Nutrition is the study of all the nutrients that come from the food we consume, how our bodies use those nutrients, and the connection between our overall health and our diet.
A nutritionist is a person who advises other people regarding the food they eat and how it impacts their overall health. Dieticians are also experts in nutrition and diet, but contrary to popular belief, a nutritionist is not the same as a dietician. There are regulatory laws in the US that dictate license and certification requirements before a dietitian can work in their field, and the job of nutritionist nowadays has evolved to merge with other industries, such as journalism and teaching. One thing that both nutritionists and dieticians understand is that the building blocks of nutrition fall into two main categories – macro and micro. Macronutrients are ones we require in large amounts and can be further broken down into two groups – energy-producers and non-energy producers.
Energy macronutrients provide the human body with energy. The amount of energy is measured in kilocalories (kcal) and each macronutrient provides a different amount.
Carbohydrates – 4 kcal per gram
Carbohydrates provide the fuel your body and brain need in order to function from day to day. The carbohydrate family includes a variety of starches and sugars such as glucose, fructose, galactose, disaccharides, and polysaccharides. There are also “good” and “bad” carbs and those are determined by how nutrient-rich they are and how they affect the spikes in blood sugar during digestion. Carbs that take longer to digest are considered good because blood sugar remains steady, helping you feel fuller longer.
Proteins – 4 kcal per gram
Proteins are broken down inside the human body into smaller molecules called amino acids. There are two kinds – essential and nonessential. Nonessential amino acids are made naturally by the human body. Essential amino acids are not produced naturally by the human body so they need to be consumed in other ways.
Fats – 9 kcal per gram
Fats are called triglycerides because they are composed of three molecules of fatty acid around one molecule of glycerol. They are necessary to help absorb vitamins, reduce inflammation, lubricate joints, maintain brain health, and help certain organs produce hormones.
Non-Energy Producing Macronutrients
Despite being made of mostly complex carbs, fiber is not easily absorbed by the body. Because of this, the sugars and starches that come from these carbohydrates don’t enter the bloodstream the way that plain carbohydrates do. Fiber aids in the process of digestion and helps clear bacteria from the colon, lowering the risk of colon cancer.
About 70 percent of the human body is composed of water. It is essential for flushing out toxins and keeping cells hydrated, as well as aiding in digestion.
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. While not as large, they are still vital to the human body. They help mend injuries and sustain the immune system. Micronutrients can be found in supplement form but experts agree they are better consumed in a whole food state, such as in dark leafy vegetables or vibrantly colored fruit. The general rule of thumb is that darker foods are healthier and have more nutrients.