Nutrition 101: Understanding Carbs, Fats, Vitamins, Minerals…

Here’s Why You Need To Eat A Variety Of Foods

Have you ever wondered…

Why don’t we eat just one food (like wheat or corn) everyday for survival?

We would be bored within the first couple of days, yes!

But is that it?

Let’s think hypothetically for a while and say only wheat exists (wheat is a staple food in a lot of countries) and we have to eat only wheat items every day.

nutrition wheat

Now, let us examine our everyday food which is wheat…

100 grams of wheat supplies 350 calories so you (an Indian woman) need to eat 500 grams (half a kilo) of wheat to survive.

Cook this half a kilo of wheat and you will be eating around 1 kilo (double weight due to cooking) of wheat and 1750 calories.

But is that all we should consider and be satisfied with?

Let us see examine the nutritional value of half a kilo of wheat…

nutrition wheatBy eating half a kilo of wheat…

We would overshoot the Carbohydrates, Protein, Vitamin A and Magnesium daily recommendation value. Some concern.

But the larger concerns would be…

  • Zero Sodium
  • Zero Vitamin A
  • Zero Vitamin B12
  • Zero Vitamin D (Most Vitamin D is produced by the body. Still a little is required from foods)
  • Zero Vitamin C
  • Almost Zero Calcium
  • Half of the Potassium necessary for the body
  • Almost Zero Fats (This isn’t a good thing. Ready WHY!)

How serious a problem is this?

Let’s say you live the hypothetical world wherein wheat is the only palatable food, you wouldn’t survive for more than a few weeks or months!!

You wouldn’t survive for more than a few weeks even though you would be eating sufficient calories. (Exactly why calorie counting fails!)

I know that you know where this is leading. (The title of the post says it all!)

The reason we eat many different types of foods is that we need many different types of nutrients to survive and grow and develop.

And no single food can provide all the nutrients necessary for survival. (A few come pretty close and they are called superfoods!)

This is exactly why we do not and should not restrict ourselves to a limited number of foods. The more variety you eat, the fitter a person you will be.

If you miss out on even one micronutrient here and there, it might be affecting you life without you even knowing it!

For example. You need only 22 mg of iron per day. It is a really tiny amount. But if your diet is such that you are not getting it regularly, your haemoglobin will reduce and you will suffer from anaemia or weakness.

India ranks number 1 when it comes to anaemic populations of children and women due to iron deficiency.

Like Iron, we have numerous macro and micro nutrients.

Types of Nutrients

Macronutrients

Macronutrients are those nutrients which we require in large amount.

There are three macronutrients – Carbohydrates, Fats and Protein.

Let us have a look at each of them…

Carbohydrates

nutrition carbs

Carbs are vilified by everyone.

But they are essential as they are the main source of energy in human beings. 1 gram of carb supplies 4 calories of energy.

So why are carbs so hated?

Carbs are hated by people who consume more carbs than they should and fail to burn the extra and gain weight due to this.

It is true that carbs are responsible for weight gains but it is also true that without carbs we wouldn’t survive.

So there needs to be struck a perfect balance when it comes to consumption of foods that are high in carbs like sugars, potatoes, cereals, bread, pasta, rice etc.

Eating too many carbs will make you gain weight quickly whereas eating less carbs is a call to illnesses like low blood sugar.

Fats

fatsFats are literally hated! They are blamed; they are abused!

For most people… OIL=FATS!

But in reality that isn’t the case…

Fats come from a variety of sources…

All these sources provide fats that are either good or bad in nature. (You can read all about good and bad fats in detail here!)

Yes, there are good fats as well! 😀

Now most people for whom this was a revelation might still be under the presumption that even good fats make you fat/overweight!

But it is actually the other way around.

Fats are highly misunderstood and we have explained them elaborately in this separate blog post.

Moreover, there are some micronutrients (few Vitamins) which are fat soluble.

