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The Basics of Nutrition – Why We Eat and the Six Nutrient Groups

We all know that cars (automobiles) need fuel in order to run.
We also know they need more than just fuel to run properly – they also need things like oil to lubricate the moving parts in the engine, and coolant in the radiator to stop the engine overheating.
Cars also sometimes need spare parts, anything from new tyres (when the old ones wear out) to new body panels (to replace ones that have been damaged in an accident).
But what has this got to do with nutrition? Well a car is a machine and so is your body – it is a very complicated, biological machine.
You consume food and drink in order to give yourself the energy you need to live and to move, just like putting fuel into a car. 
But also like a car, your body needs more than just fuel to run properly – there are lots of different substances found in or food and drink and our bodies need many of these substances in order to keep them working properly; effectively we get our ‘oil’, our ‘coolant’, our ‘spare parts’ from what we eat and drink.
When we think about nutrition – these essential substances that our bodies need – we tend to break things down into six main categories (or nutrient groups):
  • Water: Hopefully this one is obvious – we all need water to live, it makes up a large proportion of what we are actually made of, including being a major component of our blood (which helps transport all the other nutrients around our bodies).
  • Carbohydrates: These provide a fuel source for your body. Like any machine your body needs a source of energy and we can get some of this from the carbohydrate contained in our food; moving around requires energy, thinking uses energy (a surprising amount of it – our brains account for 20% of our total energy needs when we are at rest), indeed your cells are all using energy to just stay alive from moment to moment.
  • Fats: Fat is a bit of a dirty word nowadays, but fats are actually an essential part of our diet. Like carbohydrates, fats provide fuel/energy for your body, but they also perform other important functions including forming part of the membrane that surrounds each of your body’s cells (the skin of the cell if you like, so pretty essential), helping protect the nerve fibres in your brain, and helping you to absorb essential vitamins from your food (vitamins are discussed below).
  • Proteins: Your body can actually use protein for energy too, if there is not enough carbohydrate or fat around, but protein is also essential for building and repairing muscles, red blood cells, hair, and other tissues.
  • Vitamins: We only consume vitamins in very small amounts compared to the other nutrient groups listed above, but they are nevertheless essential for good health. There are a number of different types of vitamin and they help regulate many different processes in our bodies.
  • Minerals: Again we only need small quantities of these but they are essential for health. The word mineral makes it sound like something you would get out of a mine or quarry! Actually that is no false impression – we are indeed talking about those sorts of minerals, things like calcium for your bones, iron that is essential for your blood, and sodium (a component of salt) that is necessary for your cells and nervous system to function normally.
Written by Doug McCarthy © 2014.
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The Basics of Nutrition – Why We Eat and the Six Nutrient Groups

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The Importance of Micronutrients

Approximately 40 micronutrients are required in the human diet for optimal health but 50% of the US may be deficient in at least one of these micronutrients.
Micronutrient deficiencies may help explain why the group of people who eat the fewest fruits and vegetables have double the cancer rate for most types of cancer when compared to the quarter with the highest intake.
Surprisingly, 80% of children and 68% of adults in America do not eat the recommended five portions a day.
Do You Get Enough Nutrients From Diet Alone?
The results from studies of people on several diets (Atkins for Life, The South Beach, DASH, Zone, LEARN, Ornish and more) show that an individual following the most popular diet plans with food alone has a high likelihood of becoming micronutrient deficient.
Further analysis found that it would take an average of 27,500 calories for sufficiency in all micronutrients. Of the calorie restricted diets, there is an advantage to the ones that contain nutrient-dense foods.
Improving a low quality diet and the behaviours associated with it (suboptimal nutrient intake and physical inactivity) can improve overall health and wellness.
Common micronutrient deficiencies are likely to damage DNA by the same mechanism as radiation and many chemicals. Aging appears partly from the oxidants produced by mitochondria as by-products of normal metabolism.
Remedying micronutrient deficiencies is likely to lead to a major improvement in health and an increase in longevity at low cost.
The American Dietetic Association (ADA) has stated that the best nutritional strategy for promoting optimal health and reducing the risk of chronic disease is to wisely choose a wide variety of foods. But it can be very hard to get 100% of the nutrients needed.
In an analysis of 70 varied individuals, all fell short of the recommended 100% RDA micronutrient level from food alone. 
Even though a healthy balanced diet is available for the general European population, some groups are at risk of micronutrient deficiency. 
An optimum intake of micronutrients and metabolites, which vary depending upon age and genetic constitution, would boost metabolism and give a marked increase in health at little cost.
Nutrient Dense Diets Reduce Hunger
The micronutrient density of a diet along with the caloric content influences the experience of hunger. A nutrient dense diet can result in a sustainable eating pattern that lead to weight loss and improved health.
A high nutrient density diet provides benefits for long-term health as well as weight loss.
As we age inadequate nutrition contributes to the loss of function and the development and progression of disease. Nutritional status is influenced by a range of medical, physiological, psychological, social, and situational variables.
Adequate nutrition and physical activity are aspects of a health-promoting lifestyle. Encouraging better nutrition and exercise is a cost-effective way of decreasing the incidence and progression of age-related disease.
The earlier we practice healthy habits the better.
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The Importance of Micronutrients

