Basic Nutrition

A few Nutrition Basics before we start…

A Calorie

A calorie is a unit of energy. This energy is derived from what you eat and drink and the body uses these calories for any number of things – be that ‘surviving (breathing, the beating of your heart, the functioning of your brain), every day movement (sitting, showering, talking), or exercise.

When someone eats more calories than they need the excess can be used to build tissues (eg: muscle), stored for later use (eg: as fat or glycogen) or can simply be ‘wasted’ (eg: there is an increase your temperature, and an increased in subconscious fidgeting). If you don’t eat enough to fuel your needs, the body uses STORED fuel (fat, muscle or glycogen) to fill the deficit – and you will lose weight.

1 calorie (or more correctly 1 Kcal) = 4.18 kJ

Carbohydrates

‘Carbohydrate’ is the name given to a broad group of molecules that are found in many different foods. For ease of explanation I will (broadly) divide them into:

Sugars

The term ‘sugar’ is used when discussing short chain or single unit molecules made up of fructose, glucose, and/or galactose which can combine in many different ways to also form the sugars maltose, lactose, and sucrose.

They are primarily used as energy for the body and have 4 calories per gram. They are found naturally in things such as:

  • Fruits – Usually a combination of fructose, glucose and many other types of sugars. Examples include berries, apples, pears, melons, citrus and all other types (all fruit can be included in a diet)!
  • Dairy – This is usually ‘lactose’ and it is found in dairy such as yoghurts, milk, soft cheeses, ice-cream etc. Lactose is the main issue in those that have dairy intolerance (lactose intolerant) and this should not be confused with dairy allergy (eg: to milk proteins).

Starches

Long chains (either branched or not branched) of glucose molecules (so essentially they are ‘sugar’ molecules joined together). This does NOT necessarily correlate to ‘low GI’ and nor does it mean they are ‘slow to digest’. It simply refers to the length of the glucose chain.

Like sugars they are sources of energy for the body and also have 4 cals per gram. Examples would be:

  • Whole grains and products (eg: oats, barley, rye, wheat, buckwheat, quinoa, brown rice, corn, kamut & spelt)
  • Legumes such as lentils, kidney beans, chick-peas, chana dhal, White beans, split peas, black beans
  • Starchy vegetables such as potato, sweet potato, taro or yams

Fibre

This is a type of carbohydrate that can’t readily be used by the body as energy. Unlike starches and sugars it only contains 1.5-3 cals per gram (depending on the type). It is VITAL for your health and I am a strong advocator of high fibre diets. If included in high amounts, fibre helps control and prevent a number of diseases including bowel cancer, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, dementia, and heart disease. For weight loss fiber is also very good. It helps to fill you up & to keep you full. Also helps your body to ‘burn energy’ as you digest your food and, as such, aids in weight loss. Additionally, fibre (especially FOS) is extremely beneficial to the intestinal lining and the good bacteria in your intestines – both of which have a marked impact on your health.

It is usually divided into two types:

  • Soluble Fibre – A good example is psyllium, also found in things like fruits, legumes, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Insoluble Fibre – Found in high amounts in brans, husks and the outer coverings of seeds, and grains.

Protein

Proteins are long or short chains of amino acids. They are important building blocks for the body and are used by the body for NUMEROUS things – including, but not limited to: The repair and renew all your tissues including muscle, blood, skin, hair, nails, intestines, and bones. They are used to make many important enzymes and hormones in the body and are also used to help maintain the health of your nerves. As most people are now aware, moderate to high protein diets has also recently been linked to improvements health markers such as glucose tolerance, waist measurements, cholesterol, and even bone health.

Aside in being important to health, the evidence is high for the important use of protein in weight loss and athletic goals – they are very good for satiety, help you retain the health of your muscles and tissues as you lose weight, and help repair muscle damage done during exercise.

The ‘usefulness’ of the different proteins varies widely depending on the source (eg: animal or plant/ vegetable sources) so where possible you should get a variety of different types. Examples include:

Lean Animal Sources

  • Seafood (fresh, canned or frozen) – Tuna & white fish, Shellfish (Prawns, crab, lobster, etc), Octopus and Calamari
  • Poultry/Poultry products – Skinless Chicken/Turkey breast, Egg whites
  • Dairy – 1-2% fat free cottage cheese, Low fat Ricotta cheese, Fat-free milk and Live yoghurts
  • Lean meats – Game meats (bison, kangaroo), extra lean red meats, and lean pork
  • Protein Supplements – including whey, casein, milk, and egg

Fatty Animal Sources

  • Seafood – Salmon, mackerel, sardines
  • Land animal – Red Meats, Eggs, and full fat dairy including hard cheeses or full cream milk

Plant Sources

  • Tofu or soy product – Fermented such as tempeh, or unfermented such as soybean or tofu
  • Protein Supplements – Now made from plant sources such as soy, pea, buckwheat, or brown rice

NOTE: other sources such as legumes/pulses, grains and nuts/seeds do give some protein – and if included in a well balanced diet they can be used to meet the protein requirements for vegans and vegetarians…. but it is important to note that the ‘biological value’ of these proteins (that is, the ease/usefulness in the body) is not as good as other sources (eg: animal or soy products).

Lastly – they can also be used or stored as energy and have a debatable 4 cals of energy per gram.

Fats

Fats are ‘essential’ in maintaining health. This means that without them, after a period of time, you will essentially not be able to live. And this begs the question as to why many people cut them out of their diets in the 1980′s and 1990′s! But the reason why was because they are very high in calories – so at the time people found that if they cut out fat, they would drastically lose weight! (they have twice the energy content of protein and carbohydrates (9 cals per gram)).

Fat can be divided into broad groups including:

Mono-Unsaturated

These are very good for your health – and are linked to a decrease risk of things such as heart disease

Examples of things that are high in these include: Avocado, Olives or olive oil

Poly-Unsaturated

These are those ‘amazing’ fats that most people talk about in relation to a multitude of health benefits… This includes (but is not limited to) things like brain development and health, blood pressure, heart disease, autoimmune disease, bone health, hormone production.

They are divided into OMEGA-6 and OMEGA-3 fats.

Examples of Omega-3 sources include: Linseeds or flaxseeds, Fatty fish

Examples of Omega-6 sources include: Sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, Walnuts, Almonds, and Pecans

Saturated

Although not as ‘evil’ as many think – an excess in your diet HAS been linked to poor health outcomes. Most people get more than enough of these in their regular diets to need to supplement or add extra. They are found in animal sources such as Whole eggs, Higher fat meats, High Fat cheese and Milk.