Nutrition Basics

by Grace Iberle, RDN, LDN, CHC, CPT

Why is nutrition important?

Food is nourishment for our bodies and the fuel to keep us going during our busy lives. Focusing on what we put into our bodies can have a huge impact on our energy levels throughout the day, alertness, and overall wellbeing.

Not only does our food give us energy, it helps to keep our bodies healthy through building, replacing, and repairing cells and tissues, keeping our biological processes functioning smoothly (think digestion, cardiovascular, neural, etc), supporting our immune system and fighting infection, and can help prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

The Building Blocks of Nutrition:

There are six essential nutrients we must focus on when filling our plates: protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water. To eat a healthy and balanced diet, it is important to include all of the key nutrients in proper amounts.

Protein is essential for growth and repair, stabilizes blood sugars, preserves lean muscle mass, and supports our immune function.

Focus on including: lean proteins – poultry, seafood, eggs, legumes (ie. beans)

Carbohydrates are used as our primary fuel source, they are stored for energy in our muscles and liver, they are necessary for our central nervous system, kidney, brain, and muscle function, and they are important for intestinal health.

Focus on including: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans, peas, corn, milk

Fat is essential for brain development and cell membranes, allows us to absorb fat soluble vitamins, and helps us to feel satiated for longer.

Focus on including: fatty fish, nuts, seeds, avocados, non-tropical oils

Vitamins are necessary for a variety of biological processes such as growth, digestion, and nerve function. Vitamins are broken down into two categories, water-soluble vitamins and fat-soluble vitamins.

Minerals keep our bones, muscles, heart, and brain functioning properly. Minerals are also divided into two categories, macrominerals and trace minerals.

Focus on including: a variety of food groups to ensure you are eating sufficient vitamins and minerals

Water is another essential nutrient. Our bodies are made up of over 60% water. Water moistens tissues, regulates body temperature, helps our body absorb nutrients, keeps us alert and focused, and helps our bodies to operate optimally.

Focus on: drinking more water throughout the day, juicy fruits and vegetables

When choosing what foods to eat, opt for nutrient dense foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, eggs, beans, peas, unsalted nuts and seeds, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, and lean meats, poultry, and water. Limit sodium, saturated fats, trans-fats, and added sugars!