The Basics of Nutrition
More often than not, consumers only look at the number of calories listed on a product when they are deciding what to buy. Consumers are trained to believe that if there are fewer calories in a product it is healthier and more nutritious to eat. The truth is many foods that we avoid are higher in calories but are packed with nutrients such as avocados, dates, and even chocolate. Nutrients, rather than calories, should be the primary focus when buying foods due to their crucial impact on the body. Carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals are the five essential components of our foods that are required by our body to properly function and are listed on almost every nutrition label for consumers to use when buying their groceries.
How do carbohydrates fuel our body?
Carbohydrates, or carbs, are the main source of energy that provides our body with fuel. Whether we are exercising, writing, reading, or hard at work, we are constantly in need of energy. Carbs can be categorized as two different kinds: simple and complex. Simple carbs like glucose, sucrose, and fructose are commonly known as sugars. They are composed of smaller and simpler units that make them easy for the body to break down and utilize quickly. Fruit juices and processed items such as baked goods and soda are sources of simple carbs that provide quick energy. Complex carbs are much bigger and more intricate. They are composed of many units and take time to dis-join and release energy your body can use. These types of carbs are commonly recommended to be consumed before and during exercise since they supply energy for greater periods of time. Sources of complex carbohydrates include whole grains, vegetables, and legumes. Although feared by consumers, carbohydrates are necessary in our diet to perform and live at our best.
What are “healthy fats”?
Fat also has the capability to be used as energy when glucose is not present or available for your cells. Fats help your body synthesize hormones, assist proteins to perform their functions, and help you maintain a stable body temperature which is why they are needed in your diet, too. Three main types of fat exist: saturated, trans, and unsaturated fat. Saturated and trans-fat are the types of fat we want to limit in our diets because they can be associated with health complications such as heart disease and high blood pressure. These kinds of fats are found in heavily processed foods such as chips, cookies, frozen products, and fast-food meals. Unsaturated fats are the types of fats we want to increase in our diets because they have been shown to protect against cardiovascular disease and promote a healthy heart. You can find unsaturated fats in foods like avocados, olives, peanut butter, salmon, sesame seeds, vegetable oil, almonds, and cashews. Including unsaturated fats in your diet does not have to be difficult- simply adding sunflower seeds to a salad or tossing in a tablespoon of peanut butter into your smoothie can help increase healthy levels of fat in your diet.
Where does protein come from?
Proteins make up the majority of the structure of your body and are popularly known for their recovery benefits after physical activity. Proteins are made up of smaller units called amino acids that assemble into specific proteins necessary for virtually every function of your body. For instance, bones, cartilage, skin, and blood all require specific amino acids in order to be built. Some proteins are essential to our diet because our bodies cannot produce them, and must come from what we eat. Eggs, soybeans, cottage cheese, quinoa, meats, and seeds can all provide many of the vital amino acids to build these essential proteins.
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals are essential to our diet because of their importance in virtually all of our biological processes. Vitamins and minerals are found in different amounts in all of the foods we eat, so it is important to eat a variety of foods every day. Lack of variety in the diet can lead to a “deficiency”- not getting enough of a specific vitamin or mineral, which can cause severe problems long-term. For example, iron deficiency is the most common mineral deficiency worldwide. Iron functions as a key component of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout the blood. Without iron, hemoglobin cannot effectively carry oxygen in our body and without oxygen, our cells will eventually die. Vitamin D is another deficiency that can go undetected. This vitamin helps to increase calcium absorption for strong, healthy bones, which is especially crucial in growing children. Iron and Vitamin D are just two examples of how important consumption of these micronutrients is throughout our lives. Vitamins and minerals are found in everything we eat, but are found in greater levels in colorful foods and whole grains.
Each of these five components in our diet work together to make sure our body is working at its greatest capacity. It can feel overwhelming to think about all the nutrients our body needs to function, but getting a variety of colorful, nutrient dense foods every day will give your body what it needs. If you have any concerns about making sure you are getting enough of any of these key nutrients you can schedule an appointment to talk with one of our Registered Dietitians.
If you want to learn more about nutrition and how you can improve it, talk to a Health Loft dietitian in Chicago, IL (virtually via our telehealth platform or in person) by calling us at (312) 374-5399 or by scheduling an appointment online. For more tips and fun facts to also check out our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages for more articles on nutrition, physical therapy, and exercise!
Submitted by Daria Zajac
Edited by Alexander Franz
Reviewed by Morgan Murdock
- Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar. (2016, July 25). Retrieved January 18, 2020, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/carbohydrates-and-blood-sugar/
- Harvard Health Publishing. (2015, February). The truth about fats: the good, the bad, and the in-between. Retrieved January 18, 2020, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-truth-about-fats-bad-and-good
- Protein. (2019, October 28). Retrieved January 18, 2020, from