Nutrition – Concept, types, nutrients and healthy eating

We explain what nutrition is and what a healthy diet implies. Also, the types of nutrients and the risks of a poor diet.

Nutrition - Healthy Eating
A good diet can prevent or alleviate many diseases.

What is nutrition?

The nutrition It is the biological process that occurs in a living being when its body absorbs, from food and liquids, the nutrients it needs for its growth and the development of vital functions. Through food, the body incorporates carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, proteins and fats.

Human beings consume different types of food and, after physical and chemical processes, the body incorporates the nutrients from these foods and transforms them into energy to carry out its main functions, such as movement, reproduction and growth. A good and varied diet helps the proper functioning of the body and, for that, different types of food that provide different nutrients should be included in meals.

To maintain a healthy and balanced body it is important to know the types of nutrients that exist, regulate the amount of food eaten according to personal physical needs, perform physical activity and stay hydrated. With a good diet, many of the common diseases or propensities to develop a disease can be avoided or alleviated.

Too the term nutrition is used to refer to the science that studies food and its relationship with human health. Nutrition studies the processes that allow the body to incorporate nutrients from food and takes into account variables such as the importance of a balanced diet, staying hydrated and exercising regularly.

Types of nutrition

Living beings can carry out two types of nutrition:

  • Autotrophic nutrition. It is the type of diet carried out by organisms that produce their own food, such as plants and some bacteria. These organisms have the ability to synthesize simple and inorganic substances to turn them into organic and complex substances that they use in their metabolic processes. Autotrophs are called producer organisms and they create organic matter from carbon dioxide and use chemicals or light for energy.
  • Heterotrophic nutrition. It is the type of diet carried out by organisms that feed on others to survive. In this group are bacteria, fungi (decomposing organisms) and animals (consuming organisms).

The main nutrients

Nutrients are the substances that are present in food and that the human body uses to carry out its vital functions. It is important to know the different types of nutrients, the benefits they bring to the body and the functions that each one fulfills, in order to have a healthy and balanced diet that provides everything necessary to the body.

There are two main types of nutrients:

  • Macronutrients. They are nutrients that the body requires in large quantities and are responsible for introducing energy to the body. These are:
    • Protein. They are macromolecules that are made up of amino acids and that perform vital functions within the body, among which the development of cells and tissues stands out. The body is made up of different proteins, each of which has a specific function. For example: keratin (develops tissues such as hair and nails), fibrin (intervenes in the clotting process), hemoglobin (carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body) and antibodies (they are part of the immune system and protect and fight infection). Some of the foods that provide protein to the body are: fish, chicken, eggs, soy, red meat, nuts, legumes, among others.
    • Carbohydrates. They are molecules that provide the energy that the body needs to perform all its functions. Hydrates are very important nutrients for the body and, when they enter the body, they are converted into glucose, which is the type of sugar that allows cell function. Some examples of carbohydrates are: starch, fructose, maltose, and lactose. There are two main types of carbohydrates: complex hydrates, which are slow to assimilate, produce a feeling of satiety and are found in foods such as rice, pasta, bread, legumes and potatoes; and simple carbohydrates, which are assimilated by the body quickly, do not generate a feeling of satiety and are found in foods such as the sugar present in fruits and vegetables and the sugar added to desserts, sweets and cakes.
    • Fats. They are lipids that fulfill fundamental functions for the organism, such as the energy reserve, the formation of cell membranes, the assimilation of vitamins and the protection of the body’s organs. There are different types of fats (which are more or less beneficial for the body): saturated fats (present in animal fat, dairy products, sausages, among others), monounsaturated fats (present in vegetable oils and nuts), polyunsaturated fats (present in fish, shellfish, nuts and some oils) and trans fats (present in industrialized foods such as cereal bars, hamburgers, snacks and frozen products).
    • Water. It is a substance that constitutes one of the essential nutrients for the life of living beings. A large portion of the human body is made up of this nutrient that enters the body through beverages. In addition to being an essential part in the composition of cells and organs, water plays a fundamental role in processes such as perspiration, temperature regulation and blood purification.
  • Micronutrients. They are nutrients that the body requires in small amounts and that fulfill specific functions. These are:
    • Vitamins. There are 13 compounds that the body needs and that perform vital functions such as: blood coagulation, the development of bones and tissues, the functioning of the nervous system, the development of the skin and sight, processes such as metabolism, hormonal development, the development of the brain and antibodies, among many others. Vitamins are: vitamin A, D, E, K, C and B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12 and are present in foods such as bananas, eggs, fish, red meat, nuts, seeds, milk , citrus fruits, legumes, cereals and vegetables (such as avocado, broccoli, carrot, pumpkin, spinach, among many others).
    • Minerals. They are inorganic substances, such as calcium, potassium, iodine, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, chlorine and sodium, which the body absorbs through food. These minerals participate in metabolic processes and have vital functions such as: the development and growth of bones and teeth, giving structure to tissues and the constitution of certain hormones. Some foods that provide minerals to the diet are: dairy products, fish, red meat, cereals, legumes, bananas, nuts, green leafy vegetables, among many others.

