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Nutrition

Human beings are made up of roughly 63 percent water, 22 per cent fat and 2 per cent minerals and vitamins. Every single molecule comes from the food you eat and the water you drink. Eating the highest quality food in the right quantities helps you to achieve your highest potential for health, vitality and freedom from disease.

Our modern diet is a far way off the ideal intake and balance of nutrients. In the last century, particularly the last forty years, we have started eating much more saturated fat and sugar and less complex carbohydrates and polyunsaturated fats.

A significant reason for this is based on misconception. We believe that as long as we eat a well balanced diet that we get all the nutrients you need. Yet countless surveys show that even those who believe that they eat a well balanced diet fail to get anything like the ideal intake of complex carbohydrates, minerals, essential fats and vitamins.

Quite often food is produced in a refined form that makes them last longer, makes them more profitable and yet at the same time deficient in essential nutrients.  Sugar sells, and the more of it we eat the less room there is for less sweet yet more essential carbohydrates. There can be a tendency for our lives to be quite frantic and fast paced meaning that we often spend less time preparing fresh food and become more reliant on ready-meals deficient in nutrients and loaded with salt and sugars.

This section looks at what nutrients you should be putting into your body and what vitamins you should be making sure you get enough of.

The definition of a “nutrient” is a substance that is required for our bodies to function properly. There are two groups of nutrient (macronutrient and micronutrient). Macronutrients are any that our body needs in large quantities whereas micronutrients conversely are those which our body  needs in much smaller quantities – all are still essential.

There are seven classifications for the nutrient groups that our bodies need in order to maintain our health. Each of these provides a different type of sustenance for our body when consumed in the right quantity. They are

  1. Carbohydrates
  2. Fats
  3. Fibre
  4. Protein
  5. Minerals
  6. Vitamins
  7. Water

Carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates found in -  cakes, biscuits, chocolate, fudge, chutney, honey, jam and sweets

Complex carbohydrates found in - apples, oranges, vegetables, pasta, wholewheat bread and cereals

The importance of carbohydrates to our bodies has been questioned in recent years by fad diets. However the fact remains that our bodies need healthy carbohydrates to maintain good health. These carbohydrates are also known as complex carbohydrates and are a long way from the health risks implicated  in simple carbohydrates which consist of one or two sugar units. Simple carbohydrates are quickly digested and cause a spike on blood sugar levels associated with health problems such as cardiovascular disease. Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest and release a steady stream of energy rather than spiking your body with sugar.

Fats

Saturated fat found in - full fat cream, cheese, butter, chocolate, lard, coconut oil, fatty meats

Omega 3 fatty acids found in - salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, walnuts, soy and flax seed

Once again, fat also has a bad reputation by some looking to lose weight or generally have a nutritional diet. However there are different kinds of fat, some good, some bad. You need to avoid trans-fats as these increase the risk of coronary heart disease by raising levels of bad cholesterol and lowering  levels of good cholesterol. Saturated fats must also be avoided as these clog our arteries and once again raise levels of bad cholesterol. The best type of fat to consume is unsaturated fat which provides a much lower cholesterol level and can either be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated, both of which  are better than saturated fat. Omega 3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids that cannot be produced by our bodies. These fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and boost our immunes systems.  Most significantly they have a great hand to play in brain function. A lack of omega 3 in the body can cause a communication breakdown in the brain, which is probably the last place you'd want such a breakdown to happen!

Fibre

Dietary fibre found in - wholegrain cereals, wholemeal bread, wholemeal pasta, jacket potatoes, beans, lentils, peas, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and wholemeal flour

Fibre actually belongs within the carbohydrate group but it is very different from the majority of carbohydrates as it is not fully absorbed by our digestive system due it mostly being made up of cellulose. Fibre has an important role to play in maintaining good digestive health as it provides “bulk” to the intestinal contents. Fibre rich foods can prevent colon cancer and prevent against constipation and diarrhoea. Whole grain fibre is worth looking out for as it tends not to spike insulin levels which lowers the risk of diabetes.

Protein

Animal protein found in - meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products

Plant protein found in - green vegetables, cereal, beans, pulses, grains, nuts, seeds , soya products and veggie products (such as Quorn).

Protein is the base for a lot of our body’s systems and is essentially the building block of all life, it is essential for the growth of cells and tissue repair. All proteins are made up from amino acids of which there are two types, non-essential amino acids and essential amino acids. Essential  amino acids cannot be made by the body and must be obtained from food. A diet that includes a “complete protein source” will provide all essential amino acids that our bodies need to function properly. Animal protein products contain all the essential amino acids. Protein can also be obtained  from plants but no single source contains all the essential amino acids.

Minerals

Minerals found in - egg yolk, beef, tea, liver, salt, cereal, pulses, fish and dairy produce

Minerals are elements that originate in the soil and cannot be created by living things such as plants or animals yet humans need minerals in order to be healthy. They are essential for body functioning, structure, help to build body tissues such as bone and regulate metabolic activity. We tend to get  the minerals we require from other plants and animals which have either absorbed or eaten the same minerals. Minerals may also be present in drinking water. Different minerals include calcium, copper, iodine, iron, sodium, selenium, magnesium, zinc, potassium, phosphorous and manganese.

Vitamins

Vitamins are chemicals that your body needs to survive. They perform certain vital tasks inside your cells. Your body, however, cannot produce these chemicals on it’s own and therefore requires ingestion of these vitamins from the food we eat. 

