Over the last couple weeks we’ve covered why not everyone fits the same diet due to genetic variability and lifestyle differences, and why exclusion diets seem to exhibit health increases in mainstream media. Hopefully we can keep in mind the fact that nutrition is something that is going to differ on a person to person basis, and that just because someone else is doing well with certain eating habits, does not mean that everyone will do well under the same circumstances.
What we have yet to go over are the nutrients necessary for our every day functions. Although there can be differences in the amounts of nutrients needed for each person that will vary with physical activity and genetic variability, the government makes their dietary recommendations to ensure that you don’t run into deficiencies.
What Are The Nutrient Groups?
Also known as “carbs”, are a staple of the standard North American diet. Healthy examples consist of whole grain products, potatoes, fruits, and vegetables.
The building blocks of hormones in the body, getting fats from healthy sources is an important part of every nutritional plan. Healthy examples are avocados, cheese, grass-fed butter, dark chocolate (85% cacao content or higher), whole eggs, fatty fish, and nuts
Important components of every cell, protein is mainly used to repair tissue and is an important component of bones, muscle, cartilage, skin, and blood. Healthy examples are meat (from healthy sources), free-range eggs, legumes, and seafood.
There is a new Canadian food guide as of this year. It suggests that you eat lots of vegetables and fruits, whole grain foods, and protein. Choose plant-based sources of protein more often than not, and choose foods with healthy fats instead of saturated fats. Prepare your snacks and meals with foods that have no added sugar, sodium, or saturated fat, and cut the consumption of highly processed foods. Try to avoid eating out, but when you do aim for the healthiest portions of the menu, and don’t be afraid to ask what the meal is prepared with. Be wary of food marketing and how it affects your choices, and educate yourself by reading the labels on the food you buy. Cut out sugary drinks, and make water your beverage of choice.
Vitamins are a group of organic compounds which are essential for the day to day functions in the body, and are needed in small amounts in the daily diet, as they cannot be synthesized by the body.
-Water-Soluble Vitamins (absorbed by water):
1. Vitamin B1 (Thiamine): Required by the body to properly use carbohydrates.
2. Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): Needed for growth and good health, and is used to properly break down nutrients in food.
3. Vitamin B3 (Niacin): Helps with functions in the digestive system, skin, and nervous system.
4. Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid): An important component in energy production from fats and carbohydrates.
5. Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): Needed to maintain healthy nerves, skin, and red blood cells.
6. Vitamin B7 (Biotin): Keeps nails, skin, and hair healthy.
7. Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin): Used to make red blood cells
8. Choline: Used in many different functions, from neurotransmitter synthesis to cell membrane signalling.
9. Folic Acid: Important for pregnant women, and for producing and maintaining new cells.
B-Vitamins are commonly found in whole grains, potatoes, legumes, bananas, chilli peppers and yeast, and have an important range of functions.
Vitamin C: the last water-soluble vitamin, but still incredibly important. It’s commonly used in the strengthening of blood vessels, as an antioxidant, and in skin elasticity. Common sources are citrus fruits, bell peppers, guava, and brussels sprouts.
-Fat-Soluble Vitamins (absorbed by fat):
Vitamin A: Good for the eyes, general growth, and development, and is found in carrots and other orange foods containing carotene.
Vitamin D: Used to make strong and healthy bones, and is found in eggs, fatty fish, mushrooms, and can be produced by the body in most cases from UV light exposure.
Vitamin E: Helpful for blood circulation and protection from free radicals, and can be found in nuts (mainly almonds), tomatoes, and sunflower seeds.
Vitamin K: Is a key component in blood clotting to help heal wounds, and is commonly found in kale, spinach, and broccoli.
Minerals are any elements found in food that are necessary for our bodies to develop and function. There are many of them, but the main ones that humans need to focus on are:
Phosphorus: Works with calcium to build strong bones, and can be found in milk, meat, legumes, nuts, and whole grains.
Iodine: Is necessary for the production of thyroid hormones, and is high in dairy, seafood, eggs, and prunes.
Sodium: Is important for maintaining blood volume and pressure. Most people consume more than the recommended amount of sodium, but it is high in foods that are smoked or preserved with salt, cold cut meats, and anything with added salt.
Most of these are fairly plentiful and easy to get, but there are a few that the majority of people do not get enough of. These are shown in the graphic below:
· Essential Fatty Acids
Linoleic Acid (Omega-6): Helpful for regulating proper cholesterol levels, and reducing cancer risk. It is found in seeds, nuts, and acai berries.
Linolenic Acid (Omega-3): Improves cardiovascular health, and helps protect against neurodegenerative disease. It can commonly be found in fatty fish, chia seeds, walnuts, and soybeans.
· Essential Amino Acids
Amino acids that can’t be synthesized in the body, and must be obtained through your diet. There are 9 of these, and they are:
Histidine: Used to produce histamine, which is necessary to many diverse functions in the body.
Isoleucine: Heavily concentrated in muscle tissue, it is important in the metabolism of the muscles.
Leucine: Helps regulate blood sugar levels, and is important in the wound healing process.
Lysine: Helps with protein synthesis, hormone production, and the absorption of calcium.
Methionine: Is essential for tissue growth and the absorption of minerals.
Phenylalanine: Is a precursor to several neurotransmitters
Threonine: Important in fat metabolism and immune function.
Tryptophan: Is a precursor to serotonin, which is important for many different functions in the body.
Valine: Helps stimulate muscle growth and is essential to energy production.
Fortunately, essential amino acids are not something that those with a diverse and healthy diet have to worry about. They are found in large numbers in: meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. Some people on exclusion diets may have trouble getting all of the essential amino acids they need, and may feel the need to supplement.
Yes, water is a necessity. I know that’s not exactly breaking news, but the vast majority of us don’t get anywhere near the 2 liters of water a day that we should be drinking.
Dietary requirements can seem daunting at first. Fortunately we have a health industry that cares for us greatly and is willing to give suggestions that make meeting our nutritional requirements much easier. If we eat a diverse diet, prepare the majority of our meals at home, avoid fast food, and do our best to follow Canada’s dietary recommendations and combine this with an active lifestyle, we should all be able to live long and fulfilling lives.
1. Nutrition Requirements
2. Essential Nutrients for Humans
3. Vitamins & Minerals Humans Need
4. Roles of Vitamins In The Human Body
5. Foods Rich in Essential Fatty Acids
6. Essential Amino Acid Sources and Functions: