An understanding of nutrition is critical to enjoying life. By knowing the basics, you can protect yourself from chronic diseases and other negative health conditions.
In this article, we will discuss the basics of nutrition, including the various macronutrients and micronutrients. We will also discuss the healthiest fruits and vegetables. Let us get into it.
What Is Nutrition?
Nutrition refers to the study of how the food that we eat and the liquids that we drink impact our body with a special focus on the essential nutrients necessary to support the optimum function of the body.
Nutrition also considers the physiological and biochemical process that come into play in the act of nourishment. It evaluates how the substances found in food supply the body with energy and help to form the tissues of the body.
The major categories of nutrients that support our body’s functions are carbohydrates, fats, fiber, minerals, proteins, vitamins, and water. One is considered to have good nutrition when the right amount and combinations of the previously mentioned nutrients are consumed.
Nutrition also looks at the diseases that can result from neglecting the strategic nourishment of the body. It also focuses on the role that food plays in the management, development, and prevention of chronic disease.
The consistent neglect of nutrition typically leads to insufficient energy, issues with digestion, food allergies, undesirable weight, depression, anxiety, and many other prevalent chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, and cancer. By being diligent with nutrition, you can achieve optimum health over your lifetime.
We must admit that we are often overwhelmed with health advice in the media that supports some practices and condemn others. This information is often confusing and even contradictory. While it is a matter of the stomach, food is very dear to the heart of all of us. (1) (2) (3)
What are the Nutrients Found in Food?
The macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and water.
There are three types of carbohydrates – sugar, starch, and fiber.
Sugars are referred to as simple carbohydrates. These are broken down very rapidly by the body and absorbed.
Simple carbohydrates such as sugars and processed starch supply the body with energy quickly; however, consuming these carbohydrates does not cause you to feel full.
Simple carbohydrates can result in a spike in your blood sugar levels which can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other complications.
Another type of carbohydrate is fiber. Some forms of fiber are broken down by the body and used as a source of energy. There are some forms of fiber that are metabolized by gut bacteria.
Finally, there are types of fiber that simply pass through the body, resulting in many health benefits.
Complex carbs include some fiber and unprocessed starch. Complex carbs take a lot longer to be broken down and absorbed by the body. One of the most experienced benefits of consuming fiber is the feeling of fullness that it provides.
Fiber has been reported to reduce the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain forms of cancer such as colorectal cancer.
When it comes to the consumption of carbohydrates, complex carbs are a better choice than sugars and refined carbohydrates.
Proteins are made up of naturally occurring organic compounds called amino acids. 20 amino acids have been identified by food scientists.
Some of these amino acids can be produced by the body; however, others are considered to be essential. This means they can only be obtained from the food that you consume.
Some food choices offer complete protein. The phrase complete protein means that all the essential amino acids are found in the food choice. Foods that do not offer complete protein may have different combinations of the essential amino acids.
It is important to note that most foods considered to be plant-based do not offer complete protein.
This means that an individual who classifies him or herself to be a vegan must eat a wide range of foods and food combinations on a daily basis to ensure that their body receives the amount of essential amino acids that is necessary. (6)
While many may have a negative perception of fat, fat is actually very important to the proper function of your body.
Fat helps to lubricate joints, assist organs in the production of hormones, enables the body to absorb some vitamins, reduces inflammation, and preserves brain health.
While fat provides important benefits, it must be eaten with moderation. By eating too much fat, you can become obese, have high cholesterol, develop liver disease as well as a host of other health challenges.
When it comes to fat consumption, it is important that you eat the right kind of fat. The more healthful type of fats is unsaturated fats. This includes foods such as olive oil. Choose unsaturated fats over saturated fats that can be found in animals. (7) (8) (9)
The human body is largely made of water. It has been reported that as much as 60% of our body is water. This gives us a peep into why it is so important for us to consume enough water. The body needs it to function properly.
Water does not contain any calories neither does it provide the body with any energy.
The standard recommendation for water consumption is 2 liters of water or 8 glasses of water on a daily basis. The water you need can also come from the food that you eat.
Foods such as fruit and vegetables can provide you with a substantial amount of water. You can tell that you are adequately hydrated by looking at your urine.
If it is a pale yellow, then you are adequately hydrated. If your urine is a bright yellow or even a dark brown, you are way below your hydration needs.
Micronutrients refer to nutrients that are important but only needed in small amounts. Micronutrients include minerals and vitamins.
You will notice that these micronutrients are often added to products by manufacturers. Manufacturers usually add micronutrients to foods such as fortified cereals, rice, and plant-based milk. (12)
Your body needs carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen to operate at its optimum level. Dietary minerals like iron, potassium and others are also essential to the proper function of your body.
