Nutrition - More Than Just Food

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Nutrition - More Than Just Food

Posted on 11th Jan 2019

In the 20th century, after learning more about about the role carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals play in our bodies, it was thought that humans had adequate knowledge about the purpose and impact of food. Food was simply seen as fuel, or energy for the body, and we had to have enough of its in order to survive. However, more recent scientific discoveries have revealed large gaps in our knowledge about the role of food in health and proper human functioning.

There are thousands of phytochemicals (phyto = plant) in our food, each of them which performs a vital role in the functioning of our bodies, although, it is thought there are many phytochemicals and other components of food yet to be discovered.

There are also enzymes, which play an important role in nutrition. Enzymes are produced in our digestive system and are vital in the metabolic processes (cell chemical reactions).

Antioxidants are another recent discovery. In general, antioxidants neutralize "free radicals" that may damage cells. Familiar nutrients like vitamins (E & C), carotenoids, flavonoids and polyphenols (from teas and grape skins) may reduce the risk for certain cancers, heart (cardiovascular) disease and degenerative diseases related to aging. A positive relationship has been shown between the risk of cancer and fruit and vegetable consumption, the major sources of antioxidants.

Furthermore, eating too many foods high in saturated and hydrogenated fats has been associated with the development of heart disease and even cancer. Polyunsaturated fats, however, are actually good for you. Omega-3 fatty acids (found in cold water fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna and in most nuts) fall into this category, along with Omega-6 fatty acids (found in grains, plant-based oils, poultry and eggs). These types of polyunsaturated fatty acids are considered essential because your body cannot make them, so we must eat them instead. Because most people consume more of the Omega-6 fatty acids, a balance of essential fatty acids in the diet is important in order to maintain good health. When it comes to hormones and metabolic activities, phytoestrogens (plants) bind with estrogen receptors in the body to produce an estrogen-like effect. The most potent phytoestrogens are found in soy and flaxseed.

There is always more research to be done, but at this time, we do believe that humans can get the best nutrients, and therefore achieve optimal health, by being aware of what they are putting into their bodies (a variety of foods) and eating recommended portion sizes (eating in moderation). Eating too much of one thing, especially saturated fats, and even too little, harms our health and creates problems down the road. 

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