What is a nutrient and why does it have so many people confused?
Nutrients are compounds found in food that are essential for energy, growth and the maintenance of life. They are divided into two groups – Macro-nutrients and Micro-nutrients.
The general use of the word macro, applied to anything, means large, big, copious, huge, massive. Micro is the opposite and is generally used to mean small, tiny, mini…you get the idea.
The same meaning is applied to nutrients and the quantity in which our bodies need them. Macro nutrients are needed in larger quantities by the body than micronutrients.
The three macro nutrients are carbohydrates, protein, fat. Carbohydrates contain 16kJ per gram, protein contains 17kJ per gram and fat contains 37kJ per gram. (Alcohol contains 27kJ per gram!)
Carbohydrate primarily provides your body with energy so it is important to eat about 5 serves of carb’s daily to maintain your energy through the day. Examples of healthy carbohydrate foods are wholegrain breads, cereals, rice, pasta and noodles. Fruit and vegetables are also a carbohydrate food. Basically anything that grows out of the ground has aspects of a carbohydrate – just in varying amounts. Carbohydrate foods have the lowest dietary energy than the other nutrient groups so if you are wanting to lose weight then you should eat plenty of good quality carbohydrate foods.
Protein is the main constituent of muscle so it’s important for muscle repair and growth as well as for many other functions in the body. Examples of protein food are nuts, seeds, legumes, lean meat, fish and eggs.
Fat is found in many foods and can be saturated or unsaturated. Saturated fat is mainly found in animal products and packaged foods such as fatty snack foods, cakes and biscuits, pastries and pies and should be limited to no more than about 10% of your daily energy intake. This is due to it increasing your risk of heart disease if too much is consumed. Unsaturated fats help to reduce your risk of heart disease and helps to reduce cholesterol levels. Unsaturated fat can be found in foods such as fish, nuts, seeds, avocado and vegetable oils.
The micronutrients are vitamins and minerals and can be found in a variety of foods from the five food groups.
Vitamins are substances that your body needs to grow and develop normally. Each vitamin has a different function in your body. They can be subdivided further into water soluble and fat soluble vitamins which basically means that they dissolve in either water or fat. The water-soluble vitamins are the B group vitamins and vitamin C. The fat-soluble vitamins are A, D, E, K. There are 13 vitamins your body needs which are listed below.
- Vitamin A
- B vitamins; thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12 and folate
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
Minerals – Our body uses minerals for a variety of functions, including keeping our bones, muscles, heart, and brain working properly. Minerals are also important for making enzymes and hormones. There are two kinds of minerals: macro-minerals and trace minerals.
Macro-minerals are needed in larger quantities and include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride and sulfur. Trace minerals are needed in smaller quantities and include iron, manganese, copper, iodine, zinc, cobalt, fluoride and selenium.
So why are these nutrients so important and how do they provide nourishment essential for growth and maintenance of life?
Each nutrient plays a vital role in your daily life on a cellular level. They all work very nicely together to form a bigger picture in maintaining good health and optimum functioning in every cell of your body. A bit like every employee in a workplace working together to keep a corporation operational and profitable. The Australian guidelines tell us how much of the macronutrients we should be eating as a percentage on a daily basis. These amounts allow for intake of micronutrients to ensure good health.
Carbohydrates 45-65% of total daily energy intake
Fat 20-35% of total daily energy intake
Protein 15-25% of total daily energy intake
These percentages are dependent on how physically active your lifestyle is. For example, a farmer, construction worker or performance athlete will be at the higher end of the recommended intake. People whose occupation is predominantly sedentary such as office workers, drivers and laboratory assistants would have a required intake at the lower end. They can also vary dependant on existing medical or dietary health conditions.
To help live your best life in good health now and well into your senior years it is important to eat a wide variety of whole foods form the five food groups. This will go a long way in helping to get all the nutrients you need essential for energy and maintenance of life.
Written by Lisa Stegena, Nutritionist
Nutrition Force is a Western Australian based company of Nutritionists and Accredited Practising Dietitians that offer weight loss programs, private dietetic consultations, children’s nutrition & dietetics, school nutrition and Corporate Wellness programs. If you would like more information on our Perth Dietitians and the other services we offer call us today on (08) 9385 7755.