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The Nutritional Components Of Food

By Expert Author: Deepak A Ganesh

The food we eat is the only natural source from which our body acquires all the essential nutrients that are vital for regular functioning, growth and development of the body. Normally, we include many varieties of food in our diet, but it's our tendency to prefer tasty foods. Nothing to say like tasty foods are unhealthy, but still, the higher the nutritional value of the food, the better it is for our health.

So, in order to follow a healthy diet, it is essential to be familiar with the basic nutrients of food and how they help the body in performing different functions. In this article, we will discuss about the basic components of food and the benefits of consuming them in required amounts.

Basic components of food

The major components of food are divided into five types and they are:

• Carbohydrates
• Fats
• Proteins
• Minerals and
• Vitamins

The five components together are called as 'Nutrients' as they provide adequate nutrition required for the overall functioning and development of the body. Water, though not a nutrient is also required by the body for all the metabolic activities and thus considered as one of the essential components of food.

Macro Nutrients: The components of food that are required in large amounts by the body are called macro nutrients. Carbohydrates, fats and proteins are called as macro nutrients.

1. Carbohydrates: The food components made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen are called as carbohydrates. They are of two types: Simple carbohydrates like sugars. Complex carbohydrates like starches.

Functions: The carbohydrates are the principle source of energy for the body. After entering the body, they break down into sugars - enter the bloodstream and get transported to different cells. Excess sugars are converted into glycogen and stored for future use. Since the body has limited glycogen storage capacity, once the maximum storage is reached, all the unused sugars are converted in to fats.

Sources of carbohydrates: Every day, 60% of required calories should come from carbohydrates in order to make it a balanced diet. Carbohydrates are found in high starchy foods like wheat, rice, maize and potatoes. Complex carbohydrates present in fruits and vegetables are major sources of vitamins which have many nutrients and few calories.

Digestion time: Carbohydrates are quick sources of energy. However, simple carbohydrates like table sugar, sweets like cookies, cakes and candies digest quickly when compared to the complex carbs present in refined starches like white flour, pasta, white rice, etc. Some complex carbohydrates take as long as three hours to digest and hence don't raise the sugar levels in the blood as quickly as simple carbohydrates.

Dietary fibre is also a type of carbohydrate which cannot produce energy but is useful for the normal functioning of the digestive system. Fibre from fruits, vegetables and whole grains absorbs more water and helps in retaining the water in the body. It also helps in promoting good digestion.

2. Fats: Fats are esters of long chain of fatty acids and an alcohol called glycerol. They are made up of same components like that of carbohydrates but they have less proportions of oxygen. Fats are of different types such as saturated, unsaturated and trans-fatty acids, hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats.

Functions: Fats are concentrated sources of energy. But the body uses the energy from fats only when it has used up all the energy from carbohydrates. One gram of fat supplies nearly 9 calories of energy, which is twice the amount of energy provided by carbohydrates. Fats also provide some essential fatty acids which are required by the body for controlling inflammation and blood clot. They also help the body to absorb vitamins like A, D, E, and K. However, high intake of fatty foods leads to harmful diseases in the long run.

Food sources: Among different types of fats, mono and poly unsaturated fats are termed as good fats, whereas saturated and trans-fats are termed as bad fats. Good fats lower the bad cholesterol (LDL) as well as raise the good cholesterol (HDL) levels in the body, whereas bad fats raise the levels of bad cholesterol and hence increase the risk of heart diseases and strokes.

Good fats are found in olives, almonds, cashews, sesame seeds, sunflower oil etc. , whereas poultry skin, palm oil, non-skim dairy, etc. , are rich in bad fats.

Digestion time: Fats take much higher time to digest than carbohydrates. They stay in the system for 5-7 hours.

3. Proteins: Proteins are highly complex organic compounds made up of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen. As they are made of complex compounds, they break down into simple substances called amino acids in the body. These amino acids are simple and water soluble; they enter the blood stream and get carried to different body parts to form specific proteins like skin, muscle, blood, and bones.

Functions: They help the body in building up of body cells, muscles, tissues, and also help in repairing and maintaining the worn tissues. They also help in synthesis of antibodies, enzymes and hormones.

Food sources: We can get proteins from plants as well as animal sources. Plant sources like ground nuts, beans and whole cereals are rich in protein. Animal products like milk and its products, eggs, meat, poultry, fish, etc., are good in protein.

Digestion time: The digestion time of proteins is similar to that of fats. Depending on the size of meal they take moderate to high time to digest.

Micro Nutrients

These are the essential nutrients which are required by the body but in smaller quantities when compared to the macro nutrients. Vitamins and minerals are termed as micro nutrients.

1. Vitamins: Vitamins are complex organic compounds that are required by the body in small quantities but are very essential for the overall well-being of the body. They are of two types: water soluble (Vitamin B and C) and fat soluble (Vitamins A, D, E and K).

Functions: Vitamins are required for the normal growth, healthy vision, digestion, healthy teeth and gums and so on. They are also essential for certain chemical reactions that take place in the body for regular metabolism.

Sources: Different fruits, vegetables, green leafy vegetables and fish are sources for few vitamins.

2. Minerals: Some useful metals, non-metals, and their salts are called as minerals. Major minerals required by the body are iron, iodine, calcium, sodium, and potassium.

Functions: Minerals are important for the growth and development of the body. They are essential for the functioning of major parts of the body like heart, digestive system and bone formation. They are also helpful for different metabolic activities.

Sources: Eggs, sea food, iodized salt, milk and its products, vegetables, nuts, etc. are good sources of minerals.

Water: Water, unlike the above mentioned nutrients, is an in organic substance made of hydrogen and oxygen. Though it is not a food, it is important for all the major body processes like digestion and helps in regulation of body temperature.

Function: It acts as a medium for all the chemical reactions that take place in the body. As a solvent, it dissolves all the food nutrients and transports them from digestive tract to blood. It also dissolves waste materials and hence acts as a good medium for excreting body wastes. It also helps in regulating the body temperature through the process of sweating and evaporation.

Sources: Even though the foods like fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish do contain some water content, plain drinking water is the only source which provides required amounts of water needed by the body.

Health section at Living Smartly website offers informative articles on health and wellness. It provides health tips and interesting facts on healthcare

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