It’s no secret that a large percentage of people don’t get enough nutrients from their diet. These deficiencies, in part, contribute to chronic illness, infections and even death. Knowledge is power, so one of the first steps towards overcoming this adversity is to understand what the heck they are. Most of us have probably heard of macronutrients and micronutrients, but what about phytonutrients?
Macronutrients are the three nutrients that our bodies need in the largest quantities for healthy function. They include fats, proteins and carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates provide energy for the body. In a nutritious diet carbs should come from whole foods such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Complex carbs provide usable energy, facilitate healthy digestion, and support a healthy weight. Refined carbohydrates, on the other hand, increase our risk for chronic inflammation, obesity, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.
Protein is considered the building blocks of life. In fact, our skin, bones, muscles, hair, nails, and cartilage are mostly made up of protein. In the health community, how much and what types of protein we should consume are highly debated topics. Some say that animal meat is needed for optimal health, while others advocate for a plant-based diet. My advice, experiment with what works for you and your body and do that.
Fat supports proper brain development, provides cushioning and insulation for our internal organs, and plays a role in hormone synthesis and inflammation control. Fat got a bad rap back in the nineties, but we now know it’s the quality of fat that plays a big role in overall health. Stay away from trans and saturated fat and load up on monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Micronutrients are the nutrients that our bodies need in smaller quantities (micro means small), but still play a vital role in our overall health. They include vitamins and minerals.
Vitamins support the body’s internal regulation and are not produced internally, meaning we must obtain them through the foods we eat. There are two categories of vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E and K) and water-soluble vitamins (B vitamins and vitamin C). Fat-soluble vitamins can be stored in the body’s tissues, while water-soluble vitamins easily dissolve in water.
Like vitamins, minerals must also be obtained from our diet. Minerals are divided into three classifications, macrominerals (such as calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and sulfur), trace minerals (including copper, chromium, fluoride, iodine, iron, manganese, selenium, and zinc), and ultratrace minerals (for example arsenic, boron, cobalt, molybdenum, nickel, silicon, and vanadium).
Phytonutrients are compounds found in plants that help them fight off insects and microbes. When we consume these plants we benefit from the antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, there are over 25,000 phytonutrients that can be found in plant-based foods. Beta-carotene, lycopene, and flavonoids are just a few that you may be familiar with.
Including phytonutrients in our diet supports healthy cell structure, can help prevent diseases, supports gut health, and helps keep our bodies at their best! It’s no secret that our bodies have the power to heal themselves, and phytonutrients play a big part in that process. A great way to consume more phytonutrients is to add more color to our plates. Fill your cart with a variety of produce, including bright and fun colors. Some examples are:
Red – Cherries, cranberries, tomatoes, watermelon, strawberries, beets, radishes, red peppers.
Orange – Oranges, mango, papaya, orange peppers, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, winter squash.
Yellow – Bananas, pineapples, ginger, summer squash, yellow peppers, corn.
Green – Green apples, avocado, kiwi, green grapes, kale, broccoli, zucchini, cucumbers.
Blue/Purple – Blueberries, purple grapes, plums, raisins, purple potatoes, purple carrots, eggplant.
We can see how a diet that lacks nutritional value, such as those high in processed foods, can be problematic and lead to chronic diseases. When we fill our plates with fried, overcooked, processed foods, we are depriving our bodies of the power we need to nourish ourselves. A diet rich in a variety of whole foods can help ensure our bodies are getting all of the nutrients they need. In some circumstances deficiencies can occur and a supplement or multi-vitamin may be necessary.
I am not a doctor, and this blog is not meant to diagnose or treat illnesses. Consult your physician before making any diet or exercise changes.