World Health Day: Nutrients are the chemical substances in the food we eat from which we obtain the energy necessary to perform all kinds of vital functions and have a healthy life. Dr. Tamara Cudi, Head of Grupo Gamma’s Nutrition Service, gives us insight into the subject.
Every living thing must continually perform an incredible number of functions to stay healthy. This takes place in every cell of the body and represents an enormous job, which requires a lot of energy. As human beings, our body obtains that necessary energy from the nutrients in our food every day.
Food is made up of different types of nutrients: on the one hand, there are carbohydrates, proteins and fats, which are called “macronutrients,” while vitamins and minerals are called “micronutrients.”
What are nutrients?
They are chemical substances made up of molecules tightly bound together. The digestive system has enzymes that “break” these bonds and allow food, for example, a Milanese (which is nothing more than a set of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals) to become several small molecules that can be transported by the blood to every cell of the body, thus obtaining vital energy.
In cells, these molecules are reattached, but differently, and their unions store the energy that the body will use when it needs it. Among the energies, we can find a form of rapid use, provided by carbohydrates, and another in reserve, provided by fats.
It is essential to know that not all nutrients have the function of providing energy. For example, proteins serve to form new cells, enzymes, and proteins. They also contribute to the transport of substances through the blood, among other issues.
For their part, vitamins and minerals, although they are found and used in small amounts, fulfill very varied and essential functions, such as collaborating in the healing and tissue regeneration processes, helping with immunity and training. Red blood cells, and so on. For these reasons, healthy eating must be varied enough to meet the needs of as many nutrients as possible.
What is understood by healthy eating?
Healthy eating provides each individual with all the necessary food to meet their nutritional needs in the different stages of life (childhood, adolescence, adulthood and ageing) and a healthy situation. Keep in mind that this section refers to healthy eating in general, and you can use it as a basis in your daily diet. If you present specific symptoms related to the disease or treatment, you should go to the section on specific dietary recommendations.
Each person has nutritional requirements based on their age, sex, height, physical activity that they develop and state of health or disease.
To maintain health and prevent the onset of many diseases, it is necessary to follow a healthy lifestyle; In other words, you have to choose a balanced diet, carry out regular physical activity or exercise (at least walking for at least 30 minutes a day) and avoid smoking and drinking high-alcoholic beverages.
3.2 What characteristics should a healthy diet have?
A healthy diet must meet the following characteristics:
It must be complete: it must provide all the nutrients with the body needs: carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals and water.
It has to be balanced: the nutrients must be distributed in proportion to each other. Thus, carbohydrates (CHO) must account for between 55 and 60% of the total kcal per day; fats, between 25 and 30%; and proteins, between 12 and 15%. You also have to drink 1.5 to 2 litres of water a day.
It has to be enough: the amount of food must be adequate to maintain weight within normal ranges and, in children, achieve balanced growth and development.
It has to be adapted to the age, sex, height, the physical activity carried out, work carried out by the person, and state of health.
It must be varied: it must contain different foods from each of the groups (dairy, fruits, vegetables, cereals, legumes, meat and poultry, fish, etc.), not only because it will be more pleasant, but also because of the more significant the variety, the greater the security of guaranteeing all the necessary nutrients.
3.3 What characteristics should a healthy diet have?
Foods are grouped according to their majority composition in nutrients, reflected in the food composition tables, widely used to plan the diet. Another way of classifying them is based on the use or profitability that the body obtains from each nutrient in a given food.
For example, specific nutrients, such as iron and calcium, are widely distributed in legumes and vegetables; However, the body does not use them as optimally as when they come from meat and derivatives and milk, respectively.
Foods are grouped into the following groups:
- Energy, which includes carbohydrates (CHO) and fats.
- Plastics (proteins) intervene as builders.
- Regulators (vitamins and minerals).
How much of each food should be consumed?
The concept of quantity is linked to that of ration. By portion, we mean the amount or portion of food appropriate to the size of a “normal” dish; it can also refer to one or more units: egg, yogurt, pieces of fruit, etc. In the recommended frequency table for each food group, you will find the homemade measurements and their equivalent weight per serving for a healthy adult. But remember that they are general recommendations. Suppose you have a poor appetite or any specific symptoms. In that case, you should follow the recommendations for this situation (see “If I have a poor appetite and it is difficult for me to eat, what can I do”) or the section “Specific dietary recommendations.”