The relationship we have with food isn’t simply about what’s healthy or affordable. There’s an emotional and social connection as well, influenced by where we live, what we do for business and pleasure, and the way different types of food make us feel.
Our bodies are quick to respond when we’re eating the right and wrong types of food. Nutrition experts have demonstrated that the human body can heal itself after years of unhealthy eating or drinking, going so far as to compare food to medicine, prescribing changes in our diet to cure or manage an illness.
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 (soluble and insoluble) is to slow the passage of food through the small intestine so nutrients have time to be absorbed
Fruits and vegetables as well as beans, pasta, whole wheat bread, and breakfast cereals are healthy sources of carbohydrates
Protein to Grow
Though proteins can be used as a source of energy, they have other life-sustaining tasks around the body. Proteins are needed to build healthy bones, to repair muscle tissue, and for manufacturing both neurotransmitters and certain types of enzymes that keep our brain functioning and our metabolism fired up.
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 good sources of 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 different types of 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 enzymes, neurons in the brain need fat to insulate and speed up the conduction of nerve impulses. In recent years, researchers have begun to focus on the ways that our bodies utilize healthy types of fat to sustain good health. “Healthy” fats have been found to positively influence brain growth in children, increase mental alertness in adults, and protect cognitive functioning well into old age. The key seems to be in the balance between the types that our bodies produce naturally and the ones we need to include in our diet.
The healthy types of fat 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 (“healthy” or “helpful” 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.
Vitamins and Minerals
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. These “micro-nutrients” are vital for normal growth and continued good health.