These Vitamins are absolutely necessary for the proper functioning of the body and you cannot absorb them unless you are eating sufficient quantities of fats. So don’t ditch fats!

Protein

nutrition protein

Protein is loved by all.

Foods that supply protein are not only healthy but delicious… think of pulses, eggs, milk, paneer, cheese, chicken etc. (These are the 5 best protein sources!)

Everyone knows that protein promotes weight loss.

The more protein you eat, the fuller you feel. The fuller you feel, the lesser you eat. The lesser you eat, the more weight you lose.

Protein promotes muscle building. This is the reason why you see gym enthusiasts sipping on protein shakes before/after their gymming sessions.

While carbs is the most important nutrient for survival, protein is the most important for weight loss.

Hence, people trying to lose weight should eat as much protein as possible instead of carbs.

Same goes for good fats. Good fats should take a preference over carbs.

In India, most of the junta is vegetarian. And vegetarian foods do not have quality protein.

Most quality protein sources are non-vegetarian. For example: chicken, fish, eggs etc.

For such people, we always recommend whey protein.

whey proteins

Whey Protein

There are a lot of ideas that whey protein is only for body builders or gym enthusiasts or to cure protein deficiency. But they aren’t true!

Whey protein is the whey to go! (Especially, for vegetarians!)

So love protein and it will love you back! 😀

Moving on…

Micronutrients

These are the type of nutrients that you do not need in abundance but are essential nonetheless!

Also, their content in foods is pretty less.

Any deficiency in any of these micronutrients can result in serious illnesses so you must be careful that you are eating sufficient quantities of these micronutrients.

There are various categories here…

Vitamins

Vital + Amines = Vitamins!

Vitamins are the set of vital amines (nutrients) that are essential for the proper functioning of the body.

Vitamins, as all of you know are named using alphabets A, B, C etc.

Each of them is a vital nutrient. Let us have a look at each of them…

Vitamin A

nutrition vitamin A

Most people know about the correlation between Vitamin A and functioning of the eyes.

But not many people know that there is more than one category of Vitamin A. (Like the various forms of Vitamin B)

The first category is retinol which is obtained from animal sources like liver and eggs and can be directly used by the body.

The second category is carotenoids which are obtained from plant sources and need to be converted into retinol to be used by the body.

Major Vitamin A sources are – meat, milk, eggs, chicken, carrots, sweet potatoes etc.

Deficiency of Vitamin A can cause –

  • Poor eyesight (also known as nyctalopia or night blindness)
  • Issues in pregnant women and infants
  • Infections of the throat and chest
  • Dry hair and dry skin with itching
  • Delayed bone development in teenagers

On the other hand, an overdose or toxicity of Vitamin A may also cause other irregular health issues which are as severe.

Vitamin B Complex

nutrition vitamin B

There are many types of Vitamin B; we shall look at some especially important ones.

Vitamins B6, B9 and B12 are essential for the proper development of the brain and healthy intake of these ensures you stay away from dementia, Alzheimer’s and related diseases.

Deficiency of Vitamin B12 is pretty common. (A whopping 8 out of 10 Indians are deficient in Vitamin B12)

It causes the onset of memory related diseases, depression, brain atrophy, etc.

It is also believed that a deficiency of Vitamin B12 can affect the production of red blood cells, alertness and cause hair loss.

This deficiency is observed in most of vegetarians since the most prominent sources of Vitamin B12 are non-vegetarian foods and milk.

So, if you are a vegetarian you have to start drinking a lot of milk and consuming a lot of dairy products if you do not wish to be deficient in Vitamin B12.

Animal sources, especially chicken, fish and eggs, milk and vegetables contain all the B Vitamins you need for the proper functioning of the body.

Vitamin C

nutrition vitamin C

Vitamin C is the most popular vitamin.

Everyone knows that it is found in citrus fruits like orange and lemon in abundance and even in a lot of vegetables.

