Are you craving a particular food? While several factors such as your diet and psychology can influence your longing for a snack or meal, in some cases, it may be your body asking for a specific nutrient.
What are Nutrients?
A nutrient is a component within the food that helps our bodies to function.
We need them for our survival. Nutrients help us to produce energy so we can move, grow, and reproduce.
Our bodies require some nutrients in large quantities and others in smaller amounts.
A deficiency in some nutrients or overconsumption of others creates an imbalance that can compromise our health.
Many times when diets are low in nutrients, it hinders our bodily functions, so they don’t operate properly.
On the other hand, an excess of nutrients can lead to chronic diseases, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Our bodies need macronutrients in large quantities, and as a result of the amount that’s required, we measure them in grams.
These nutrients provide energy to help our body to grow, repair, and carry out its daily activities.
Macronutrients consist of:
Each of these nutrients has its own chemical properties that affect health.
They also have a set amount of energy to support bodily functions.
If you ask someone about carbohydrates, they will most likely talk about bread.
Since the rise in protein diets, carbohydrates continuously receive a bad reputation.
While some carbohydrates can be bad for your health, others can improve your health.
Carbohydrates consist of sugars and starches, but they also include fibers found in fruits, grains, and vegetables.
They are the body’s primary source of energy and produce four calories for every gram.
Carbohydrates are categorized into two types based on their chemical structure.
Simple carbohydrates that are in candies and syrups and complex carbohydrates found in beans and vegetables.
Eating too many carbohydrates can increase your blood sugar levels and insulin.
The insulin produces excess glucose that the body stores in fat cells. An increase in insulin also makes it harder to lose weight.
As a result, it puts the body at risk of becoming either overweight or obese and developing a chronic disease, such as type 2 diabetes.
Good carbohydrates, like whole-grain bread, vegetables, and fruits, are often high in fiber and take longer to break down.
They can help reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes and support a healthy digestive system.
Proteins and Amino Acids
Proteins produce four calories for every gram.
The chemical composition of proteins involves complex, organic compounds that include amino acids.
They are the “building blocks” of protein.
Researchers point out that the synthesis of body proteins and other nitrogen-containing compounds, like creatine and some neurotransmitters, requires amino acids.
The acids fall into three categories essential, nonessential, and conditional.
According to MedlinePlus, essential amino acids come from foods since the body cannot create them.
They include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
On the other hand, the body produces nonessential amino acids.
These are alanine, arginine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine.
The amino acids that are conditional proteins are helpful in times of illness or stress.
They include arginine, cysteine, glutamine, tyrosine, glycine, ornithine, proline, and serine.
The body contains thousands of proteins that build and repair tissues.
It uses them to produce enzymes, hormones, and other chemical properties.
Proteins power chemical reactions, transport nutrients, support the immune system and participate in other bodily functions.
They are also the core elements of muscle, bone, cartilage, skin, and hemoglobin.
The best sources of essential amino acids are lean meats, eggs, and poultry.
They can also come from tofu, soy, buckwheat, and quinoa.
Some other foods that are good sources of protein include almonds, broccoli, lentils, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, and Brussels sprouts.
Many people gravitate to high-protein diets to achieve the benefits of quickly shedding off excess weight and improving blood sugar levels.
However, it’s the quality of the protein that counts.
For instance, eating a steak high in saturated fats would be unhealthy.
Also, many of the high-protein diets overlook healthy carbohydrates, dairy, and fruits and vegetables.
When an individual is deficient in protein, it often occurs as a result of a severe change in their diet, such as barely eating enough food.
While this deficiency is most common in developing countries, researchers indicate the deficiency is also present in pathologic conditions and inadequate medical management. Symptoms include edema, thin and fragile hair, and skin lesions.
Fats and Cholesterol
Fats produce nearly twice the amount of calories from both carbohydrates and proteins.
It has nine calories per gram.
Its primary role is to store energy in the body when it has an excess in caloric consumption, so it’s more energy-dense when compared to the other two macronutrients.
However, during exercise, once the body uses energy from carbohydrates, it will refer to the energy from fat reserves.
The reserved fat also participates in other helpful activities, such as absorbing fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K and insulating the body and protecting organs.
Four primary dietary fats present in foods have chemical structures and properties that define them.
These fats are:
Saturated and trans are unhealthy fats because they can put people at risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in moderation can have a positive effect on your heart health.
They also lower bad cholesterol.
Saturated fats come from red meat, poultry, and dairy products, which can increase your cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol consists of two types.
High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, is known as “good “cholesterol. Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, is “bad.”
Saturated fats increase cholesterol levels for both. A food processing method known as partial hydrogenation produces oils that contain trans fat.
These fats can raise LDL cholesterol and lower HDL. A variety of food products contain trans fats, such as creamers and margarine, fried foods, and baked goods.
When possible, replace bad fats with good fats to reduce the risk of heart disease and improve cholesterol levels.
Foods high in monounsaturated fats include olive oil, avocado oil, sesame oil, avocados, and nuts and seeds.
