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9 Focal Points of Nutrition

Posted Oct 13 2009 10:05pm

9 Focal Points of Nutrition By Maggy Mitzkewich

Phytochemicals

Phytochemicals are non-nutrient chemicals produced by plants. Some evidence has shown that many of the beneficial effects of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and herbs can be attributed to phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are not believed to be essential to optimal body function, rather, in many cases, the action of the phytochemical is a counteraction of an unrelated environmental impact on the body.Though modern pharmacology utilizes synthetic medicine, the effects traditional Chinese herbal medicine has been associated with the phytochemicals contained in the medicine. Phytochemicals may have antioxidant, hormonal, enzyme stimulation, anti-cancer, and anti-bacterial effects. Phytochemicals in freshly harvested plant foods may be destroyed or removed by modern processing techniques. For this reason, industrially processed foods likely contain fewer phytochemicals and may be less beneficial than unprocessed foods. Absence or deficiency of phytochemicals in processed foods may contribute to increased risk of preventable diseases such as atherosclerosis, heart disease, and cancer.

Low-Glycemic Index Carbohydrates

The Glycemic Index (GI) relates to the body’s blood glucose response to different foods. Each food is ranked from 0-100 based on how high and rapid the body’s blood glucose levels rise in response to consumption. Low GI foods increase blood glucose levels slowly and will sustain energy longer because blood glucose remains relatively stable. High GI foods have an almost immediate response and can raise blood glucose substantially. Low GI foods can help people lose weight, increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin, improve diabetes control, reduce the risk of heart disease, reduce blood cholesterol levels, reduce hunger, and prolong physical endurance. Ways to include more low GI foods and less high GI foods in your diet include eating breakfast cereals based on whole grain oats, barley, and bran, eating less potatoes, eating more fruits and vegetables, eating Basmati rice or quinoa instead of white rice, and eating wheat pasta instead of pasta made from white flour.

Probiotics

Probiotics are bacteria that help maintain the normal flora of the intestines. The most well-known probiotic bacteria in the intestine are Lactobacillus acidophiluswhich is found in yogurt. Other sources can be found in yeast, fermented and unfermented milk, miso, soy, and dietary supplements. Probiotics have been shown to provide a myriad of health benefits such as managing lactose intolerance, prevention of colon cancer, lowering cholesterol, decreasing hypertension, improving immune function, treatment ofHelicobacter pyloriinfection (a common cause of peptic ulcers), anti-biotic-associated diarrhea, reducing inflammation, improving mineral absorption, preventing harmful bacterial growth, and reducing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

Fiber

Dietary fiber is the indigestible portion of plant foods that pushes food through the digestive system, absorbing water and easing defecation. Eating fiber has many benefits for your health. Instead of being used for energy, fiber is excreted from our bodies. The two types of fiber are soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber contains beta-glucan which forms a gel when mixed with liquid which traps carbohydrates and thereby slowing absorption of glucose. The consumption of soluble fiber has been shown to protect you from developing heart disease by reducing your LDL cholesterol levels. Insoluble fiber passes through the digestive system largely intact. Eligible sources of soluble fiber providing beta-glucan include oat bran, rolled oats, whole oat flour, and psyllium husk. The consumption of insoluble fiber reduces your risk of developing constipation, colitis, diverticulitis, colon cancer, and hemorrhoids. Health benefits of fiber consumption may include making you feel fuller faster and thus reducing appetite, lowers variance in blood glucose levels, may reduce onset, risk, or symptoms of metabolic syndrome diabetes, facilitates regularity by speeding the passage of foods through the digestive system, alleviates constipation by adding bulk to the stool, and may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer by balancing intestinal pH and stimulating intestinal fermentation production of short-chain fatty acids. Sources of soluble fiber include oat bran, rolled oats, whole oat flour, whole grain barley, dry milled barley, and psyllium husk. Some foods especially rich in the insoluble type of fiber are grapes, prunes, apple skins, pear skins, berries, celery, beets, carrots, brussel sprouts, turnips, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, rhubarb, red chard, asparagus, corn, pop corn, kidney beans, potato skins, and bran.