Vitamin C deficiency is the rarest because it is so commonly found in typical foods we Indians eat.

Anyhow, it is our job to indulge you in some Vitamin C trivia! 😀

For starters, Vitamin C prevents common cold, age-related brain degeneration, strokes, heart diseases.

Vitamin C keeps you happy! (by keeping depression away)

Vitamin C is also an antioxidant! (If you don’t know what an antioxidant is, this post is tailor-made for you!)

Vitamin C is present in decent quantities in almost all fruits and veggies. Some rich sources of Vitamin C are-

Citrus Fruits (Lemon, Orange, Grapefruit)

Cruciferous Vegetables like Cauliflower, Broccoli, and Sprouts

Berries like Strawberries, Blueberries, and Raspberries

Vitamin D

vitamin D nutrition

Vitamin D and Calcium are a team. Absence of either will have consequences.

Vitamin D makes the Calcium you intake through your diet useful. Both, Vitamin D and Calcium are responsible for the well-being of your bones.

But Vitamin D is a unique vitamin. Most of Vitamin D is produced by the body by absorption of sunlight!

No amounts of dietary sources are sufficient to give you enough Vitamin D. You need the sun’s blessings if you wish to keep your bone health top notch.

Hence, it is recommended to go out in the sun early in morning when it is mild and warm.

Else you have to consume Vitamin D supplements! (Which, as a matter of fact, most people do!)

Deficiency of Vitamin D will result in weakening of bones and aches in joints.

You will find the best sources of Vitamin D and Calcium in this blog post.

Vitamin E

nutrition Vitamin E

Very few people know about this particular vitamin. It almost doesn’t exist in people’s mind…

To begin with, Vitamin E is also an antioxidant like Vitamin C. So it helps in regeneration and prevents aging of skin, hair etc.

One important thing about Vitamin E is that its significance increases many folds during pregnancy.

To ensure that Vitamin E levels don’t fall during this critical period, pregnant women and new-borns are given supplements of Vitamin E.

Vitamin E naturally balances your hormones which is why women generally take Vitamin E supplements 2-3 before their PMS cycle begins. This results in fewer cramps, less anxiety and less pain.

Significant sources of Vitamin E are – Hazelnut, sunflower seeds, mango, avocados, almonds etc.

Vitamin K

nutrition vitamin KIf anyone remembers school science, they remember that Vitamin K is related to blood clotting!

If there were no Vitamin K there would be no blood clotting it would be disastrous.

Although Vitamin K is known for its ability to clot blood, there are other places where Vitamin K is absolutely essential –

  1. Prevention of Heart related ailments
  2. Prevention of memory-related diseases
  3. Development of bones
  4. Prevention of Diabetes
  5. Prevention of Cancer

Most people are deficient in Vitamin K, just like most are Vitamin D deficient.

There are three types of Vitamin K – K1, K2 and K3.

Of these, K2 is the most important one and K3 can be lethal in higher doses.

Hence, a supplement of K2 is what doctors generally advise.

Research has shown than a deficiency of Vitamin K2 results in the toxicity of Vitamin D.

Food sources of Vitamin K are – Fermented foods, eggs, cheese, chicken etc.

Antioxidants!

antioxidants

Antioxidants are the most underrated nutrients. (They do not exactly qualify as nutrients, however.)

We have a separate blog post dedicated to antioxidants and you don’t want to miss it!

Why? Well, if you do not want to age and look like you are 25 all your life… antioxidants is your best bet!

Minerals – Metal Power

It comes as a surprise to a lot of people that we require nutrients that are basically metals for our survival!

But it is true! These guys (metals) are absolutely crucial micronutrients that should not be taken lightly.

Let’s have a look at the most important ones…

Calcium

Calcium is mainly and mostly related to bone development.

It is perhaps the most important micronutrient (apart from Vitamins).

We have explained all there is to know about Calcium in this separate blog post.