Because of the small amounts of micronutrients that are needed to ensure optimum health, a balanced diet is usually able to supply all of your micronutrient needs; however, in the event that a deficiency occurs, most doctors will recommend that you take supplements to meet your body’s micronutrient needs.
Potassium is one of the body’s most important electrolytes. Your kidneys, heart, muscles and nerves rely upon potassium to operate properly. The recommendation for potassium intake in adults is 4,700 milligrams (mg) per day.
A potassium deficiency can cause major issues such as high blood pressure, stroke, and kidney stones. On the other hand, consuming too much potassium can also be problematic. Too much potassium can be a challenge for people with kidney disease.
Some of the foods with the best supply of potassium are avocados, coconut water, bananas, dried fruit, squash, beans, and lentils. (15)
Sodium is another micronutrient that has a bad reputation due to all that has been said about it by self-proclaimed health experts and some dieticians. Sodium is an electrolyte that helps to maintain your nerve and muscle function and regulate fluid levels within your body.
If you fail to consume sufficient sodium, you will experience what is called hyponatremia. The symptoms of this are lethargy, confusion, and fatigue.
On the other hand, consuming too much sodium can result in high blood pressure, which ultimately can cause cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Table salt is a popular condiment from which most people get sodium. The contents of table salt are sodium (Na) and chloride (Cl). Unfortunately, most people consume way too much sodium.
This comes from the level of salt that is normally added to the food we eat that already has its own sodium content.
Most health experts speak against the practice of adding table salt to food. The current recommendation for daily sodium consumption is 2,300 milligrams.
This is around one teaspoon of salt. You can quickly tell that much of the world is not following this recommended daily consumption.
By the wat, this guideline includes naturally occurring sodium as well as the salt that is added to the food you eat.
If you have high blood pressure or kidney disease, you should eat much less than the 2,300 milligrams recommended. (16)
Calcium is needed by the body to form bones and teeth efficiently and effectively. Calcium is also needed for the proper function of the nervous system, heart, and other functions of the body.
If you do not consume enough calcium, your bones and your teeth will weaken. If the deficiency goes unchecked, you may experience symptoms like an irregular heart rate and a tingling feeling in your fingers.
This can be life-threatening. On the other hand, eating too much calcium can result in constipation, kidney stones, and a reduction in your ability to absorb certain minerals.
The current recommendation for calcium consumption is 1,000 milligrams per day. Women who are 51 years old or older are recommended to consume 1,200 milligrams per day.
This micronutrient is found in all body cells. It contributes to the health of your bones and teeth.
If you do not consume enough phosphorous you can develop bone disease, have an irregular appetite, lose muscle strength, and have coordination challenges.
Anemia is another issue that can come from not consuming enough phosphorus. Other issues include an increased risk of infection, burning or prickling sensations in the skin, and mental confusion.
Eating too much phosphorous can also be problematic. It is not very common for people to eat too much phosphorus.
The recommendation for phosphorus consumption is about 700 milligrams daily. You can find phosphorus in dairy products, salmon, lentils, and cashews. (19)
Magnesium is critical to the proper function of muscles and nerves. This micronutrient helps to manage blood pressure and blood sugar levels. It is also critical to the body’s production of proteins, bone, and DNA.
Consuming too little magnesium can result in weakness, nausea, fatigue, restless legs, sleep disorders, and other unpleasant symptoms. On the other hand, if you eat too much magnesium, you can have issues with digestion and heart health.
Great sources of magnesium include nuts, spinach, and beans. Health professionals suggest that adult females should consume 320 milligrams of magnesium daily while adult males should consume 420 milligrams. (20) (21) (22)
Zinc is one of the most frequently discussed micronutrients. It plays a critical role in the health of your cells, your immune system, wound healing, and the creation of proteins.
If you do not ensure that your body has sufficient zinc, you may experience hair loss, skin sores, changes in taste and smell, and diarrhea. While these effects are possible, they are rare. On the other hand, too much zinc can cause digestive issues and headaches.
It is recommended that females should eat about 8 milligrams of zinc per day. Males, on the other hand, should consume 11 milligrams.
Another popularly discussed macronutrient is iron. It is important for the effective formation of red blood cells. The task of distributing oxygen to the various parts of the human body is carried out by red blood cells.
Iron also plays a major role in the formation of connective tissue and the production of important hormones.
If you do not consume enough iron, you can develop amenia. You can also experience issues with digestion, weakness, and mental fog.
