Basic Principles of Nutrition
Dietary Advice! Because You Need It?!
Understanding the basic principles of nutrition can help you navigate the myriad of dietary advice one can find online. Proper diet is essential for all phases of life, including pregnancy, and the fundamental principles remain the same across their lifespan.
Humans need more than 40 different nutrients to maintain optimal health. These nutrients are classified as either macronutrient (which includes fats, carbohydrates, and protein) or micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
Macronutrients contain calories and are energy-providing nutrients.
Micronutrients provide no calories but are necessary, but not sufficient, for the body to be able to utilize the energy provided by macronutrients.
Ideally, you meet all your macronutrient and micronutrient needs from a rich, balanced, and diverse diet rather than from supplements.
Eating a wide range of foods prevents nutritional deficiencies and excesses; variety is the easiest and best way to guarantee adequate intake of all nutrients. To be your healthiest and reduce health risks you should eat a diet with multiple sources of food groups rather than focusing on a single substance or nutrient to boost health.
Fats: The percentage of calories consumed from fat is not linked to chronic disease, but instead it's the type of fat consumed. Limit the amount of trans fats, saturated fats, and triglycerides in your diet. Unsaturated fats provide many benefits like improving serum cholesterol levels, reducing inflammation, stabilizing heart rhythms. These fats are found in oils, nuts, seeds, and are liquid at room temperature.
There are two types of unsaturated fats: monosaturated and polysaturated fats.
Monosaturated fats food sources: olives, peanuts, canola oil, avocados, almonds, pecans, pumpkin or sunflower seeds.
Polyunsaturated fats are broken into omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids, otherwise known as "essential fatty acids" because our body produces a limited supply of them.
Omega 6 food sources: safflower, sunflower, corn, soybean, flaxseed oils, canola oil
Omega 3 food sources: salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, algae, chia, flax seeds, walnuts, soybean, and canola oil. *Be careful when consuming fish as there can be high levels of mercury and microplastics.
Carbohydrates: The primary dietary source of glucose, a necessary component for cellular metabolism and energy. Forget about simple or complex carbohydrates; it's not a helpful distinction because the amount of insulin required to utilize carbohydrates is a critical factor in maintaining health. Instead, look at carbohydrates through the lens of glycemic index and load.
Glycemic index: is a measure of blood glucose 2 hours after eating 50 grams of food. It is influenced by the amount of fiber and fat in a food item, which slows the absorption of the carbohydrate.
Example: white rice has a high glycemic index when compared to brown rice. Vegetables and fruits have a low glycemic index due to their fiber content.
Glycemic load: It measures the amount of insulin-stimulated by consuming specific foods. Unprocessed grain products stimulate the production of less insulin than do processed foods. Same is true when comparing fruit juice to consuming a whole piece of fruit. Consuming high glycemic foods can result in chronic disease, inflammation, and cellular proliferation.
Protein: Is the essential component of cells and is needed for cellular growth, replacement, and repair. Essential amino acids are needed for human growth and metabolism, but these 9 essential amino acids can only be found in food. Foods of animal origin provide all of these essential amino acids and are known as complete proteins. Plant-based diets contain some essential amino acids but are often incomplete if food isn't varied. Chia and hemp seeds are known to be complete essential amino acids and are easy to consume daily.
Micronutrients help the body use macronutrients through enzymatic and hormonal processes necessary for healthy bodily functioning.
Vitamins: They are organic substances that produce metabolic reactions. There are two types of vitamins, fat or water soluble.
Water-soluble vitamins are not stored in the body and have no potential for toxicity (i.e. you will pee or 'excrete' excess water-soluble vitamins). Water-soluble vitamins are B complex, folate, biotin, vitamin C, pantothenic acid.
Fat-soluble vitamins, on the other hand, are stored in the body and if consumed in large quantities can be dangerous. Fat-soluble vitamins are vitamin A, D, E, and K.
Minerals: These are inorganic substances, like calcium, iodine, and iron. Ideally, micronutrients are obtained through a variety of fruits and vegetables. Currently, the U.S Preventive Services Task Force does not recommend routine use of vitamin or mineral supplements unless you fall into a high-risk category (ex: gastric bypass, infant, or elderly population, pregnancy).