Nutrition is the process of taking in nutrients from the foods you eat. Learn about the six nutrients needed for energy, maintenance of tissues and regulation of bodily processes: carbohydrates, fats, proteins, water, vitamins and minerals.
Have you ever heard the expression, ‘you are what you eat?’ While we can’t take this literally, this simple saying contains a lot of truth.
The foods you choose to eat determine which nutrients your body will receive and in what quantities. Nutrients are substances that allow your body to make energy, build and maintain tissues and regulate bodily processes. If you eat a healthy diet filled with a variety of high-nutrient foods, you are more likely to enjoy good health, than if you eat a poor diet that is lacking in nutrients. This lesson will provide an overview of nutrition, which is the process of taking in nutrients from foods, by looking at the six classes of nutrients:
Three of these six classes of nutrients are referred to as macronutrients because they are required in large quantities. The prefix macro means large, so this is a fairly easy term to remember.
The macronutrients are carbohydrates, lipids and proteins. They are somewhat unique because they are the only nutrients that provide your body with energy, which is measured in calories.
Of the three macronutrients, your body looks to carbohydrates for quick energy because carbs are readily available when there’s an immediate need for energy. All carbohydrates come from food, but different foods contain different types of carbohydrates. For example, when you eat a cookie, you are consuming mostly sugars, or simple carbs. Whereas your spaghetti dinner contains a lot of starches, which are complex carbs made up of many sugars. Eat some fruits and veggies and you will take in fiber, which is a type of carbohydrate that cannot be digested. This means you cannot get energy from fiber, yet fiber is great for moving foods through your digestive tract, so you want plenty of it in your diet.
Lipids, which are commonly called fats, have more calories per gram than the other macronutrients, so you can think of them as energy-dense nutrients that are a perfect source of sustainable energy when you need some endurance. Like carbs, there are different types of fats. Saturated fats, like butter, are solid at room temperature; unsaturated fats, like vegetable oils, are liquid at room temperature.
As for proteins, they do contain calories, but because proteins are so important for growth, development and repair, your body uses them as a last resort source of energy. You get proteins in a variety of animal and plant foods, with meats and beans being good sources. Your body then breaks these protein-containing foods down into amino acids, which are the basic building blocks of proteins. The amino acids are then reassembled into thousands of different types of body proteins.
Water is another class of nutrient. Some nutritionists categorize water as a macronutrient because it’s needed in large quantities, but it’s typically placed in its own category, because, unlike the other nutrients, it’s a single substance. Water makes up about 60% of your body weight. It’s easily lost through urine, sweat and evaporation, so you need to frequently fill up by drinking liquids and eating foods that contain water, like fruits and vegetables. The functions of water are important because it lubricates your joints, transports substances around your body and regulates your body temperature, so you never want to be low on water.
The opposite of macronutrients are micronutrients, and as you might have guessed, they are required in small quantities. Our last two classes of nutrients, vitamins and minerals, are micronutrients. Micronutrients do not contain calories, which means they do not directly provide your body with energy. However, one of the functions of vitamins is energy metabolism, which means they help your body convert calorie-containing nutrients into energy. Other functions include maintaining your vision, protecting your cells from damage and helping with blood clotting. Vitamins are either fat soluble, which means they can be stored in fatty tissues, or water soluble, which means they dissolve in water and are easily flushed from the body.