It’s important to understand the basics of nutrition and why you need certain nutrients in your diet to perform daily activities. Carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals are the major nutrients your body requires. Fiber and water are also essential components of a healthy diet.
Carbohydrates (carbs) - like vitamins and minerals, carbs provide a great source of energy for the body. The main sources of carbohydrates in foods are sugar, fiber and starch. Carbohydrates can be classified as complex carbs or simple carbs - complex carbs take longer to digest and contain more fiber, vitamins and minerals, than simple carbohydrates - the bulk of the carbs we consume should be complex. Rice, oatmeal, breads, vegetables and beans (chick peas, kidney beans, etc.) are all good sources of complex carbohydrates.
1 g of carbs = 4 calories
Fats - fats are essential in the manufacturing of hormones, and act as a carrier for fat-soluble vitamins. Fat is made from smaller units called fatty acids; these are broken down into essential fatty acids (the body needs these and they must be obtained through the diet) and nonessential fatty acids (the body can synthesize these fats). Fats are classified as either saturated, polyunsaturated or monounsaturated, depending on their chemical structure. Saturated fats have been linked to many health conditions, such as obesity and increased LDL (bad cholesterol), and should be consumed sparingly in any diet. Although you should try to limit the amount and kind of fat you consume, remember fat is still an essential part of your diet, and is needed for many important functions. Make sure you choose the heart-healthy kinds of fat such as olive oil, raw nuts and avocadoes.
1 g of fat = 9 calories
Protein - protein is another important nutrient, as it helps maintain and replace the tissues in your body, keeps your hair, skin and nails healthy, and boosts your immune system. Protein is composed of smaller units called amino acids. They are classified as essential and nonessential amino acids. Our bodies aren’t able to produce essential amino acids, therefore they must be derived from the foods we eat. Good sources of protein and essential amino acids include skinless chicken breast, egg whites, extra lean ground beef, and cottage cheese. You should be consuming a source of protein with each meal.
1 g of protein = 4 calories
Vitamins and Minerals - these micronutrients work with your body to help extract energy from the foods you eat, and also ensure your body performs at an optimum level. Vitamins and minerals perform a ton of tasks in your body including digestion, transporting nutrients, regulating muscle contraction, maintaining water balance, and aiding in absorption. There are 13 different vitamins, four of which are fat-soluble and nine that are water-soluble). Consuming the recommended daily intake of vitamins and minerals is essential to your overall health and wellbeing.
Water - your body is composed of almost 70% water. Water is essential in regulating your body temperature, transporting essential nutrients, and removing waste products from your body. It’s important that you consume at least ten, cold 8 oz glasses of water in your diet each day, to ensure your body functions at its optimum level.