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Monday, April 27, 2009

Nutrition Basics

We've all probably heard the suggestion that we should eat a balanced diet. For most people, that phrase has the word "diet" in there, and they automatically recoil because to many, dieting is like punishment - something to endure in order to lose weight for an important event, to fit into that suit or dress, or simply to improve their health.

Let's throw out that idea that diet is bad for you by thinking of diet as a combination of what we eat, instead of something restrictive we need to go through. Once we think of diet that way, we can approach learning about basic nutrition without a negative predisposition.
So here we go. This posting will cover the basics of nutrients that our diet consists of. The specific combinations of the nutrients that is recommended depends on each individual's goal. The goal could be simply to lose a few pounds, or for a runner, swimmer, or triathlete, the goal may be to provide their body with enough nutrients to fuel them through training sessions without burning themselves out and without eating the wrong foods that may result in stomach cramps or unneeded weight gain. Here, I will only introduce the basic components. In later postings, we will likely cover specific combinations of nutrients to reach various goals.

First, water is the most basic and obvious nutrient we need. We could not survive long without it. Water helps cool our body by producing sweat, aids in digesting food, carries oxygen and nutrients to cells that need them, and is a significant component of our brain, muscles, organs, and other body parts. Sources of water include the tap or bottled water, juices, milk, and foods such as fruit, soups, vegetables, etc.

The second nutrient are carbohydrates. Carbohydrates provide energy during exercise, provide dietary fiber, and help replenish our body's glycogen stores (which is used up during normal activity, including exercise). Sources of carbohydrates include breads, pasta, various grains such as rice, wheat, couscous, etc., fruits, vegetables, and dairy.

The third important nutrient we need is fat. Eating fats has been controversial for many years. I am referring here to the natural unsaturated fats, not the trans fats and other processed fats. Fats provide our bodies with fatty acids that we need, the most widely known of them are Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. Fat also provides fat-soluble vitamins, and is needed because it is an essential component of certain cell structures. Sources of good fats are from liquid oils (such as olive or canola oil), butter, nuts and seeds (such as almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, etc.), avocados, and fish.

The fourth essential nutrient we need is protein. Protein provides essential amino acids, is needed to maintain and develop muscle tissue, is an important component of many things our bodies produce, including certain enzymes, hormones, and the antibodies we need to produce to fight off bacteria and viruses. There are many other things protein does but for sake of brevity, I won't bore you with the list. Some sources of protein are widely known and include meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, beans, and lentils.

The fifth basic nutrient are vitamins. Vitamins are important because, among other things, they help with producing energy, help with tissue repair and red blood cell formation, and many vitamins (such as vitamin C for example) act as powerful antioxidants. Vitamins also help synthesize protein. Sources of vitamins include fruits and vegetables, lean foods, grains, nuts, and seeds.

Finally, minerals play an important part in our body's functioning. Minerals are also involved in energy production and tissue repair. Minerals help contract our muscles, this way we can use our strength effectively Minerals also help to transport oxygen to needed cells in our bodies. Some sources of minerals include fruits and vegetables, lean foods, grains, nuts, and seeds.
Of course, for us to have a complete grouping of vitamins and minerals without having to spend a fortune at the supermarket, a daily complete multivitamin with minerals can do the trick. The rest of our nutrient intake of water, fats, protein, carbohydrates has to be, for the most part, included in our meals.

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