Some of our most important life choices have to do with the food we eat and drink; therefore getting a maximum benefit from the food we eat depends on a variety of choices of which one is the composition of these foods we eat.
A nutrient is a chemical substance that comes from the food you eat. The energy you need for all your activities comes from nutrients. All the basic reactions going on in your body to keep you breathing, your heart beating, your brain working and allowing you to move about, all derive their energy from nutrients. Nutrients are therefore essential for optimal growth, development and health. What is a nutrient? Nutrients Defined
Non – Essential Nutrients are those synthesized by the body. Although called non-essential, they are still required by the body to support daily body functions. Examples include alanine, glutamine, glycine, and arginine.
Essential Nutrients refer to classes of nutrients found in food that are not synthesized by the body hence need to be taken in the diet. These nutrients are vital for the normal growth, maintenance and development of the body and how they are introduced into the body may have a great impact on how well they are utilized. Nutrients do not work alone but in concert (synergistically) with other nutrients. There are six essential nutrients that are necessary in order to develop and maintain a healthy body. These are: Carbohydrates, Proteins, Fats, Vitamins, Minerals and Water.
Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are essential because they form the major part of stored food in the body for later use of energy. Glucose which is a monosaccharide is the body’s primary source of energy. The human brain works entirely on glucose alone thus, emphasising on the essentially of carbohydrates. Sources include maize, rice, potatoes, whole grain bread, wheat, cassava, potatoes, yam, pasta, as well as fruits and vegetables.
There is no life without protein because they are the building blocks of life. Protein is contained in every part of your body, the skin, muscles, hair, blood, body organs, eyes, even fingernails and bone. Next to water, protein is the most plentiful substance in your body. Thus, an adequate supply of dietary protein is essential to maintain cellular integrity and function, and for health and reproduction. Proteins are primarily used in the body to build, maintain, and repair body tissues. In the event that protein intake is greater than that required by the body for this primary function, excessive protein is converted to energy for immediate use or stored in the body as fat. Protein energy will be used only after other energy sources (carbohydrate and fat) are exhausted or unavailable. Sources include meat, eggs, beans (cowpea, soybeans), milk, chicken, groundnuts lentils, fish, and cheese.
Fats are a vital part of all living cells and are essential in maintaining the health of an organism. Fats also play an important role in storing energy. If you eat an excessive amount of carbohydrate and protein, they are stored in the form of fat for later use as energy. Although excess intake of fat can be bad for our health, they have some essential functions and should not be completely removed from our diet. Fats are health promoting when we choose to eat the right amounts at the right time. Sources include meat, milk products, butters, creams, avocado, cooking oils and fats, cheese, fish, nuts and seeds.
Vitamins are organic compounds which are needed in small quantities to sustain life. These organic compounds are essential to normal metabolism and insufficient amounts in diet may cause deficiency diseases. There 13 vitamins and each of them have their own specific roles in growth and maintenance of all parts of the body. Examples are Vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K. Sources include fruits and vegetables, such as mangoes, pawpaw, water melon, oranges, lemon, lime, tangerine, pineapple, apple, tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, green leafy vegetables and also other sources like eggs, meat, fish and dairy products.
Minerals are inorganic substances found in food needed to ensure good health and correct working of soft tissues. Minerals are essential constituents of skeletal structures such as bones and teeth. Examples of minerals include calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, sodium, chlorine, iodine, iron, magnesium. Sources include green leafy vegetables, fruits, iodized salt, water, dairy products.
Water might not always be seen as a nutrient but it is an essential nutrient needed for all body functions in large amounts. Water is very essential to life. All of the body’s activities depend on water. Water is also required for digestion (aids digestion and prevents constipation), absorption, transportation (carries nutrients and oxygen to cells), elimination of waste products and regulates body temperature. The body is made up of 50 to 75 per cent water. Fruits and vegetables contain a lot of water especially in their raw form. Food usually contains more than half the water we need. A well-known advice for an average person is to drink around 8 glasses/3 litres of water every day. This should be done throughout the day and not only when thirsty. Water also contains no calories. Not drinking enough water can increase the risk of kidney stones and, in women, urinary tract infections. It can also lower your physical and mental performance, and salivary gland function, and lead to dehydration.
It is very necessary to eat foods rich in all these essential nutrients to provide the body the right nutrients for its daily functions. Carbohydrates should be the base of your meals, add a good amount of proteins, fruits and vegetables and of course drink lots of water throughout the day. Reduce your fat, sugar and salt intake and do have some physical activity within the day. Make sure to provide the body with the right nutrients in their right amounts to enable it give you optimum health as the overall results. Remember, YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT.
By: Blessila Nana-afoe Kando