Water

Our bodies are made up of approximately 2/3 water. It should therefore come as no surprise that water is absolutely essential for our good health and maintenance of our bodily functions. Without it we would become dehydrated, have headaches, feel tired and lose concentration. Daily requirements for  water tend to vary depending on the activity carried out, for example sweating during a jog or a long walk in hot weather. Water can obviously be found straight from the tap but also from the food we eat. Most healthy adults to consume between one and a half to three litres of water a day. You can judge  whether or not you are drinking enough water by the colour of your urine, which should be a pale straw colour rather than a dark yellow.

Until beginning of the 19th century it was believed that the only components of a health diet were protein, fat, carbohydrates and inorganic elements. However it became apparent that minute amounts of additional materials were also essential. The absence of vitamin from the diet, or more usually, its presence in insufficient amounts can lead to feelings of general malaise and limit growth in children. This is a brief explanation of each vitamin and what foods you can eat to make sure you get your proper amount. Vitamins and minerals are found in a wide variety of foods and a balanced diet should provide you with the quantities you need.

Vitamin A
Is essential for vision in dim light, necessary for the maintenance of healthy skin and surface tissues, especially those that excrete mucus.

  • Milk, butter, cheese and eggs
  • Chicken, kidney, liver, liver pate
  • Fish oils, mackerel, trout, herring

Another source of vitamin A is a substance called beta-carotene. This is converted by the body into vitamin A. It is found in orange, yellow and green vegetables and fruits.

Vitamin B
There are several complexes of vitamin B (B1, B2, B6, B12, folic acid).  Vitamins B6 and B12 help the body use folic acid and are vital in cell repair, digestion, production of energy and in the immune system. Vitamin B12 is also needed to breakdown fat and carbohydrate. Deficiency of either vitamin will result in anaemia.  Folic acid works closely in the body with vitamin B12, it is vital for the production of healthy blood cells.  The best sources of the B vitamins, especially B12, are

  • Animal products (meat, poultry)
  • Yeast extracts (such as Marmite)

Other sources include:

  • Asparagus, broccoli, spinach, bananas, potatoes
  • Dried apricots, dates and figs
  • Milk, eggs, cheese, yoghurt
  • Nuts and pulses
  • Fish
  • Brown rice, wheat germ, wholegrain cereals
  • Asparagus
  • Cooked Spinach
  • Black Beans
  • Pasta

Vitamin C
Vitamin C is the most important antioxidant vitamin. Vitamin C is important for growth, health body tissue, wound repair and an efficient immune system. It can also reduce cholesterol levels, iron absorption and regulate blood pressure. Fresh fruit and veg are the best sources of vitamin C so eating your 5 a day is the best way of making sure you get enough. So good sources are

  • Strawberries
  • Kiwi Fruit
  • Steamed Broccoli
  • Oranges


Vitamin D
This vitamin is essential for healthy strong bones and teeth. It helps the body to absorb calcium. Sunlight on even a cloudy day gives you enough. Food sources include

  • Oily fish
  • Liver
  • Cod liver oil
  • Dairy products

Vitamin E
Vitamin E aids a healthy heart and blood circulation and is one of the body’s main antioxidants. Foods rich in vitamin E include

  • Avocados, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, spinach, watercress, brussels sprouts
  • Blackberries, mangoes
  • Corn oil, olive oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil
  • Mackerel, salmon
  • Nuts, wholemeal and wholegrain products
  • Soft margarine


Vitamin K
This vitamin is necessary for the clotting of blood. Deficiencies are unlikely as it is found widespread in vegetable foods such as those below 

  • Spinach
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Peas
  • Cereals

Fruit and vegetables are a vital part of a balanced diet and can help us keep healthy. That’s why it so vital that we get enough of them.  5 a Day highlights the benefits to your health of getting five 80g portions of fruit and vegetables daily.

Why 5?

  • Fruit and vegetables taste delicious and there's so many different types to choose from.  
  • They're a great source of minerals and vitamins, including vitamin B, vitamin C and potassium.  
  • They're a superb source of fibre, which helps look after your gut and avoid constipation and other digestion problems. A diet high in fibre can also reduce the risk of bowel cancer.  
  • They are essential in reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer.  
  • Fruit and vegetables contribute to a balanced and healthy diet.  

Fruit and vegetables are also usually low fat and low in calories (provided you cook them in a healthy manner such as steaming rather than frying). Eating them can help you maintain a healthy weight and keep your heart healthy.

5 A DAY is based on sound advice from the World Health Organization, which recommends eating a minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables a day to lower the risk of serious health problems, such as heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes and obesity.

To get the most out of your 5 A DAY, your five portions should include a good variety of fruit and vegetables. This is because different fruits and vegetables contain different amounts of fibre, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.  Almost all fruit and vegetables count towards your 5 A DAY. Unfortunately potatoes don’t count because they mainly contribute starch to the diet.

Click here for more 5 a day tips.

Healthy Diet Tips

  • Steer clear of refined sugar
  • Avoid refined carbohydrates such as biscuits, cakes, white bread and other refined foods
  • Eat more lentils, whole grains and beans
  • Eat more vegetables either raw or lightly cooked
  • Eat 5 pieces of different fruit/veg each day
  • Avoid cigarettes and alcohol
  • Avoid tea and coffee