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Beginner's Guide To Nutrition in Honor of National Nutrition Month

Beginner's Guide To Nutrition in Honor of National Nutrition Month

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Beginner's Guide To
Nutrition in Honor of
National Nutrition Month

By: Your JNH Lifestylist

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Nutrition is confusing. With food fads coming and going and myths all-around, it makes it difficult for the average person to decipher what’s true and what isn’t. So, in the spirit of National Nutrition Month this March, let’s get your eating habits on track - or at least, let’s start to untangle the basics of nutrition and how you can apply them to your life.


What Is Nutrition?

Essentially, nutrition refers to how food impacts your body and your functioning. Undeniably, you need food to survive and function at your best. However, the type of food you put in your body can hinder your body’s systems or optimize them. You need sufficient fuel to keep everything going, and you need a good balance of different nutrients to perform various jobs throughout your body.

There are two categories of nutrients: macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are the nutrients you need in large amounts, as well as the nutrients that provide energy (in the form of calories) to your body. On the other hand, micronutrients are required in lesser amounts. They don’t provide energy, but they do perform critical functions within your body. Both of these types of nutrients are crucial for optimal functioning. As such, we’ll dive into macronutrients and micronutrients in more detail below. Let’s take a look!

Macronutrients Explained

There are three types of macronutrients; carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Your entire daily caloric intake is made up of a combination of these three. Interestingly, research indicates that health and longevity may come down to a proper ratio concerning these three macronutrients [1]. This research further stated that caloric restriction tended not to impact life longevity, but the ratio of macronutrients did. It’s intriguing - to say the least. Many nutrition or weight loss programs and enthusiasts tend to focus on caloric restriction, but when it comes to better health, the answer might lie in your macronutrient amounts.

Generally, you want to get 45-65% of your calories from carbohydrates, 20-35% of your calories from fat, and 10-35% of your calories from protein [2]. The problem with many fad diets? They often lack the necessary balance of macronutrients your body needs. This may lead to binge eating or difficulty sticking to a set diet, which is why balance is inevitably important.

While each of these macronutrients provides your body with energy, or calories, they all have very different functions. Understanding them can help you determine what you should be eating throughout your day-to-day and why. So, let’s break these down even farther. What should you know about carbohydrates, protein and fat?

1. Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are your primary sources of energy. Your body uses carbs for energy more efficiently than any other macronutrient. This means the process involved in transforming carbohydrates into usable energy in the body requires minimal energy, as well as produces few byproducts. Carbs fuel your body throughout the day, helping you walk, talk and do as you please, but they also allow your body to perform vital functions at rest, such as breathing and digestion. Good sources of carbohydrates include beans, potatoes, fruits and other vegetables.

2. Protein

Proteins are the building blocks of the body, and they consist of different amino acids. These different amino acid chains form your hair, skin, muscles, nails and more. Protein also helps repair and regenerate tissue, such as that required to replace old skin with new skin cells or to build more muscle cells. Essentially, this macronutrient provides your body with structure and integrity. You’ll want to make sure you’re getting enough of it. Good sources of protein include chicken, fish and eggs. Surprisingly, many individuals don’t eat enough protein, so this may be the one macronutrient you’ll want to watch out for and ensure you include enough of it in your daily diet.

3. Fat

Contrary to popular belief, fat isn’t your enemy. Like protein and carbohydrates, fat has an important function in the body. It provides cushion and protection to parts of the body, especially the vital organs. It also helps transport fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamin A which is essential for eye health. It, too, is necessary for normal functioning, and a certain amount of fat is required in your daily diet to continue to feel good. The key is to incorporate more good fats into your diet and less bad fats. Good sources of fat include avocado, cheese, and eggs.

Understanding Micronutrients

Move over macronutrients - we’re moving on to micronutrients. While we could talk about micronutrients forever, we’re going to keep this reasonably basic so as not to overwhelm you. When it comes to micronutrients, there are two categories: minerals and vitamins. Vitamins play a variety of roles within the body. For instance, Vitamin C is extensively involved in the process of wound healing [3]. Other vitamins contribute to good immunity, eye health, skin health and more. In contrast, minerals are involved in cardiovascular function, as well as structural components of the body. For example, calcium is essential for strong bones and teeth [4].

Ideally, when you consume a diet with a wide variety of foods, you’ll obtain a wide range of vitamins and minerals necessary for optimal functioning. This is also why it’s a good idea to ensure at each meal that your plate is filled with a variety of colors. Different colors indicate that different nutrients are present, so go ahead and fill your plate with as many colors as you can!

Where Should You Start?

Becoming more aware of what you put in your body is a great starting point for any nutritional newbie. Start reading the nutritional labels before you buy or eat your food and begin to take charge of your diet. When you read the label, take note of the number of macronutrients and micronutrients. Usually, the label will also provide daily recommended percentages so you can tell if you’re meeting your daily requirements or not. Make it your goal this March to improve your diet and therefore, improve your life. It doesn’t have to be complicated, and you don’t need to overthink it. Keep things simple by educating yourself and raising your awareness level when it comes to the food you eat.


Resources:

[1] Solon-Biet SM, McMahon AC, Ballard JW, Ruohonen K, Wu LE, Cogger VC, Warren A, Huang X, Pichaud N, Melvin RG, Gokarn R, Khalil M, Turner N, Cooney GJ, Sinclair DA, Raubenheimer D, Le Couteur DG, Simpson SJ. (2014). “The ratio of macronutrients, not caloric intake, dictates cardiometabolic health, aging, and longevity in ad libitum-fed mice.” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, Cell Metab, 02 March 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5087279/.

[2] Institute of Medicine of National Academies. (2005). “Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients.” nationalacademies.org, 02 March 2020, http://nationalacademies.org/hmd/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/Nutrition/DRI-Tables/8_Macronutrient%20Summary.pdf.

[3] Moores J. (2013). “Vitamin C: a wound healing perspective.” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, Br J Community Nurs, 02 March 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24796079.

[4] Piste P., Sayaji D., & Avinash M. (2012). “Calcium and its Role in Human Body.” research.net, Int J Res Pharm Biomed Sci, 02 March 2020, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/274708965_Calcium_and_its_Role_in_Human_Body#:~:text=Abstract,and%20fluid%20balance%20within%20cells.&text=Eating%20a%20well%2Dbalanced%20diet,and%20help%20prevent%20calcium%20deficiency.


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