If you consume too much iron, you can experience issues with digestion. Consuming significant amounts of iron behind that which is necessary can be fatal.
Excellent sources of iron include fortified cereals, beef liver, lentils, spinach, and tofu. The recommendation for iron consumption is 8 milligrams. Women are advised to consume up to 18 milligrams in their reproductive years. (25)
Manganese is a micronutrient that the body uses to produce energy. It also plays a pivotal role in blood clotting. Manganese is critical to efficiency and effectiveness of your body’s immune responses.
If children eat too little manganese, they can end up with weak bones. A shortage of manganese in adult males manifests itself in skin rashes. Women experience mood changes when they do not have enough manganese.
If too much manganese is consumed, you can experience tremors, muscle spasms, among other symptoms. This only occurs when you consume extremely high amounts of this micronutrient.
Excellent sources of manganese include mussels, hazelnuts, brown rice, chickpeas, and spinach. The recommended daily intake of manganese for adult males is 2.3 milligrams while females only need 1.8 milligrams. (26)
The role of copper in the body includes helping the body to manufacture energy and to produce the necessary connective tissues and blood vessels.
If too little copper is in the diet, you will experience tiredness, patches of light skin, an increase in cholesterol and connective tissue disorders. While these effects are possible, they are rare.
On the other hand, if you eat too much copper, you can experience liver damage, abdominal pain, nausea, and even diarrhea. Your body’s ability to absorb zinc can also be disrupted by eating too much copper.
Excellent sources of copper include beef liver, oysters, potatoes, mushrooms, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds.
The recommended daily intake for copper is 900 micrograms (mcg). (27)
There are more than 24 selenoproteins found in selenium. It plays an important role in the health of the reproductive system and thyroid. Selenium is also classified as an antioxidant which helps in the prevention of cell damage.
By eating too much selenium, you can experience garlic breath, diarrhea, irritability, skin rashes, brittle hair or nails, and other symptoms.
If there is too much selenium in the diet, you can develop heart disease and arthritis. If men consume too much selenium it can also cause infertility.
The recommended daily intake for selenium is 55 micrograms (mcg) in adults.
Vitamins are similar to minerals in that you only need a small amount of them to function properly. Some of the vitamins that you will consume are also classified as antioxidants.
Vitamins can either be water-soluble or fat-soluble.
The water-soluble vitamins are the eight B vitamins and vitamin C. The body removes these very quickly; therefore, they must be consumed regularly. (32)
Vitamin B-1 (also known as thiamine)
This is mainly sourced from foods such as fortified cereals, rice, pork, trout, and black beans. Eating too little vitamin B-1 can result in beriberi and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.
The effects of consuming too much vitamin b-1 are not known because it is usually released in the urine. (33)
Vitamin B-2 (also known as riboflavin)
Vitamin B-2 can be found in beef liver, breakfast cereal, oats, yogurt, mushrooms, and almonds. If you eat too little vitamin B-2, you may experience hormonal issues, skin disorders, swelling in the mouth and throat. (34)
Vitamin B-3 (also known as niacin)
This can be sourced from beef liver, chicken breast, brown rice, fortified cereals, and peanuts. By not consuming enough vitamin B-3, you may experience pellagra, including skin changes, red tongue, digestive and neurological symptoms.
Too much vitamin b-3 results in facial flushing, burning, itching, headaches, rashes, and dizziness. (35)
Vitamin B-5 (also known as pantothenic acid)
Vitamin B-5 is found in breakfast cereal, beef liver, shiitake mushroom, and sunflower seeds.
Insufficient vitamin B-5 can lead to numbness and burning in the hands and feet, fatigue, and stomach pain. The overconsumption of vitamin B-5 can cause digestive issues. (36)
Vitamin B-6 (also known as pyridoxamine or pyridoxal)
The sources of vitamin B-6 include chickpeas, beef liver, tuna, chicken breast, fortified cereals, and potatoes.
If you do not ensure that you supply your body with sufficient vitamin B-6, you may experience anemia, itchy rash, skin changes, as well as swollen tongue.
By eating too much of this vitamin, you may experience nerve damage and a loss of muscle control. (37) (38)
Vitamin B-7 (also known as biotin)
The primary sources for this vitamin are beef liver, egg, salmon, sunflower seeds, and sweet potato. A lack of vitamin-7 can result in hair loss, rashes around the eyes and other body openings, and conjunctivitis. (39)
Vitamin B-9 (also known as folic acid or folate)
Vitamin B-9 can be sourced from beef liver, spinach, black-eyed peas, fortified cereal, and asparagus. A lack of vitamin B-9 may result in side-effects such as weakness, fatigue, difficulty focusing, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath.
