Why is important to balance our nutrition?
Eating a balanced diet promotes balanced nutrition. Nutrition is a mix of macronutrients and micronutrients that our body needs to function at its best.
If we have a deficiency in any of our macronutrients or micronutrients, we start to see physical issues in the way our body functions.
You may not realise that you have deficiencies in some nutrients and the effects of this may only be mild, meaning you overlook them, but others can cause more serious health issues.
What does good nutrition look like?
We want to prioritise fruit and vegetables, lean protein, complex carbohydrates, a small amount of good fat and a little bit of dairy.
Vegetarians and vegans may choose to opt out on the dairy. Just make sure you grab your calcium from another food source.
What are macronutrients
Lean meat such as chicken breast without the skin; 5% lean mince meat; fat trimmed pork chops; fish of all varieties and soya.
Vegetarians and vegans, it is possible to gain your protein from plant based foods, but as soya is the only complete plant based protein. You are going to need to combine your foods to include a full profile of amino acids.
Here we include your vegetables. Try and get your plate full to between 1/3 to 1/2 full at every meal (we will handle potatoes separately). Eat a diverse range, as vegetables are absolutely packed full of vitamins and minerals. Eat a wide range every week, and if fresh vegetable storage is an issue learn why frozen vegetables are just as good here.
Potatoes are legumes and need to be eaten in moderation. Vegetables tend to be low in calories and high in volume, meaning you can have lots. Potatoes are a little more calorie dense, so add a little to a heaping plate of vegetables.
You should eat rice, pasta and bread in moderation and try to go for wholegrain (brown) versions. Wholegrains contain more nutrition than their refined (white) counterparts and take longer to break down in the body, leaving you fuller for longer.
Fat is high in calories (9kcal per gram) compared to carbohydrate and protein (4kcal per gram). Fats are essential to our vitamin and mineral absorption, so failure to include just a little bit of fat will undo all the good work with your fruit and vegetable intake.
Not all fats are equal. We want to go for monosaturated or polyunsaturated fat. Stay clear of saturated and trans-fats. You can spot monosaturated and polyunsaturated fat as it does not go hard. It tends to come from plant based oil.
Finally, include your omega 3 fats for amazing heart health. These come from oily fish such as salmon and mackerel. There are also omega 3 fats in rapeseed (vegetable oil).
Dairy (Protein and Fat):
Again, small amounts here as dairy can be higher if fats. Go for low fat alternatives, but watch out for the sugar content hiding in some of these. Dairy helps up your calcium intake which is vital for bone health. You will be thankful for your bone health as you age.
What are the effects of imbalanced macronutrients?
Our macronutrients supply us with the building blocks and energy that our bodies require.
If you do not eat enough protein in your diet, your body will struggle to repair and grow. In order to grow and repair tissue, out body uses amino acids that it breaks down from protein. As we need these building blocks in order to constantly repair, a lack of protein can lead to tiredness, illnesses, malnourishment and catabolism (breaking down our own muscle).
Carbohydrates provide us with energy. Some people limit their carbohydrate intake, instead relying on fats for fuel.
Our body prefer carbohydrates as a source of fuel, particularly in high intensity activity. Limiting carbohydrate can cause you to fatigue faster under high energy demand. When our body has to break down fat to fuel higher activity levels, it can place our systems under greater stress.
The body also uses fat for fuel; this is generally used for lower intensity work. The body stores fat in vast amounts on the body; glycogen stores (carbohydrates) are limited. This means the body will save precious glycogen for high energy demand activities. If we neglect fat, and drop stored body fat to low levels, our bodies will initially slow us down to preserve the energy. If pushed too far, the body starts to neglect less important functions in order to preserve the energy for vital functions. This is starvation and is very unhealthy for so many systems and structures in the body. We also see a major vitamin deficiency at low fat levels, as some vitamins are fat soluble, and cannot be absorbed.
What are micronutrients?
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals that have a wide ranging function throughout all of the systems and structures in our body. Our bodies need these in small amounts. These are the nutrients that you may neglect and not realise are having an effect on your health. Keeping them balanced is simple if you maintain a balanced diet. Repetitive or limited eating habits can cause deficiencies.
Why are micronutrients important?
Anaemia caused by iron deficiency provides a simple example. Anaemia is a lack of iron in the blood which can cause you to feel fatigued, cold, and weak. It can lead to shortness of breath and chest pains. These are all symptoms that would have a great impact on the quality of your day to day life.
The vitamins and minerals in our bodies all play important roles in the way they function. These may be little roles such as transmitting signals between cells, or big roles such as impacting wound healing. Deficiencies can cause these functions to become interrupted which may have big effects. Multiple deficiencies can cause multiple symptoms which can lead to illnesses that are difficult to diagnose.
What are the micronutrients I need?
- A – Helps your immune system function; good for skin health; helps vision in dim light.
- B Complex – Helps in blood formation and the creation of red blood cells; helps us release energy from our food; helps maintain a healthy nervous system; promotes skin health.
- C – Protects cells – antioxidant; maintains the health of skin, hair, bones, cartilage and blood vessels; helps us to heal wounds.
- D – Helps absorb calcium and phosphate, important for bone, teeth and muscle health. Aids in lifting seasonal depression.
- E – Aids immune function, promotes skin and eye health.
- K – Important for bone health and blood clotting (wound healing).
- Beta carotene – Turns to Vitamin A
- Sodium – Helps to balance the fluid in our body; helps us to digest food
- Selenium – Promotes immune system function
- Potassium – Controls fluids in the body; helps maintain healthy heart function
- Magnesium – Helps convert food into energy; regulates parathyroid glands
- Manganese – Activates some of the enzymes in the body which help convert food to energy
- Molybdenum – Activates some of the enzymes in the body which help convert food to energy
- Phosphorus – Maintains strong bones and teeth; Helps the body release energy from food
- Iron – Helps to create red blood cells.
- Iodine – Promotes thyroid function and helps regulate metabolism
- Copper – Helps produce blood cells
- Cobalt – Part of Vitamin B12
- Chromium – Affects how we break down food for energy
- Zinc – Making new cells; wound healing; processing fat, carbohydrate and protein.
- Calcium – Helps blood to clot; helps muscles to contract; maintains healthy bones and teeth
How do I make sure I get enough nutrients?
The easiest way to balance your nutrition is to eat a diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, protein carbohydrates and fats. Eat a wide variety of fresh foods and try to cook meals from scratch. Processed foods are often low on nutrients, so avoiding them is key. Stay hydrated by drinking two litres of water everyday, this will help your body to metabolise all those amazing nutrients.
Think about including as many great sources of nutrition in to your day, everyday. This will also help you to maintain your weight – see how in our article Lose weight: The basics for sustainable weight loss.