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Understanding nutrition terms and what food compounds are in your body is the most basic information we must know in order to make educated choices. Nutrition is really about eating a healthy and balanced diet. Having the right combination of nutrients will allow your body the ability to function properly. Your metabolism, growth, and the repair of all your body’s cells are based on the components you put in your body through what you eat and dink. The stages of nutrition are ingestion, digestion, absorption, transportation, assimilation, synthesis, and excretion.
There are two different types of nutrients: macronutrients are the components in food that are needed by the body in larger quantities and micronutrients are needed in much smaller quantities.
Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals found in food that help support normal physiologic function and your overall health. They are needed by your body in much smaller quantities in order to support your metabolism, neurological functions, and basic bodily functions. Vitamins are organic compounds that are made by plants or animals and minerals are inorganic elements that come from the soil or water, absorbed by plants or eaten by animals. Calcium, for example, is a mineral that we need in larger quantities to support our bone health.
There are three types of macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Each of these provide different materials for your body needed to perform various functions. Carbohydrates and proteins provide the body 4 calories per gram and fat, the most calorie-dense of the macronutrients, has 9 calories per gram. Alcohol, although not discussed in this article, has 7 calories per gram. When you look at the labels placed on the foods you purchase you can see the information broken down in grams.
Macronutrients are the larger components in food such as carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
Carbohydrates, popularly known as carbs, are the main source of energy for your body. Foods such as fruits, beans, vegetables, nuts, grains, processed grains and root vegetables deliver sugars and/or starches which are digestible carbohydrates that provide energy and fiber which is a carbohydrate that is not digestible by the body.
Protein provides your body with 23 building blocks called amino acids. Of those amino acids, 7 are essential or must be consumed as the body cannot produce them. Protein is needed for crucial processes in the body, such as development, growth, and maintenance of all the cells and tissues in your body, maintenance of immune cells to fight infection and inflammation, repair of muscles, etc. The full chain of amino acids can be found in animal products such as beef, pork, chicken, wild game meats, fish, seafood, eggs, and dairy products. Amino acids can also be found in some fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, beans and other legumes. In plant-based protein, amino acids form a different chain and therefore need to be varied in order to receive the proper amount of all amino acids.
Fats are a compound in food that provides structure to your body’s cells and cushions membranes to help prevent damage. Your brain is composed of 60% fat, and is essential in your diet as a means to absorb fat-soluble vitamins (Vitamins A, D, E, K). Fat can be found in oil, meats, nuts, milk, cheese, meat, poultry and fish; fruits such as avocados provide healthy amounts of fats as well. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, come mostly from animal sources and are the ones the negatively affect your cholesterol. Trans Fats are scientifically made to resemble saturated fats by hydrogenating unsaturated fat and giving it the consistency of saturated fat. They are considered the worse for your heart and cardiovascular system. The fats found in plant-based food and fish are the fats we typically associate with healthy fats and they are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats; these contain the Omega 3 and Omega 6 which help regulate our immune function, develop our vision and nervous system.
In order to take in the proper amount of nutrition, make sure that you are combining foods that are nutrient dense sources of the right types of fats, carbs, and protein into all of your meals. Make sure you are staying well hydrated to ensure proper function and nutrient absorption. And when in doubt, eat real, unprocessed food that is varied in color and consistency in order to combine as much nutrition as possible into every meal.