Proper nutrition is one of the basic ingredients for leading a healthy life. We often have little knowledge about what the key parameters of nutrition are, so this article will explain some of the basics of nutrition, in order to help you lead a healthier life.
What is nutrition?
Nutrition science deals with how food affects our bodies in relation to health.(1) It studies how our organism assimilates and uses food and liquids to help us with normal functioning, growth and maintenance, and to optimize and protect our health.(1) Today, nutrition science includes “prevention of disease”, in which nutrition plays a key role and covers topics from why and how certain diseases are caused by single nutrient deficiencies, to more complex conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease.(1)
But one must keep in mind the three key points about the science of nutrition. The first is that studying how certain nutrients affect our bodies is difficult.(1) The second is that most consequences of a diet build up during many years, much longer than most scientific studies usually take, therefore drawing premature conclusions should be avoided.(1) And the last one is that many western diseases have more than a single factor responsible for their development, as they are so complex.(1) That said, be careful to always follow the advice of experts and do not change your lifelong eating habits due to rumors or general popularity.
What are nutrients?
Food, whether from animals or plants, contains different components.(1) It contains water, energy, components that affect color, flavor, and nutrients.(1) The term ‘nutrient’ describes all dietary substances that our bodies use for normal development and for maintaining good health.(1) There are two groups of nutrients: macronutrients and micronutrients.
Macronutrients are carbohydrates, lipids (fats) and proteins.(1) All are needed by our bodies in large amounts, and are either the basic material that builds our body, or the fuel we need to run it.(1) Water also falls in this category, but is often not considered a macronutrient, as we do not obtain any energy or essential components from it.(1) Still, it is the most important constituent of our body, as it accounts for around 60% of our total body weight and is the component we can afford to lose the least of.(1)
Micronutrients, on the other hand, are required in very small amounts in our diet, but are still very important components – such as vitamins and minerals.(1) They provide almost no energy, but are essential for our bodies to function, as many normal functions, such as growth and energy production, would not occur without them.(1) We need different amounts at different stages and ages of our lives.(1)
Our health is related to an optimum supply of both macronutrients and micronutrients, as excess or insufficient intake of either can lead to problems.(1)
How do I plan my diet?
Mainly it is the way different foods are combined that is important.(1) We must also realize that different people have different needs, as very active people do not have the same nutritional needs as those who spend most of their days at a physically less active job, as the latter need less energy.(1) Men usually need more energy than women, and adults need more than children.(1) It is because of this diversity, and the fact that humans need more than 40 different nutrients for good health,(2) that it is impossible for one single food to supply all of the essential nutrients – apart from human milk for infants.(1)
This is why one of the most basic principles in healthy eating is variety, meaning one should consume a broad range of foods on a regular basis.(1) There are many different ways and diets to achieve this, but what is most important is that we stick to this variety over time, not just for a short time. Also, eat regularly. By missing your meals, you run the risk of missing out on nutrients that are often not compensated by the following meals.(2)
Furthermore, make sure to consume moderate amounts of all foods, not too little and not too much, enjoying all foods in a balance,(2) which will also help you maintain a healthy body weight.(3)
For a healthy lifestyle, add a lot of fluids to your routine, be more active, and more importantly – start now.(2) Make these changes gradually, not overnight, thus ensuring you will be able to adhere to a healthier lifestyle over a longer period of time, as it will be easier for you to accept and get used to these changes.
- Nutrition (The basics). Food facts for healthy choices. 2009. Available at: https://www.eufic.org/en/healthy-living/article/the-basics-nutrition. [Accessed 24.1.2022]
- Adult nutrition. Food facts for healthy choices. 2006. Available at: https://www.eufic.org/en/healthy-living/article/adult-nutrition. [Accessed 25.1.2022]
- 10 Healthy Lifestyle Tips for Adults. Food facts for healthy choices. 2017. Available at: https://www.eufic.org/en/healthy-living/article/10-healthy-lifestyle-tips-for-adults#top. [Accessed 25.1.2022]