Selenium

nutrition selenium

How many people even know about this micronutrient? A handful, perhaps!

But selenium is more important than you think… Selenium plays crucial roles in:

  • Making special proteins, called antioxidant enzymes, which play a role in preventing cell damage
  • Helping your body protect you after a vaccination
  • Keeps you safe from high doses of heavy metals which may cause toxicity

Food sources of selenium are – fish, grain, red meat, garlic etc.

Sodium

sodium nutrition

Sodium chloride or common salt is the source of our body’s sodium needs.

So by now, most of you would have understood that sodium toxicity (due to more than usual consumption of salt) results in the most fatal diseases like blood pressure.

Sodium is essential, nonetheless.

Sodium maintains the electrolyte and water balance in the body.

Sodium deficiency is uncommon because salt is something that is absolutely necessary in preparation of all our meals.

Phosphorus

nutrition phosphorus

Phosphorus and Calcium work in tandem in development of bones, teeth and protect us from osteoporosis and similar bone diseases.

Most of the phosphorus in the body is found in the teeth and bones and the rest is in the cells and tissues.

The main sources of phosphorus are nuts, grains, milk, potatoes, eggs etc.

All these are prominent in most typical Indian diets and hence deficiency of phosphorus is pretty unusual.

Magnesium

magnesium nutrition

Magnesium contributes to about 300 biochemical reactions that take place in the body.

Magnesium helps in regulating glucose (sugar) levels.

Magnesium also promotes a healthy immune system, healthy heart and healthy bones.

Most prominent sources of magnesium are dark green leafy vegetables, bananas, apricots, almonds, cashews etc.

Magnesium deficiency may result in drowsiness and muscle weakness.

Iron

iron nutrition

Most people know that there exists a relationship between iron and haemoglobin.

Optimum iron levels promote the levels of haemoglobin which is necessary for the production of red blood cells.

Haemoglobin is necessary for transport of blood from lungs to tissues as well as proper immune function.

Iron sources are spinach and other green leafy vegetables, poultry, red meat, tofu, peas, tomatoes etc.

Iron deficiency results in anaemia which means you feel week most of the time.

Potassium

potassium nutrition

Bananas, anyone?

Bananas are the best source of potassium, but what is potassium needed for in our bodies?

Potassium is crucial to heart function and essential for the proper functioning of cells, tissues and organs.

Potassium sources include dairy products, meat and most fruits and veggies.

Diarrhea, vomiting, excessive sweating, malnutrition, malabsorption syndromes, such as Crohn disease, can also cause potassium deficiency.

Iodine

iodine nutrition

Iodine is well known for it is related to thyroid problem.

Iodine regulates the thyroid hormones which in turn play important roles in metabolism and energy expenditure of the body.

Kids require iodine for development of cognitive abilities. Also, optimum iodine levels are necessary for pregnant women and infants.

Lack of iodine in the body results in goitre which is swelling of the thyroid gland near the neck. Other problems related to low levels of iodine are mental weakness, increase in cholesterol, weight gain etc.

Manganese

manganese nutrition

One of the most obscure micronutrient, manganese is more important than you think or know.

Manganese plays a role in maintaining cardiac or heart function.

Osteoporosis has been linked with manganese deficiency which means manganese also contributes to the well-being of your bones.

Manganese has antioxidant properties which help in delaying aging and keep your hair and skin healthy.

Legumes, nuts, green leafy vegetables, whole grains, tea, etc. are rich in manganese.

Deficiency of manganese is pretty rare but if present it can cause the weakening of bones, tiredness and longer time in healing of wounds.

So there you have them! All the macronutrients and all the micronutrients you need to have knowledge of!

All of them are obtained through proper nutrition… (except Vitamin D, as we saw…)

which is why we have always stressed and will continue to stress upon on proper and optimum nutrition!

So eat healthy and nutritious always! 🙂

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