Nutrients, Vitamins, Minerals: Just what exactly is your food actually made of?
Nutrients are the key building blocks of everything your body needs to perform at it’s best. Without them we can’t produce the energy that our bodies need to thrive.
Ensuring that you get the correct nutrition is about more than just eating your 5-a-day and hoping that means that you have a balanced diet. If you want to achieve optimum nutrition then first you need to study the facts. So forget about the calorie counter for now (we will talk about this later) and let’s look at the science.
Nutrients & Nutrition
For a lot of people learning all the nutrition facts about the body – it’s intricate systems and delicate needs – can be too much. Most of us aren’t professional bodybuilders so we tend not to bother. For a lot of us, it can make more sense to think of the body like an engine. All you have to do is put the petrol in and it will start to move. Simple, right?
But when we treat such a complex and interconnected system as the human body with such broad strokes we run the risk of doing ourselves some real, long term damage. Therefore, we need to take a different approach.
Mechanics 101 says this: Before you go out on a long drive you should check your oil, tire pressure, brake lights etcetera… So if we would do this for our cars then why shouldn’t we do it for our body as well? After all we only get one and it has to last.
What can I do?
The problem is that our bodies are pretty resistant, even if we treat them badly, which a lot of people do, they tend to keep on going. Many people simply accept it and keep supplying their bodies with the wrong fuel because, for now anyway, things are going alright. But at vegavero, we don’t like to live a life that’s just alright. It’s our mission statement that life isn’t about trying to survive, it’s about knowing that you can thrive.
The difficulty here lies in knowing exactly which foods contain which nutrients and also knowing what effect each of those nutrients has on your body.
We wanted to simplify that process because if we were to start thinking about every single possible permutation of nutrients in every morsel of food that we ate it would take so long that we would probably starve. Therefore we created our range of specialised vitamins and supplements to help you pick and choose between the nutrients that you think you might be missing in your everyday life.
The best way we can do this is divide our nutrition up into key-groups:
Macro nutrients are the big guns: fats, proteins and carbohydrates. They are responsible for the production and storage of energy.
Despite everything that you might hear about carbs, they are absolutely the most important subgroup for producing energy. Carbohydrates are vital for giving you the calories that you need to get through the day. These come in two forms: simple and complex.
Simple carbohydrates are the sugars – fast acting instant energy to put the spring back in your step. Broadly speaking, these simple carbohydrates also come in two forms which we usually characterise as natural or refined. This is essentially the difference between eating an orange and having a chocolate bar. Natural sugar sources such as fruit and fruit juices are high in calories and also, often, high in key nutrients. For example an orange is a great source of vitamins A & C. Whereas a chocolate bar is a refined sugar, and as such it is high in calories but low in nutrients.
Complex carbohydrates are the starches – sweet potatoes, pasta, breads and cereals. Their complex chemical structure makes them harder to break down and as such they release their energy over a longer period of time. Complex carbohydrates often have an added benefit as a source of dietary fiber.
Quite aside from building muscles – Proteins are absolutely vital. They are essential for the structure, function, and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs. On the elemental level, these proteins are made up of amino acids which are involved in innumerable bodily functions. Even our DNA consists partly of proteins. Proteins help to mediate impulses between nerves, and control the growth and differentiation of cells.
Fats are used primarily for energy storage. Triglycerides, cholesterol and other essential fatty acids—the scientific term for fats the body can’t make on its own—store energy, insulate us and protect our vital organs.
In addition, some important micronutrients can only be properly stored and function only in combination with fat intake. The so-called “fat-soluble” vitamins—A, D, E and K—are stored in the liver and in fatty tissues.
These are the nitty-gritty of your nutrition and include the vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Unlike macronutrients, micronutrients do not provide energy, but they still need to be absorbed by the body because they enable the smooth running of daily functions in the body.
Vitamins are organic compounds from animal or vegetable foods. There are 13 different vitamins that control and influence a variety of functions and processes in the body. These are C, A, D, E, K, and the B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, B6, B12, and folate). Vitamins have different jobs–helping you resist infections, keeping your nerves healthy, and helping your body get energy from food or your blood to clot properly.
Minerals are inorganic compounds that also occur in animal or plant foods. Without them, many functions of the body would not be as effective as they are. You can think of them as the oil that keeps the machine running smoothly. Some minerals, like iodine and fluoride, are only needed in very small quantities. Others, such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium, are needed in larger amounts.
You may or may not have heard of Phytochemicals, depending on how deep into nutritional science you like to get, but if you have then it is more likely that you associate them with plant matter.
Phytochemicals are compounds formed by the plant, which serve primarily to ward off pests and diseases, as a growth regulator or as a color, fragrance or flavoring of the respective plant. This is why coffee tastes bitter, whether or not the fly that attempts to eat the coffee bean checks out on the greatest caffeine high ever, is as yet unknown…
Put simply, they are non-essential nutrients, meaning that they are not required by the human body for sustaining life. It is well-known that plant produce these chemicals to protect themselves but recent research demonstrate that they can also protect humans against diseases.