On the other hand, if you consume too much vitamin B-9, you put yourself at risk of developing cancer. (40)
Vitamin B-12 (also known as cobalamins)
Sources of vitamin B-12 include clams, beef liver, fortified yeasts, plant milks, and breakfast cereals, and some oily fish.
Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid)
Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits, berries, red and green peppers, kiwi fruit, broccoli, baked potatoes, and fortified juices.
A deficiency of vitamin C will manifest in the form of scurvy, fatigue, skin rash, gum inflammation, and poor wound healing.
The fat-soluble vitamins are vitamins A, D, E and K. Fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed through the intestines with the assistance of fats. These are stored by the body and are not removed as quickly. (45)
Vitamin A (also known as retinoids)
Sweet potato, beef liver, spinach, dark leafy greens, carrots, and winter squash are excellent sources of vitamin A. If you fail to eat enough vitamin A, you may experience nigh blindness.
Exposure to sunlight is one of the best ways to ensure that your body has sufficient vitamin D. You can also source this vitamin from cod liver oil, oily fish, dairy products, and fortified juices.
Vitamin deficiency results in condition such as Poor bone formation and weak bones.
The sources of vitamin E include wheatgerm, nuts, seeds, sunflower and safflower oil, and spinach.
Eating too little vitamin E can cause peripheral neuropathy, retinopathy, and reduced immune response.
The primary sources of vitamin K are leafy, green vegetables, soybeans, edamame, okra, and natto. Vitamin K deficiency can result in bleeding and hemorrhaging in severe cases.
Many of the nutrients that we consume also act as antioxidants. These include vitamins, minerals, proteins, and other molecules.
Antioxidant assist the body by removing unwanted toxic substances known as free radicals. If the body is not cleared of free radicals, cells can become damaged and certain disease may develop. (54)
What are the Best Vegetables to eat?
According to Medical News Today, the following are the best vegetables that you can eat:
Spinach: spinach is classified among the leafy green vegetables. Calcium, iron, vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin, magnesium, folate, and antioxidants are found in abundance in this plant.
It has been reported that spinach might be effective in lower blood pressure and improving heart health. (55)
Kale: this is an incredibly popular vegetable. It is known for its great health benefits and low-calorie content. It has a good amount of vitamins A, C, and K. Kale is beneficial to people who struggle with high cholesterol. (56)
Broccoli: when it comes to healthy food, broccoli must be mentioned. This vegetable is in the same family as cabbage, kale, and cauliflower. It is classified as a cruciferous vegetable.
The consumption of plenty broccoli can reduce the risk of cancer. This may be credited to the vegetable’s sulforaphane content. (57)
Green peas: these are vegetables that are usually sweet and starchy. When cooked they provide 134 calories per cup. It is packed with fiber, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K and some B vitamins.
Green peas are loaded with saponins. These are plant compounds that offer antioxidant and anticancer benefits. (58)
Sweet potatoes: apart from being absolutely delicious, sweet potatoes are exceedingly healthy. Sweet potato contains loads of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B-6, potassium, and beta-carotene.
Sweet potatoes can be beneficial to individuals who are diabetic. Sweet potatoes are helpful to the regulation of blood sugar because of their high fiber content. (59)
Beets: beets are loaded with potassium and folate. This vegetable is known for its ability to improve heart health. One of the reasons it is so effective in improving heart health is because of the number of nitrates found in it.
Beets are also incredible for people with diabetes. This is due to the presence of alpha-lipoic acid, an antioxidant, that is found in the vegetable. (60)
Carrots: carrots are very low in calories and supply more than four times the amount of vitamin A needed to support an adult on a daily basis. This vitamin A occurs in the form of beta-carotene in the vegetable.
It is well known fact that vitamin A is necessary for healthy eyesight. Eating a good amount of carrots can supply you with all the vitamin A that you need. (61)
Tomatoes: while tomatoes are botanically classified as a fruit, it is prepared and treated like a vegetable. Tomatoes are loaded with potassium and vitamin C. They also contain lycopene.
This powerful antioxidant has been reported to help with cancer prevention. Researchers have found that lycopene is particularly helpful with the prevention of prostate cancer.
Tomato contains other antioxidants such as lutein and zeaxanthin. These two are potentially helpful in the protection of vision. (62)
Garlic: garlic has a long history of culinary and medicinal use. Each clove of garlic has only 4 calories and contains a low amount of vitamins and minerals.
