The Four Basic Nutrients
A good diet consists of four basic nutrients: water, carbohydrates, proteins and fats. By consuming the correct level of intake for each, we allow our bodies to function in the best and most effective way.
Did you know the human body is two-thirds water? The very fact that this forms the basis of our bodies underlines its importance. Water is an essential nutrient that is involved in every function of the body:
It helps transport nutrients and waste products in and out of the body
It is necessary for all digestive, absorption, circulatory, and excretory functions
You should aim to drink at least 2 litres of water per day.
Carbohydrates, or carbs, supply the body with its main source of energy. We can divide them into two main groups: simple and complex carbs. Simplex carbs, sometimes called sugars, include fructose, sucrose, and lactose as well as several others. Complex carbs on the other hand have a different molecular structure and are generally recommended to be more regularly consumed in preference to simple carbs. These include vegetables, whole grains and cereals.
Protein is fundamental for growth and development. It provides the body with energy, and is needed for the manufacture of hormones, antibodies, enzymes, and tissues. When protein is consumed, the body breaks it down into amino acids, the building blocks of all proteins. These amino acids are designated essential and nonessential. In the case of the latter, this does not mean that they are unnecessary, but rather that they do not have to come from the diet because they can be synthesised by the body from other amino acids. Other amino acids are considered essential, meaning that the body cannot synthesise them, and therefore must obtain them from the diet.
Although a reduced-fat diet is highly advocated, the body still does need some fat. Fat is, in short, the most concentrated form of energy for our bodies. Fats are composed of building blocks called fatty acids. There are three major categories: saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated.
Saturated fatty acids are found primarily in animal products, including dairy items, such as whole milk, cream, and cheese, and fatty meats like beef, veal, lamb, pork, and ham. The liver uses saturated fats to manufacture cholesterol therefore excessive dietary intake of saturated fats can significantly raise the blood cholesterol level.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids are found in greatest abundance in corn, soybean, safflower, and sunflower oils. Certain fish oils are also high in polyunsaturated fats. Unlike the saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats may actually lower your total blood cholesterol level.
Monounsaturated fatty acids are found mostly in vegetable and nut oils such as olive, peanut, and canola.
Male adults should aim to consume between 90-100 grams of fat per day and females around 60 grams.
References: Clark, N (2003), Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook, Third Edition, Human Kinetics Publishers.
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