Essential Fatty Acids

These are fatty acids are components used by the body for biological processes that cannot be constructed within the body and so must be consumed through diet. The human body needs EFAs to manufacture and repair cell membranes, enabling the cells to obtain optimum nutrition and expel harmful waste products. EFAs support the cardiovascular, reproductive, immune, and nervous systems. A primary function of EFAs is the production of prostaglandins which regulate heart rate, blood pressure, blood clotting, fertility, and immune function. The two necessary types are Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids which are both polyunsaturated fats. Salmon, flax seeds and walnuts are excellent food sources of Omega-3 fatty acids. Sources of Omega-6 include sunflower seeds, sesame oil, soybean oil, walnuts, and wheat germ. High heat, light, and oxygen destroy EFAs, so when consuming foods for their EFA content, try to avoid cooked or heated forms. For example, raw nuts are a better source than roasted nuts.

Minerals

Minerals are inorganic elements that are to function and sustain life. Minerals include sodium, sulphur, chromium, copper, iodine, iron, selenium and zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. Minerals help breakdown glucose and fatty acids and turn glucose, fats, fatty acids and amino acids into glycogen, fats and proteins. Minerals are divided into macrominerals and trace minerals. The main difference is the amount of each substance the body requires. Macrominerals require more than 100mg per day and trace minerals require less than 100mg per day. Plants incorporate minerals from the soil into their own tissues. For this reason fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds are often excellent sources of minerals.

Antioxidants

Antioxidants are nutrients which can prevent or slow the oxidative damage to our body caused by free radicals. Free radicals are molecules produced when the body breaks down food or by environmental exposures like tobacco smoke and radiation. When cells use oxygen they naturally produce free radicals which can cause damage. Antioxidants attack free radicals to help prevent and repair the damage the damage they have caused. Health problems such as heart disease, macular degeneration, diabetes, and cancer can all be contributed to oxidative damage. In addition, antioxidants can slow premature aging and the formation of wrinkles. Antioxidant substances include beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, selenium, and vitamins A, C, & E. An eating plan containing plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts can supply all the antioxidants your body needs.

Vitamins

A vitamin is an organic compound required as a nutrient in tiny amounts by an organism. A compound is called a vitamin when it cannot be synthesized in sufficient quantities by an organism, and must be obtained from the diet. Vitamins are classified as either water -soluble or fat-soluble. The 13 vitamins include 4 fat-soluble (A, D, E and K) and 9 water-soluble (8 B vitamins and vitamin C). Water-soluble vitamins dissolve easily in water and are readily excreted from the body. Because they are not readily stored, consistent daily intake is important. Many types of water-soluble vitamins are synthesized by bacteria. Fat -soluble vitamins are absorbed through the intestinal tract with the help of lipids. Because they accumulate in the body, they can build up in the body to the point of causing harm and should be consumed less frequently than water-soluble vitamins.Each vitamin has specific jobs. Some vitamins may help prevent medical problems. Deficiencies of any vitamin may cause disease development. The best way to get enough vitamins is to eat a balanced diet with a variety of foods. In some cases, you may need to take a daily multivitamin for optimal health, though vitamins may not be absorbed as easily through a pill as through food sources.

Lean Proteins

Protein is one of the basic building blocks of the human body and makes up about 16 percent of the total body weight. Protein helps build lean muscle. Muscle, hair, skin, and connective tissue are mainly made up of protein. Protein plays a major role in all cells and fluids in our bodies. In addition, many of our bodies' important chemicals such as enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, and DNA are at least partially made up of protein. Lean protein has a higher protein-to-fat ratio which allows for more benefits with less fat consumption. Protein takes longer for your body to digest so it stays with you longer than other food sources. This can help you stick to a low fat diet and in turn help you to lose weight by making you feel fuller longer. Fish, seafood, chicken, turkey, and legumes are all examples of lean protein.

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