Seeds like walnuts and sunflower, tofu, and salmon are among those that contain polyunsaturated fats.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that’s especially helpful to heart health.
They are common in fish such as salmon, tuna, trout, and mackerel, as well as seeds like flaxseed, walnuts, and chia.
Eating too many unhealthy fats contributes more calories to your diet and can result in weight gain.
Eating too little fat is also dangerous.
The body can’t function normally without healthy fats.
Eliminating fat can affect your vitamin levels since fat-soluble vitamins can’t be absorbed.
Get better control of your caloric intake with the moderate consumption of healthy fats.
Micronutrients are the small amounts of vitamins and minerals required for the body’s well-being.
They support activities, such as producing enzymes and hormones, immune function, and brain development.
They can also help fend off diseases. Since the body doesn’t provide them, a healthy diet provides them.
Vitamins are organic compounds from plants and animals that are broken down.
Minerals are inorganic compounds that occur in the soil and water. However, the body can’t synthesize minerals.
Our bodies require four types of vitamins and minerals for optimal health.
The classes of vitamins are water-soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins, macrominerals, and trace minerals.
When the body gets an excess of water-soluble vitamins, it eliminates these vitamins from the body through urine.
They include vitamins B and C. The B vitamins support energy and blood production.
They include thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, biotin, folate, and cobalamin.
These vitamins occur in whole grains, meat, fish, vegetables, and legumes.
According to the National Institutes of Health, vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, plays an active role in the biosynthesis of collagen, L-carnitine, and some neurotransmitters.
As an antioxidant, it may help prevent and delay the development of some cancers and diseases.
The contributors of vitamin C include citrus fruits, tomatoes, and potatoes.
However, other foods, such as red and green peppers, kiwifruit, broccoli, strawberries, are also good sources.
The body’s fat absorbs some vitamins. It stores these fat-soluble vitamins for future use in the liver and fatty tissues.
These vitamins include the following.
- Vitamin A supports vision and organ function.
- Vitamin D helps with calcium absorption and bone growth.
- Vitamin E, an antioxidant, protects cells from damage and helps with immune function.
- Vitamin K participates in blood clotting and bone development.
Many of these vitamins can occur in vegetables, legumes, and nuts.
Macrominerals influence physiological processes.
They are essential because they support the order and maintenance of several bodily functions, such as the development of blood, bone, and hormones, and the regulation of the heart’s rate. Some of the critical activities of these minerals are listed below.
- Calcium supports bones, teeth, muscle function, and the contraction of blood vessels.
- Phosphorus helps in bone development as well as the elimination of waste in the kidney.
- Magnesium aids the regulation of blood pressure and the synthesis of biomolecules and energy production.
- Sodium acts as an electrolyte that supports proper blood volume and pressure.
- Chloride maintains fluid balance to make digestive juices.
- Potassium helps with nerve transmission and muscle function.
- Sulfur acts as an essential component of amino acids.
These minerals reside in vegetables, fruits, legumes, and dairy products like eggs.
Trace minerals play a significant role in cell metabolism and heart health.
Some of the main functions of these minerals are listed below.
- Iron functions as a component of hemoglobin that helps transport oxygen to tissues.
- Manganese helps reduce inflammation and supports the brain and nervous system.
- Copper enables the body to make red blood cells, supports the immune system, and maintains nerve cells.
- Iodine helps make thyroid hormones that control the body’s metabolism. The hormones also help manage growth and fix damaged cells.
- Zinc regulates the immune system and stimulates the activity of some enzymes.
- Cobalt helps absorb and process vitamin B12, which supports healthy red blood cell formation.
- Selenium supports reproduction, thyroid hormone metabolism, DNA synthesis, and more.
Eating less than an optimal amount of vitamins and minerals can contribute to the development of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes as well as cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis.
According to the CDC, vitamin deficiencies affect more than two billion people worldwide.
The deficiencies affect at least half of the world’s population of children from as young as six months and as old five years.
The lack of vitamins such as iron, iodine, vitamin A, folate, and zinc can have harmful consequences, such as:
- Lowered immune resistance
- Insufficient motor and cognitive development
- Low birth weight
- Congenital disabilities
- Neonatal deaths
We may do our best to maintain a well-balanced diet, but even when we pick the right foods we may not obtain all of the nutrients we need.
Some packaged foods contain ingredients that rob the body of vitamins and minerals.
In addition, years of agricultural abuse is depleting nutrients from our soil.
Plants make vitamins as long as they have the necessary resources within the soil.
Yet, many farmers use fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and other chemicals to increase production which ends up depleting our soil of nutrients.
Farmers are also creating new varieties of crops with greater yields and crops that adapt to the environment In an effort to upsurge crops.
The best way to get a sufficient amount of macronutrients and micronutrients is from a well-rounded diet that has an adequate amount of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, lean meats, and healthy fats.
Therefore, make sure to read food labels often and keep an eye on the serving sizes, so you are mindful of portions.
Also, ask to review ingredient lists when going out to eat and keep track of your caloric consumption.
Make sure to review the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations for the daily use of vitamins and minerals.