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Nutrition, and subsequently diet, are hot topics within society and our health system!! There are a lot of mixed messages and contradictory information available, which can make food choices confusing.

In order to understand which suggestions suit you best we have decided to discuss the pure basics of food by looking at the six major classes of nutrients needed for optimum health. Knowledge of the basics will to help you make better informed food choices.

There are six major classes of nutrients. We will break down each group, explaining how to find these nutrients and what their role is within our body. These are:

  1. Proteins

  2. Carbohydrates

  3. Lipids

  4. Vitamins

  5. Minerals

  6. Water

1. Proteins

Proteins are essentially the building blocks for the human body and can be found in meat, dairy, legumes, nuts, seafood and eggs. They are required for structure, function and regulation of body’s muscles, tissues and organs. Protein should be included in every meal to improve muscle growth and repair and to keep you feeling full longer.

Below is a list of common sources of protein and the number of grams of protein in an average serve:

  • 65g cooked lean red meat = 20g

  • 80g grilled skinless chicken = 25g

  • 100g grilled salmon = 24g

  • 2 large eggs = 11g

  • 30g mixed nuts = 5g

  • 100g tofu = 12g

  • 1 cup legumes = 13g

  • 1 cup whole milk = 8g

But how much protein should you eat? This depends on your age, weight and gender. The following table provides some recommended averages.

2. Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates consist of simple sugars and starches and can be found in fruit, pasta, rice, cereals, breads, potatoes, milk and sugar. They are broken down to glucose whose primary role is to provide energy to cells within the body and brain.

Carbohydrates can be divided into simple sugars (monosaccharides and disaccharides) and complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides), often referred to as starch. - with each section being dependent on the amount of sugar molecules.

Naturally occurring sugars in foods are not a problem (for example: lactose in milk or fructose in fruit). However, when sugars are extracted from their natural source they are devoid of nutrients, and in excess, replace other valuable nutrients in the diet and provide excess kilojoules. Added sugar is not always just white table sugar. Some products contain more than one type of added sugar. All sugars have the same amount of kilojoules no matter where they are derived from.

Some common names for added sugar used on labels in Australia include brown sugar, dextrose, fruit juice concentrate, fructose, glucose, golden syrup, honey, lactose, malt extract, maltose, modified carbohydrate, molasses, maple syrup, raw sugar, sucrose.

Complex carbohydrates are foods like fruit and vegetables, whole-wheat bread, pasta, chickpeas, lentils, beans, rice, oats and other grains. These contain essential fibre and energy and take longer to digest in the body to avoid a spike in blood sugar.

3. Lipids – otherwise known as Fats and Oils!

In day-to-day terms lipids are called fats, the right type of fats are essential in our diet, while others should be avoided altogether.

The worst type of fat is trans fat, which should be avoided altogether. This is found in margarine, vegetable shortening and many processed foods. Even a small amount in the diet is harmful. Trans fats cause inflammation and are linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.

The next type of fats are saturated fats, the in-between fat. These are solid at room temperature and include red meat, whole milk, butter, cheese, coconut oil .and many commercially prepared baked goods. A diet high in saturated fat can drive up cholesterol, which prompts blockages in the arteries. Although some recent research muddies the link between saturated fats and heart disease, it is still believed that saturated fat should make up no more than 10% of your total calories each day and it is better for your overall health to replace saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats.

Unsaturated fats - good fats come mainly from vegetables, nuts, seeds and fish. Healthy fats are liquid at room temperature, not solid. There are two broad categories - monounsaturated fats are found in olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, most nuts, as well as high-oleic safflower and sunflower oils. These are linked to the Mediterranean diet enjoyed by people with a relatively low incidence of heart disease.

The other category are polyunsaturated fats, which are essential for the body. They are used to build cell membranes, nerves coverings, blood clotting, muscle movement and to prevent inflammation. There are two main types of polyunsaturated fats: omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids and both types offer health benefits.

Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines, flaxseeds, walnuts and canola oil. Omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent and even treat heart disease and stroke, reduce blood pressure and lower triglyceride. Evidence also suggests they may benefit people suffering rheumatoid arthritis.

Omega-6 fatty acids have also been linked to protection against heart disease. Foods rich in omega-6 fatty acids include vegetable oils such as safflower, soybean, sunflower, walnut and corn oils.

4. Vitamins

Vitamins can be found in vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy and eggs among other products.

5. Minerals

Minerals can be found in milk and dairy products, red meat and seafood among other products.

Vitamins and minerals are needed in small amounts to promote and regulate the chemical processes needed for growth and the maintenance of good health. Although found in most food certain types are mandatory for normal physiological function of our body. The best approach to ensure you get a variety of vitamins and minerals, and in the proper amounts, is to adopt a broad healthy diet.

6. Water

This can be found in.... water!!! ....but also in food. Water is imperative for normal body function and maintains blood volume, thermoregulation, hydration, and digestive function.

As you can see all 6 classes of nutrients are imperative to normal healthy body function and should be consumed accordingly. Now that you understand the background of each section we can start to make some informed decisions in relation to food. If you would like more guidance on nutrition, diet and healthy eating for you please feel free to call our Tin Can Bay Dietitian on 5456 1599.

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