broken down and redistributed whenever your body needs them.  Proteins also assist in the development of antibodies and the formation of hormones and enzymes.  Twenty to twenty five percent (20-25%) of your daily calories should come from protein.

Vitamins are essential, non-caloric nutrients, which regulate biochemical reactions.  They are helpers in many cell functions, aiding in the processes by which other nutrients are digested and used by the body.  There are two types of vitamins, fat soluble and water soluble.  The fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) are carried through the body by fat.  The body stores these vitamins and there is a risk of toxic build up if taken in large quantities.  All other vitamins are water soluble, so any excess amounts are carried away in the urine.  However, some vitamins can be dangerous when taken in large quantities.

Minerals, like vitamins, are essential, non-caloric nutrients.  They help build bones, clot blood, and carry nerve signals.  Adequate amounts of minerals are obtained from most normal diets.