by Rachel Lozon
Do you ever think about the nutrients that are in the foods we eat? Are you getting adequate amounts? Are they benefiting you in a positive way? These are important questions when it comes to nutrition. To ensure that you are on the right path to living a long healthy life, I invite you to pay close attention to the next bite you take. Proper nourishment is essential for the healthy development and growth of children, as well. Let’s set a good example and teach our children what healthy really tastes like.
There’s a quote I love by one of my favorite health experts, Dr. Mark Hyman. “What you put at the end of your fork is more powerful than anything you’ll find at the bottom of a pill bottle.” Many common health problems can be prevented and alleviated with good nutrition. You’re likely to develop a medical condition (such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease or cancer) from a poor diet, although, many people have been able to ditch their medications after making changes to their diet. It’s possible! Remember the old saying, “An apple a day, keeps the doctor away?" The choices we make when it comes to food can have a great impact on our overall health. Poor nutrition can deplete the immune system, increase the risk of developing diseases, affect physical performance, mental clarity, mood, and contribute to a lack of energy.
Our body requires an abundance of nutrients. A nutrient is a source of nourishment, a component of food. Macronutrients are nutrients we need in relatively large quantities. This includes protein, carbohydrates, fat, fiber, and water. Micronutrients are nutrients we need in smaller quantities. This includes vitamins and minerals. There are seven classes of nutrients:
Protein is a building block for bones, muscles, skin, and blood. It builds and repairs tissue. If you exercise or run regularly, it’s important to get an adequate amount of protein before and after. Hair and nails are mostly made of protein. Did you know that hemoglobin is also a protein? You can find protein in a variety of foods. Grass-fed beef, organic chicken, turkey, and wild caught fish are a great choice, but you can also find protein in greek yogurt, nuts, beans, and eggs. Protein is essential for weight loss. Replacing carbohydrates and fat with protein reduces the hunger hormone, leptin. This can make weight loss easier.
Also known as saccharides, or what most of us refer to as, carbs. Carbohydrates consist of sugar and starch. They are a major food source that provides long lasting energy. Bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, beans, and cereals are high in carbohydrates. Foods that are high in glycemic index (GI) enter the bloodstream as glucose or sugar very quickly. This is why runners load up on a lot of pasta before a race. Consuming a lot of carbs isn’t always a good thing, though. White breads, pastas, rice, and cereals contain a lot of sugar, which makes it high-GI. Switching to low-GI foods (or what I refer to as complex carbs) such as brown rice, sweet potatoes, sprouted grain breads, lentil or pea pasta, will improve your lifestyle and chances at maintaining a healthy weight. Many fruits and vegetables contain carbohydrates. Many people will avoid eating fruit because of the natural sugar that is found in it. There’s a difference between natural and processed sugar though. Fruit contains fructose, but it’s also packed with vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber. Processed sugar, like glucose, contains chemicals. Too much glucose can cause your pancreas to produce too much insulin and result in low sugar levels. We all can benefit from incorporating fresh fruit into our daily diet, but try to avoid the processed sugar.
There are two categories of fat. There is “good” fat, which is monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Then there is “bad” fat, which is saturated and trans. Unsaturated fats such as avocados, nuts, seeds, nut butter, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, whole eggs (don’t skip the yolk, that’s where all the nutrients are!), dark chocolate, and fatty fish such as salmon, herring, or tuna (high in Omega-3) are considered to be healthy. They have also been linked to promoting heart health by lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, but recommended to consume in moderation as the calorie content is still high. “Bad” trans fat foods that you want to avoid are: baked goods, margarine, creams, crackers, microwave popcorn, potato and corn tortilla chips, and fried foods. Anything made with hydrogenated vegetable oils are unhealthy. These foods put you at high risk for developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Saturated fats are animal fat products such as cream cheese, butter, and whole milk products and should be replaced with unsaturated fats.
There are two types of fiber. Soluble and Insoluble. Both types have major health benefits. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and becomes gelatinous, slowing down digestion and allowing the body to absorb vital nutrients. The benefits are a reduction in cholesterol, especially levels of LDL, regulation of sugar intake, and improvement of the immune and digestive system. The best source of soluble fiber includes oats or oat bran, nuts, seeds, legumes, lentils, peas, and some fruits and vegetables like berries and carrots. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water, but stays fibrous. It helps food waste pass through the digestive system, and adds bulk to the stool. The benefits include regularity in bowel movements, prevention of constipation, and a rapid movement in the elimination of waste through the colon. Food sources of insoluble fiber include vegetables (especially dark leafy greens), whole wheat, nuts, seeds, and vegetable and fruit skins.
Vitamins are a class of organic substances needed for normal cell function, growth, and development. Our body requires essential vitamins in order to work properly. Vitamins keep metabolism in check. Most vitamins need to come from the foods that we eat because our body either doesn’t produce enough of them, or it doesn’t produce any at all. This can lead to a vitamin deficiency, which may cause health problems, which may then lead to a supplement being needed.
Each vitamin plays a big role in the body. Eating a well-balanced diet is crucial for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The body needs an adequate amount of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grain, nuts, seeds, and dairy. This will reduce the chance of developing heart disease, cancer, and osteoporosis. Below is a list of foods to eat with the best source of vitamins:
Vitamin A- Helps your body form healthy teeth, skin, bones, and soft tissue. Carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, spinach, kale, collard greens, and apricots are a good source of Vitamin A.
