Nutrients 101

question-markMacro-nutrients, micro-nutrients, blah, blah, blah. There are a ton of different terms, recommended diets and nutrition information available these days on the web – it can all get kind of confusing!

A simple philosophy to follow is to EAT REAL FOOD! But for those of you who want more detailed info, I’ve broken down the most important nutrition basics below:

Welcome to Nutrients 101!

Macro-Nutrients

Fats: Healthy fats are necessary for optimum health. Fats provide a source of long-burning energy, are required for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E & K, serve as a protective lining for organs in the body, and are the building blocks for cell membranes and hormones. Approximately 30% of your diet should consist of healthy fats such as cold-pressed nut/seed oils, extra virgin olive oil, avocados, coconut products (oil, milk, butter, unsweetened shredded, etc.), grass-fed butter, raw nuts and seeds. Try to avoid highly processed vegetable oils, fried fats, hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated fats as excess can interfere with the essential roles healthy fats play within the body.

Proteins: Proteins are the building blocks of the body. They provide antibodies to help fight infections, help to stabilize blood sugar, and they help regulate our metabolism and almost every function in the body. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and are very important for hormones, muscles and for our genes to function properly. Roughly 30% of your daily calorie intake should consist of proteins such as poultry, meat, wild caught fish, eggs, nitrate-free deli meats.

Carbohydrates: Carbs have gotten a bad rep. The truth is our body needs carbs. They are used as fuel for the brain, a quick source of energy, to help regulate protein and fat metabolism, and they provide a source of fiber which helps with regular digestion. The right type of carbohydrates are what’s really important. Refined carbohydrates (breads, pastas, chips) are usually void of nutrients. Focus on natural carbohydrates such as vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. These energy-providing carbs are linked together with vitamins, minerals, enzymes, protein, fat and fiber to support quality of life. Roughly 40% of your calorie intake should be from carbohydrates, focusing at least 25-30% of that as vegetables. If having grains, choose them in their whole form such as rice, quinoa, and whole oats.

Water: The most important nutrient in the body. Helps to transport nutrients, regulates body temperature, removes wastes, lubricates joints, and improves cell-to-cell communication. You should aim to drink half your body weight in ounces of water daily.

Micro-Nutrients

Vitamins: Most vitamins cannot be manufactured by our body, so we can only get them by eating plants and animals. Vitamins are essential for growth, vitality and health. They are very helpful for digestion, elimination and resistance to disease. Depletion of vitamins can lead to a variety of health issues which is why it is important to focus on eating a well-balanced, whole-food, nutrient-rich diet.

Minerals: Minerals are provided solely from food sources. There are at least 18 minerals that are essential for good health. These help maintain proper pH in the body, regulate tissue growth, maintain proper nerve conduction and contract and relax muscles (think heart health!). The best sources of minerals are nutrient dense foods, unrefined sea salt, and vegetables.

While everyone’s nutrition needs are slightly different, this is a basic outline for healthy eating. A simple trick to find the right macronutrient proportions for you is to do a little self-test.

If after eating a meal, you find yourself feeling any of the following, it’s likely you needed more protein or fat with your meal:

• Feel physically full, but still hungry

• Don’t feel satisfied; feel like something was missing from meal

• Feel hungry again soon after meal

• Have desire for sweets

• Too much or too little energy

• Energy drop, fatigue, exhaustion, sleeplessness

• Mentally slow, sluggish, spacey

Next meal, try playing around with that 30/30/40 ratio mentioned above and see if you can find a balance that leaves you feeling satisfied and refueled with a good energy level. Using a food journal is a great way to keep track of this self-test.

Jessica Sullivan, LMSW, NTP, DBTC

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