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Nutrition 101

Nutrition 101

In this post we will discuss the basic framework of nutrition including an overview of macronutrients, micronutrients, and a basic functional glossary of nutrition terminology.

Nutrition is about more than just weight management. Our nutrition via the food and fluids we intake literally becomes us, our energy source, and oversees the billion chemical reactions that take place in each cell each second!

Nutrition is important for physical health, mental health, disease prevention, immune system function, cognitive performance, and healthy aging!

Would you put crude oil in your lamborghini?

Obesity is a complex metabolic condition marked by chronic inflammation and with multiple underlying and overlying causes including poor nutrition intake coupled with increased processed foods intake and exposure to a whole host of compounds now termed “obesogens”. Aside from maintaining a healthy weight, ideal nutrition.

The Standard American Diet and our food and beverage industry that supports it is well-documented to contribute as a risk factor to most chronic diseases.

A 2019 study that analyzed the healthfulness of U.S. packaged foods (Baldridge et al, 2019) found that 70.9% of the foods available in the market were considered “ultraprocessed.”

Food as Energy

  • The Calorie is the standard unit of measurement that tracks the amount of energy content within a food.
  • We consume calories when we eat energy-containing, digestible macronutrients.
  • Macronutrients have a set amount of energy that can be released per gram (weight) that explains the energy density of each
  • Protein - 4 Calories per gram of protein
  • Carbohydrates - 4 Calories per gram of carbs
  • Fats - 9 Calories per gram of fats
  • The amount of calories in a food is neither good nor bad, but the FORM and quality of the macronutrients do have a role in nutrition. (For example, 1 gram of trans fats, (which are known to contribute to inflammation and many other issues in the body) has 9 calories, just as 1 gram of anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fats has 9 calories. The calories aren’t the issue, the sources of the calories are.
  • There are many dietary plans and patterns out there depending on preferences, goals, and diagnoses, but a standard distribution of calories in a 2,000 calorie per day diet is as follows.
  • 25% of daily calories from proteins
  • 30% of daily calories from fats
  • 45% of daily calories from carbohydrates
  • You can use many different calculators out there to estimate your daily calorie needs - try the NIH Body Weight Planner (we’ll expand on this in a later topic, but weight loss is indeed more complex than calories in/calories out… tbc)

The Macronutrients

  • Protein
    • Protein is made up of building blocks called amino acids.  When we digest and absorb protein, these building blocks are the same materials that make up our own bodies!  Our DNA genetic material is code for protein creation built from amino acids!
    • Protein is found in both animal sources (meat, eggs, dairy, etc.) and plant sources (soy, beans, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, etc.) 
  • Carbohydrates
    • Carbohydrates are the source of energy that the body uses up first.  
    • In ideal amounts, most carbohydrates are broken down into smaller pieces such as glucose, which can then be used for energy.  In excess they are stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen or then converted to body fat.
    • Carbohydrates come in many forms and may be classified into two general categories:
      • Simple carbohydrates - Smaller compounds like glucose, sucrose (table sugar), fructose (fruit sugar) are some examples and they are rapidly absorbed and can quickly increase one’s blood sugar levels - examples include fruit, honey, and refined sugar
      • Complex carbohydrates - These are larger compounds that take more time to breakdown and utilize as absorbable, more steady energy compared to simple sugars - examples include beans and whole grains
  • Fats
    • Fats are the source of energy that is preferred after available carbohydrates are used up.
    • Let’s introduce fats in terms of their healthfulness, starting with the potentially harmful fats to the beneficial fats
      • Trans fats - These are fats that are artificially created through food processing techniques and frying and have been demonstrated to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease
      • Saturated fats -  These fats are mostly found in animal sources such as meat and dairy, and it’s best to minimize fats in this form.  They are connected to inflammation and heart disease.
      • Unsaturated fats - These are found primarily in nuts, seeds, and fatty fish.  Unsaturated fats are broken down into polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.  These are generally considered to be anti-inflammatory with some exceptions such as with seed oils.  Omega 3’s and omega-6’s fall under this category of fats. 
    • Fats are important for many reasons aside from energy including aiding in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, & K), hormone production, cognitive function, and satiety and weight management.

Micronutrients

  • Vitamins - This is a group of essential, organic compounds (containing carbon in their chemical structure) required for overall health that can be broken down into two categories
    • Fat Soluble - Vitamins A, D, E, & K.  They require fats to be absorbed properly.  Since they “live in” fats, excessive consumption or supplementation can lead to toxicity because they can build up in fats and are less readily mobilized and excreted compared to water-soluble vitamins.  The ideal is balance and possibly consulting with a wellness professional.
    • Water Soluble - Vitamin C and the B vitamins - They are readily absorbed in water and generally an excessive consumption will be excreted in the urine through the kidneys
    • A varied diet in nutrient-dense foods is key to ensuring a broad intake of each of the vitamins; supplementation can help ensure adequate intake
    • When we are ill, inflamed, or stressed, vitamin needs are increased due to our body’s increased demand. 
    • Vitamins play many roles such as in immunity, energy usage and production, maintaining healthy skin, bone, and organ function, and many more uses.
  • Minerals - This is a group of essential, non-organic (do not contain carbon in their chemical structure) compounds that are required for many functions and chemical reactions within the body.  They are also broken down into two categories:
    • Macrominerals - These are required in higher amounts
      • Examples include magnesium, potassium, sodium, and calcium
    • Trace Minerals - These are required in smaller amounts, though equally important.
      • Examples include iron, zinc, copper, and selenium
    • Micronutrients play myriad roles throughout the body from wound healing to bone formation, from creating DNA to heart and skeletal muscle function.
    • A diverse, nutrient-dense diet is generally adequate to meet needs, but supplementation may be necessary depending on individual needs.  Like vitamins, the body’s demands increase in times of illness, chronic inflammation, and other dysfunctional patterns.

Phytonutrients

  • Also known as phytochemicals, these are compounds from plant sources that that have a wide variety of potential health benefits.  They include subcategories such as polyphenols, flavonoids, and carotenoids.
  • They are not considered “essentially” like vitamins and minerals as they are not “required”, but they play impactful roles in overall health and disease prevention
  • Properties of phytonutrients include anti-inflammatory, acting as antioxidants, anti-cancer properties, immune-boosting functions, hormone supporting functions, gut-health supporting, and supporting brain health
  • Eating the rainbow of colors of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds is a great way to ensure diverse uptake of phytonutrients.  Many phytonutrients give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors.

4 General Nutrition-focus Shopping Tips

  1. Shop around the perimeter of the grocery store in general as this is where most of the less-processed and more nutrient dense foods are generally located.
  2. If you glance at a nutrition label, if you can’t pronounce an ingredient, you probably shouldn’t consume it. Do you research if there is something you’re unsure about
  3. Most of your food products should be shopped for in their whole form (frozen is generally ok). The more you have to chop up or self-season a food item at home when cooking and eating, generally the better for you in terms of its nutrient density lessened processing.
  4. Supplements do not take the place of healthy, diverse eating habits, but they can ensure access to a balance of nutrients such as in the form of a quality, bioavailable multivitamins

About the Author

Dr. Kenny Mittelstadt, DACM, DC, L.Ac., Dipl.OM.

Kenny Mittelstadt is a functional health practitioner and acupuncturist based in San Antonio, Texas. He is trained through the Institute for Functional Medicine and received both of his doctorate degrees with highest honors from Southern California University of Health Sciences. He focuses on empowering patients through wellness education and root-cause healing – transforming health through personalized, lab-based functional medicine programs!

Website: DrKennyMittelstadt.com

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