What does a healthy diet entail?

Nutrition - Good nutrition
Drinking about two liters of water a day is part of a healthy diet.

There are some recommendations to eat an adequate diet:

  • Eat foods that provide macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats), which give the body energy so that it can develop its vital functions.
  • Consume foods that provide the body with vitamins and minerals, which are non-energy micronutrients that carry out regeneration and development functions.
  • Drink approximately two liters of water per day to keep the body well hydrated.
  • Consume enough foods high in fiber, which is a type of carbohydrate that the digestive system does not digest and that, among other things, improves intestinal transit and regulates blood sugar level.
  • Always consult a health specialist, since the amount of nutrients and foods to be incorporated will depend on the nutritional needs of each person. For this, indicators such as weight, height, the moment of the patient’s life or exceptional situations such as pregnancy or the breastfeeding process are taken into account.
  • Check the labels of food products and know the ingredients that are used to produce each type of food and its nutritional benefits.
  • Eat a variety of foods to have a balanced diet.
  • Consume some products, such as salt and alcoholic beverages, in moderation.
  • Accompany a balanced diet with physical exercise that helps the development and functioning of the body. For this it is important to carry out an energy balance according to the nutritional needs that are required according to the amount of physical activity that is carried out.

Consequences of a poor diet

Nutrition - Bad diet
Obesity is one of the most common diseases due to poor diet.

There is a wide variety of diseases that can be linked to a poor or deficient diet. Lack of nutritious food can bring both physical and cognitive problems, especially in the early stages of growth.

Eating problems can be caused by poor nutrition caused by excessive food consumption, due to a lack of balance in the type of food consumed or consuming poor quality items. Malnutrition can also occur, which occurs when fewer nutrients are consumed than the body needs to carry out vital functions.

Among the most common diseases related to eating imbalances are: arteriosclerosis, diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure, bulimia, vigorexia, anorexia, obesity, some cancers, vitamin deficiency, digestive disorders and malnutrition.

It is important to mention that a healthy diet does not only depend on the intention of the individual, but that, many times, people or groups cannot access some types of food, for economic reasons or humanitarian and social crisis.

Lack of access to some food or drinking water causes a percentage of the world’s population to suffer from malnutrition or malnutrition, as they cannot consume the nutrients that meet the basic needs of the body.

What is the nutritional or food pyramid?

Food pyramid
In the nutritional pyramid, foods are placed in order of importance of intake.

The nutritional or food pyramid is a graph in the shape of a pyramid that represents, in a simple and dynamic way, the most important foods that an individual should consume in any diet. In addition, it recommends integrating other healthy habits such as physical exercise and hydration into the diet.

Within the pyramid the foods are placed in order of importance of intake:

  • Base. Cereal-based foods are included, such as pasta, bread, rice, flours and also tubers. These foods have a high content of carbohydrates and are essential because they provide energy to the body.
  • Second level. Fruits and vegetables are located, which are a great source of carbohydrates, vitamins and fiber. It is recommended to consume at least five servings from this group per day.
  • Third level. Dairy products, nuts, eggs, legumes and white meats such as chicken and fish are included. Its consumption is recommended daily and, more occasionally, red meat. These foods are rich in nutrients like vitamins, proteins, minerals, and fats.
  • Tip. There are sugars that are present in products that it is advisable to consume in a moderate way, because they contain trans fats, few nutrients and have a high caloric content. Here are the sausages, cakes, sweets, butter, among others.