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Getting to the Root of Nutrition: The Pillars of Nutrition
What are we made of? While this may seem like a simple question, the answer is essential to the study of nutrition. Over hundreds if not thousands of years the study of nutrition has aimed to break down the different compounds from which the body is made and to understand where they came from. The simple fact is that the entire human body is made out of food and water and to a lesser extent air and light. The things that do not fall into these categories may be toxins and actually cause a burden to the structures and functions of the normal body. Many toxins are added to our food today and you may be surprised by what some of them are. Knowing what supports correct bodily function and what burdens it can help you make better choices about your lifestyle and your diet and the result is an improved level of wellness.
Understanding that from the very beginning you were and continue to be made out of the compounds found in food and water, nutrition and the study of it is obviously primarily health care and neither alternative nor complimentary. Nutrition is the most fundamental aspect of life.
What makes the food that makes us?
First we have the so-called “pillars of nutrition.” These are also known as macronutrients because they take up the largest portion of the food, apart from water which makes up a substantial portion of any food.
Just like the basic parts used to make a car, these parts are all required for life and in a ratio of about 30% protein, 20% fats and 50% carbohydrates.
The quality of each of these pillars is very important. After all, do you want to be made from high quality parts or low quality parts?
Protein is composed of twenty different amino acids. In adults there are eight essential amino acids. Essential means there is no way for your body to get these building blocks other than through your diet. With children there are ten essential amino acids and premature babies require eleven amino acids. Again, they cannot get in these other way than through diet.
Meat from animals contains a complete profile of the essential amino acids, but some erroneously believe that vegetarians have a difficult time getting enough protein in their diets. Protein is a basic building block in all life and vegetarians eating a reasonably varied selection of foods not only get complete protein support, the protein from plants tends to be easier to digest and does not cause a build up of toxins like uric acid in the kidneys as is the case with all animal protein.
Modern diets tend to have the least amount of high quality essential fats but large amounts of low quality and harmful fats. These essential fats are found in foods such as flax seed, fresh nuts, avocados and certain types of fish. Processed foods and red meat contain saturated fats and trans fats which are neither essential nor beneficial.
The essential fats not only assist the body in the management of inflammation and other bodily processes, they make up some critical structures in the body as well. Over 50% of the mass of a healthy brain is composed of these essential, unsaturated fats.
A word of warning: have you ever opened a jar of raw nuts and discovered the smell of “oil paint”? This is a sign that the essential fats have gone rancid. Throw this food out.
The final pillar is the much maligned carbohydrate group. These foods provide energy as well as fiber to the diet. Fiber is found in most plants and is not considered a nutrient, but it is important for normal bodily function and waste elimination. Fruits and vegetables provide the best source of carbohydrates and varying amounts of fiber. Grains also provide beneficial carbohydrates as long as they are whole and are an excellent source of fiber. Refined grains provide the lowest quality source of carbohydrates and in excess may now only lead to unwanted weight gain, but also an increased risk of diabetes, and heart disease.
These three pillars of nutrition are very important and provide the bulk of any healthy diet. For hundreds of years, they were considered to be the only components of nutrition in food. That all changed as research moved forward in the late 19th and early 20th century.
In the next article, we will peer further into the essentials of food.
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