Vitamin B-6, B-9, and B-12- Essential for formation of red blood cells and proper nerve function. Maintains brain function, prevents anemia, and supports metabolism. Foods high in B-6 and B-12 are: eggs, milk, meat, poultry, seafood, and fish. Foods that are high in B-9 (folic acid) include leafy greens, poultry, fortified cereals, citrus fruits, rice, beans, pasta, and breads.
Vitamin C- Also known as ascorbic acid—an antioxidant that helps the body absorb iron, maintain proper immune function, and promote healthy teeth and gums. Good sources of Vitamin C are fresh fruits (especially citrus) and vegetables such as dark leafy greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and bell peppers.
Vitamin D- The “sunshine” vitamin. Spending time out in the sun is a great way to get your daily fix of Vitamin D, but getting nutrients through food is also important. It supports healthy bones and the immune system, as well as calcium absorption. Your richest source of Vitamin D will come from sunshine, but these foods also provide it: salmon, herring, trout, oysters, milk, eggs, cheese, mushrooms, and fortified cereals. Many people don’t absorb enough Vitamin D through sunlight and food. Sometimes a supplement is needed.
Vitamin E- Another powerful antioxidant. It protects cells against damage and repairs damaged cells. Foods high in Vitamin E include: dark leafy greens like spinach and swiss chard, bell peppers, asparagus, sunflower seeds, and almonds.
Vitamin K- Important for the formation of blood clots. Helps prevent excessive bleeding. Foods that are high in Vitamin K are: leafy greens, romaine, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts.
Much like vitamins, minerals support the body in growth, development, and maintaining overall health. The minerals in our diet are essential for metabolism and proper functioning of the body. They are the building blocks for developing strong teeth and bones, skin, hair, blood, muscles, and nerve function. Minerals are also responsible for the energy provided from the foods we eat. Below are the major minerals that the body needs.
Calcium- Needed for strong teeth and bones, clotting of blood, energy, and strengthening of the immune system. Dairy is an excellent source of calcium, especially cheese and yogurt. Leafy greens such as spinach, swiss chard, and kale also provide this much needed mineral.
Chloride- Needed for balancing out the fluids in the stomach. Helps control stomach acid. Pink Himalayan salt is a major source. It contains about 98% sodium chloride. It can also be found in vegetables such as tomatoes, olives, and celery.
Magnesium- Needed to maintain normal muscle and nerve function. Supports the immune system, aids in regulating blood glucose levels, produces energy and protein, and also helps maintain a regular heartbeat. Most magnesium comes from vegetables such as dark leafy greens. Other foods include nuts, legumes, soy, and whole grains.
Phosphorus-This abundant mineral is in every cell of the body. Most of it is found in the formation of teeth and bones. Other functions include how the body uses carbohydrates and fat. The main food source of phosphorus is in the protein of milk and meat. Fruits and vegetables contain a very small amount.
Potassium- A type of electrolyte. The body needs this in order to work properly in building proteins and muscle, maintaining normal body growth, controlling the balance of acid, nerve impulses, and energy production. Potassium is found in several foods. All meats and seafood are a great source. Winter squash, legumes, and potatoes (with the skins), citrus fruits, bananas, kiwi, and apricots are all good choices. Dried apricots provide more potassium than fresh. Milk, nuts, and yogurt are also a great source of potassium.
Sodium- Needed for proper use of nerves and muscles. Sodium controls the pressure and volume of blood. Getting an adequate amount is helpful for a productive workout. Sodium is found in most foods, naturally. The most common form is in table salt. Others include soy sauce and bouillon. Added amounts of sodium can be found in processed meats, canned soups, frozen dinners, and fast food. Too much can lead to serious health issues.
Sulfur—Needed for optimal body function, even though it’s the one mineral we don’t hear about very often. It’s known as a healing mineral. It’s a component of two important amino acids: methionine and cysteine. An excellent source of sulfur is found in organic eggs, grass-fed meats, wild caught salmon, nuts, leafy greens, and garlic.
We can’t live without it! The human body contains up to 60% water. It’s important to stay hydrated since the body loses water naturally through the kidneys, lungs, and intestines. Water is essential for the functioning of the body. It maintains the balance of fluids, aids digestion, improves cognitive function, increases energy, detoxifies our system, flushes out the kidneys, regulates body temperature, promotes weight loss, delivers and absorbs nutrients, improves circulation, boosts metabolism, improves skin, helps physical performance, prevents headaches, helps constipation, and produces saliva. Pure water doesn’t contain any added nutrients, but will absorb certain minerals. Filtered water is always best.
There you have it. The seven forms of nutrition. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be hard or boring. Incorporate a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet every day, in every color of the rainbow. A balanced diet along with exercise and plenty of rest is vital for good health and longevity. We are blessed to have an abundance of high nutrient foods to provide the nourishment our body needs to thrive, maintain a healthy weight, and avoid disease. Eat well. Be well.
Rachel Lozon is a certified health and wellness coach. She graduated from the Health Coach Institute in December 2016. Her website is www.revitalizebodyandmind.com. You can contact her at 734.365.6614 or firstname.lastname@example.org; you can also find her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.