Nutrition - The basics

Updated: Jan 3

Nutrition can be a difficult and complicated topic to get your head around. Just so we're on the same page, in my first blog post let's run through the basics.


A nutrient is a substance that aids the body in some way, shape or form. Whether it's to provide for basic energy requirements, or it has more of a specific function such as targeting muscle recovery or aiding digestion - a nutrient normally has a job to do in the body.


There are three key nutrients we are going to talk about - these are called macronutrients. A macronutrient is a nutrient that contains calories, which is what our body uses for energy.


We divide the 3 key macronutrients into:

  • Fat

  • Carbohydrates

  • Protein

Fat

Fat is the most caloric dense nutrient out of the three. This means it contains more energy per gram compared to both carbohydrates and protein. Fat contains 9 calories per gram, which means you need less fat to provide you with the same amount of energy than both carbohydrate and protein.


Fat has numerous roles in the body and is somewhat misunderstood with often being demonised as 'harmful to our health'. This is an extremely complicated topic and one that needs to be unwrapped much more than I will today, but be sure to keep a lookout for later blog posts to delve deeper into this topic.


First things first, fat is an essential nutrient - which means we need fat to survive. It seems strange to assume a nutrient we need for survival is only harmful. To understand the relationship between fat and health further, we need to first distinguish between the different types of fat. These can be divided into four subgroups:

  • Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA)

  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA)

  • Saturated fatty acids (SFA)

  • Trans fatty acids (TFA)


MUFA, PUFA & TFA are all unsaturated fatty acids, this means they have one or more double carbon bond in their chemical structure, whereas saturated fats have no double bond. Their chemical structure dictates how resistant they are to heat. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and saturated fats are solid, this is why olive oil, high in MUFA & PUFA is liquid and butter, high in SFA is solid.


The reason why it's important to distinguish between each fat is that they have different roles and responsibilities in the body. While PUFA may have a more direct cardioprotective role, TFA may exert a more harmful effect on our cardiovascular health. Fat is an essential part of a healthy diet and it's important to obtain your fat intake from a variety of sources. We will certainly discuss more about fat in later blog posts!


Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are sugars and are separated based on the number of sugar units and how these sugar units are bonded.


With carbohydrates being a macronutrient, they are one of the 3 main energy sources for the body.



Carbohydrates are commonly split into two different forms depending on how quickly our body digests and absorbs them:


- Simple carbohydrates

- Complex carbohydrates


Simple carbohydrates are more refined, which means other nutrients like fibre and starch have been removed to make it more flavoursome and sweet. Simple carbohydrates vary from white pasta, white rice and white bread to more condensed sources of sugar such as sweets and cereals. Simple carbohydrates are digested more quickly through the body causing a more rapid spike in blood sugars.


Complex carbohydrates, also referred to as 'starches' are broken down more slowly compared to simple carbohydrates and generally speaking are the healthier option between the two. Complex carbohydrates are less refined therefore more nutrient-rich, most noticeably with higher fibre content. Fibre and its numerous health benefits will be discussed in further blog posts in more detail, so do keep an eye out! Carbohydrates, just like fat certainly have their place in a well balanced healthy diet.

Protein

Protein is the third and final macronutrient we'll be discussing today. Protein is composed of amino acids,

which are commonly referred to as the building blocks of protein.



Notoriously famous for its role in muscle recovery and growth, it plays an essential role in muscle protein synthesis (MPS), the repair and recovery of muscle tissue after daily activities, as well as numerous other roles such as biochemical signalling through enzymes and hormones.


Containing 4kcal per gram, protein also provides the body with energy and is an integral part of any healthy diet.


Summary

There are 3 macronutrients which provide energy to the body. Each macronutrient has unique roles and responsibilities and offers different nutrients for body processes. If you would like to learn more about nutrition then click here. If you would like to book in a free 15-minute consultation, you can do so here!


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