His vegetable is a natural antibiotic. Diallyl sulfide is found in garlic and proves to be more effective than many popular antibiotics when it comes to fighting campylobacter bacterium. (63)
Onions: this another vegetable that is often used medicinally as well as in the kitchen. An onion contains reasonable amounts of vitamin C, vitamin B-6 and manganese.
Onion also offers potential protection against cancer. Researchers have also reported that men who consume more allium vegetables such as onion and garlic have the lowest risk of prostate cancer. (64) (65)
Alfalfa Sprouts: this vegetable contains a good amount of vitamin K. Much of the health benefits of alfalfa sprouts is due to the many healthy plant compounds found in it such as saponins, flavonoids and phytoestrogens.
Alfalfa sprouts have been traditionally used to treat conditions such as arthritis and kidney issues.
While it has been traditionally used to treat these conditions, there is not sufficient research to confirm the effectiveness of its use. Alfalfa sprouts may produce antioxidant effects and are likely to reduce inflammation in humans. (66)
Bell peppers: this beautiful vegetable is available in many color variations. It can be found in red, yellow, and orange. Green, unripe bell peppers are commonly used in cooking.
Bell peppers contain vitamin C, vitamin B-6, folate, and beta-carotene (vitamin A). Bell peppers are loaded with antioxidants such as capsanthin, quercetin, and lutein. These antioxidants offer vision protection. (67)
Cauliflower: cauliflower contains vitamin C, vitamin K and fiber. Fiber is known to boost heart and gut health. It also prevents digestive challenges and reduces obesity.
Seaweed: seaweed is also referred to as sea vegetables. This includes kelp, nori, sea lettuce, spirulina, and wakame. Seaweed is among the few plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are critical to an individual’s health. They are more easily found in meat and dairy products. (70)
Which Fruit is the Healthiest?
A study was done by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention in 2014 that looked at the fruits and vegetables that are the healthiest. On the top of the list was lemon.
Lemons: lemons are classified citrus fruits. They have been used for centuries in traditional remedies due to the incredible health benefits that they offer. Lemons are rich in vitamin C and many other antioxidants.
As you know, antioxidants are critical to the process of removing free radicals from the body. Researchers have praised lemons its antibacterial, anticancer, and antidiabetic properties that are as a result of the flavonoids found in the fruit. (74) (75)
Strawberries: this red, juicy, and tasty fruit is high in water content. It is loaded with dietary fiber because of the seeds present in the fruit.
Strawberries contain fiber, calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folate, and vitamins B-6, A and K. (76)
Oranges: the vitamin and mineral content of oranges makes this sweet, round citrus fruit a popular snack. Among of the world’s richest sources of vitamin C are oranges. It also contains calcium, fiber, magnesium, and potassium.
Limes: this sour citrus fruit offers a ton of health benefits to consumers. It has a serious dose of vitamin C. Limes also contain magnesium and potassium. They also have antibacterial and antioxidant properties. (79)
Grapefruit: this is another sour fruit that is loaded with vitamins and minerals. You can find grapefruits in different colors such as pink, red, and white.
Grapefruit contains fiber, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin C. Grapefruit also contains flavonoids which can protect you against cancers, inflammation, and obesity. (80)
Blackberries: anthocyanins can be found in blackberries which is good for your health. The many seeds in blackberries also offer a lot of fiver which is great for your gut health and heart health. Blackberries also contain calcium, magnesium, and potassium. (81)
Apples: you will maximize the benefits of apples when you eat them with the skin. They are high in fiber. This means that the consumption of apples can boost heart health and help with weight management.
Pomegranates: this fruit is classified as a superfood. Pomegranates are high in antioxidants and polyphenols. These help your body to tackle oxidative stress that can result in diseases. This fruit also contains fiber, potassium, calcium, vitamin C, and vitamin K. (84)
Pineapple: this exotic fruit can potentially reduce inflammation and promote healthy tissue growth in your body. Each pineapple contains bromelain. This is an active compound which is a dietary supplement that offers many health benefits.
Bromelain has been cited as a compound that can help with the reduction of nasal inflammation or sinusitis. Pineapples contain manganese, fiver, potassium, vitamin C and calcium. (85)
Bananas: this is one of the best sources of potassium. As a result of its potassium content, bananas can be helpful in aiding the management of your heart rate and your blood pressure.
Nutrition is very important. As established in this article, the deficiency or overindulgence of certain nutrients can have serious negative effects. This makes it important that you study your body’s needs and supply what is needed accordingly.
You will do well for your health and wellness if you endeavor to include a combination of the fruits and vegetables mentioned in this article.
When all is said and done, eating right, and ensuring that your body has the nutrition it needs will allow you to live a much higher quality of life.