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Eating to Achieve Your Goals – Macro Nutrients

When eating to achieve any goals there are some basic rules to follow, these are not as myriad or complex as many forms of popular media would have you believe. 
You also do not need to have supplements, though they can accelerate you to your goals. Though I do not really cover supplements in this article I will in the future.
The first thing to look at is your calorie intake. These little blighters will if you eat too many put fat onto your body, eat too few and you face two problems; the first is not having enough energy for your workout and the second is that your body will not heal correctly without the resources.
So what is a calorie, it is simply put a unit of measurement. 1 calorie is the energy it takes to raise 1ml of water by 1 degree. 
We need these calories to provide energy to the body and they come from three sources Fat, Carbohydrates and Protein. 
Contrary to popular media/belief there is no such thing as bad calorie (except maybe those from TRANS –fat and processed Sugar of which I will cover in future articles). Each source of calories has a different calorie value.
1 gram of Protein = 4 calories
1 gram of Carbohydrates = 4 calories
1 gram of Fat = 9 calories
Another one to be aware of when out on a Friday night is Alcohol – a source of what is known as empty calorie, which is a calorie without any nutritional value to the body. 1 gram of Alcohol carries 7 calories.
Understanding Calories in a different way to lose 5 pounds (2.3kg) of weight in 30 days we would need to lower our intake by around 200 calories. 
Now notice that I said weight and not fat, the body will be indiscriminate about where it pulls the weight from so this could be from fat or muscle the second of which is undesirable. 
If the average male is taking in around 2500 calories a day to maintain his correct weight an adjustment of plus 200 calories will give him a weight gain of around 2.3 kilos as well. Dependent on activity level and type it will either mean a fat gain or muscle gain.
The composition of your diet has a big effect on the type of weight you gain or lose. More fat will mean you do not get the lean muscled look that most are looking for. 
To many carbs and you will have the same effect. Too much protein will lead to the bodies inability to break down energy correctly and many will suffer headaches, skin problems, potential liver issues, etc… 
I have found through research and trial and error the best effects are from a calorie break down of 50% Carbohydrate, 30% Protein and 20% Fats. For the 2500 calorie intake it would mean
Carbohydrates 50% – which is 2500*0.5 = 1250 calories or 1250/4 = 313 grams
Protein 30% – which is 2500*0.3 = 750 calories or 750/4 = 188 grams
Fats 20% – which is 2500*0.2 = 500 calories or 500/9 = 56 grams
A few rules to follow with this breakdown and that is – remember to vary the sources of your proteins. Avoid Trans fats (especially margarines) and too much meat. 
Avoid foods with high levels of sugar. Also realise that your calorie count is actually added up to a weekly amount so don’t worry if you slightly overeat or under eat on a day balance it out over the week. 
The idea is that if you have a calorie goal of say 2200 calories a day that gives you a weekly allowance of 15400 calories. 
So if you overeat by 100 calories on Wednesday and under eat by 100 on Saturday you have in essence balanced it out.
Remember to keep your body hydrated with water – this is anywhere between 1.5 litres and 3 litres a day dependent on need and level of activity. 
This I am afraid does not balance out through the week! Water is very important as it flushes any toxins out of the system and helps keep blood renewed as well as aiding in hormone balance and oxygen supply to muscles. Remember we are largely sacks of water!
In essence that covers what we call Macro Nutrients, namely Water, Fat, Carbohydrates and Protein. If we make small changes over weeks to how we view and use these we will create a sustainable lifestyle change that will take care of us and give us the optimum performance from our bodies. 
Remember you would not fuel a supercar with substandard fuel, and your body is a supercar it lasts potentially over a hundred years.
Remember this is a very general guide and you should speak to a properly qualified nutritional advisor or to help you based on your specific needs.
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Eating to Achieve Your Goals – Macro Nutrients

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