The foods we eat include the carbs, fats, and proteins that provide energy, as well as the vitamins and minerals that support a healthy metabolism
Carbs for Power
The three types of carbohydrates – simple sugars, complex carbs, and dietary fiber – each play a different role in digestion.
Simple sugars like glucose, fructose, and sucrose are easily digested and quickly flow into the bloodstream for an instant source of energy or alertness. Complex carbs from starchy foods such as cereal, grains, and enriched pasta take longer to digest and provide a steady and continuous source of energy. Fiber’s role as an indigestible carbohydrate is to slow the passage of food through the small intestine so nutrients have time to be absorbed.
- Foods high in soluble fiber result in a “full” feeling and slow the digestive process
- Insoluble fiber plays a role in excretion, providing the roughage that helps food pass through the colon
Fruits and vegetables as well as beans, pasta, whole wheat bread, and breakfast cereals are healthy sources of carbohydrates
Protein to Grow
Proteins are a source of energy and they’re vital for healthy bones and muscles and for the enzymes and neurotransmitters that support brain functioning. Foods high in protein stay in the stomach longer, taking time to digest and resulting in a “full” feeling through the day.
High-quality sources of protein can be found in eggs, seafood, and lean cuts of beef, pork, or chicken. Some plant-based proteins such as nuts, seeds, and beans are lower in fat. And if you can comfortably digest dairy products, skim milk and low-fat yogurt are a good way to get the protein you need with a healthy dose of Vitamin D.
The building blocks of proteins are amino acids. There are 20 amino acids that we need a steady supply of every day, about half are produced by our cells naturally and the others are from dietary sources.
The term “complete” and “incomplete” protein refers to whether the foods we’re eating contain each of these essential amino acids. Protein found in meat and dairy contain all nine, but not every diet includes these foods. Vegetarians, for instance, combine both protein and starch together in the same meal to get the right balance.
Fats and essential “fatty acids” are quite literally the building blocks of our cells. Fats are insoluble in water, so lipid molecules line up in tight formation to form cell membranes, maintaining a fluid balance inside and outside of a cell wall.
Though our brains use glucose as a fuel source and proteins to synthesize neurotransmitters, brain tissue is over 50% fat, and neurons in the brain need fat to insulate and speed up the conduction of nerve impulses. Research is focused on the ways that the right kinds of fat keep us healthy, from influencing brain growth in children, to increasing mental alertness in adults, and protecting cognitive functioning well into old age. The key seems to be in the balance between the types of fats our bodies produce naturally and the ones we need to include in our diet.
Healthy fats that we need a steady supply of are the mono- and poly-unsaturated oils derived from vegetables, seeds, and grains. These have a positive effect on the body by raising levels of HDL cholesterol that helps keep the LDL’s under control. Nutritionists specify a balance of both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Vegetable oils and the unsaturated fats in fish, nuts, and avocados are a necessary part of a healthy diet.
Nutrition and Heart Health
Health professionals advise us to limit foods that contain cholesterol since our bodies make as much as we need. Foods like cheeseburgers and ice cream that contain cholesterol are usually high in saturated fats that we should also avoid because excess saturated fat is stored on molecules of LDL as well.
When the number of LDL molecules goes up so will the probability that a larger percent will meet up with free radicals and contribute to plaque formation.
Vitamins and Minerals
The micro nutrients are vital for normal growth and continued good health.
Vitamins and minerals aren’t a source of energy by themselves, but they play a crucial role in the metabolic process that creates energy from the foods we eat while transporting nutrients around the body and promoting the healthy functioning of bone, muscle, and brain cells.