Facts About Sugar, Fats, Protein and Vitamins
The nutrition data on packaged foods tells you the nutritional value of
what you are buying, but do you know what nutrients you need? While it's
important not to get too obsessive about reading the nutrition label,
it is probably good to familiarize yourself with what the different
nutrients do for your health.
If you consistently eat a balanced diet of whole, unprocessed foods,
you will likely get sufficient amounts of all the nutrients you need.
However, with the increase in soil depletion due to modern farming
methods, today's produce is less nutritious than it was in our
grandparents' generation. We have to eat larger amounts of food in order
to get the same amount of vitamins and minerals as we did 100 years
The more processed foods you eat, the more you will have to increase your intake of nutritious foods. Eating whole, preferably organic, food is the best way to get the nutrients your body craves,
though sometimes it is necessary to take a vitamin supplement. Just be
sure the supplement you choose is a quality product, as most vitamins on
the market for the most part have been found to pass straight through
the digestive system without being broken down.
Nutrition Data About Sugar
Sugar is the energy source of choice for our bodies. Only when the body
runs out of ready sugar will another energy source be used, usually fat.
The sugars our bodies use can be divided into three groups.
- Monosaccharides: glucose and fructose
Glucose and fructose are the most well-known examples, and we get them
naturally from fruits and vegetables. These are absorbed into our system
in just 5 to 10 minutes, which is why they are called fast sugars.
Unfortunately we get far too much fructose in our diet due to the
excessive use of high fructose corn syrup, which is found in most
processed foods and in large amounts in soda, as you can see from the
nutrition data printed on the package. Fructose is directly metabolized
by the liver, and eating too much of it leads to obesity and insulin
resistance, increasing your risk of Type 2 diabetes.
- Disaccharides: saccharose and lactose
Some sugars are larger, and because they must be broken down into
smaller sugars before the body can absorb them, they take a little
longer to metabolize. Saccharose, most commonly used as table sugar, is
the most common example. Lactose, the sugar in milk, is another one.
Some sugars are so large and slow to break down that they do not even
taste sweet, such as starch and flour (what people on low-carb diets try
to avoid). They must first be broken down into disaccharides, and then
further broken down into monosaccharides. Since these sugars are so
slowly absorbed into our system, they are called slow sugars. Find out
more facts about sugar...
Nutrition Data About Fats
Fats (especially saturated fats)
have gotten a lot of bad press, and yet we cannot survive without them.
The key, as always, is moderation. Fat is the way the body stores
excess energy from fat and sugar. Each fat molecule consists of glycerol
and three fatty acids. Differences in the combination of fatty acids
make the difference between one fat and another. There are many
different fatty acids, but some of them are
especially worth mentioning.
- Omega-3, Omega-6 and Omega-9
Our body needs all sorts
of different fatty acids. Some of these our liver can make, however,
some we cannot, so we must get those through our diet. One of the
Omega-3, most of the omega-6 and none of the omega-9 are essential. The
main sources of these omega fatty acids are fatty fish, and several
plants such as flax and linseed. The modern western diet contains too
many omega-6 and not enough omega-3 fatty acids.
Linoleic acid is one of the most important
essential fatty acids. It is in fact an Omega-6 fatty acid, but since we
need it in fairly large amounts, in the early 20th century it was
mistaken for a vitamin, and even called vitamin F. Flax is especially
high in linoleic acid, and one of the best food sources is flaxseed.
Nutrition Data About Protein
Proteins are the main building blocks of our body. Without protein all
the processes in a living body would grind to a halt. Protein is made of
amino acids, some of which cannot be made by the body, so we must get
them from the foods we eat. The main sources of protein are meat, fish,
poultry, dairy, beans, seeds and nuts. In order to get all the amino
acids that we need, including all the essential ones, it is important to
have some variety in the proteins we eat. Read more facts about protein...
Nutrition Data About Vitamins
Vitamins are organic nutrients that are absolutely essential to have in
our food every day, but only in tiny amounts. Taking vitamin supplements
is not always helpful, since some, but not all, vitamins do not get
absorbed into the body without the presence of large amounts of other
nutrients. For other vitamins, mostly the ones that do get easily
absorbed in the body, there is a risk of overdosing. Here is an overview
of some basic information about vitamins.
- Vitamin A Nutrition Data
Vitamin A (Retinol), is a
substance that is important in various parts of the eye. The main
sources are various fruits and vegetables, especially tomatoes and
liver. Carrots are famous for containing large amounts vitamin A, but
many other foods contain more. Vitamin A helps to prevent or cure
night-blindness and dry eye syndrome. Taking too much vitamin A causes
liver problems, osteoporosis and hair loss. It is especially dangerous
for pregnant women.
- Vitamin B Nutrition Data
Vitamin B comes in many
varieties: B1 (Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), B5 (Pantothenic
Acid), B6 (Pyridoxine), B7 (Biotin), B9 (Folic Acid, or Folate) and B12
(Cyanocobalamin). B-vitamins play an important part in the functioning
of the nervous system, digestive system and skin. If you don't consume
sufficient amounts of B-vitamins, nervous and mental problems, skin
problems, anemia, liver problems and digestive problems can develop. For
some B-vitamins (B2, B7, B9 and B12) no known problems are associated
with overdosing: the body excretes them fast enough to avoid problems.
The others (B1, B3, B5 and B6) can cause liver damage, nausea,
heartburn, diarrhea and drowsiness when consuming too much.
- Vitamin C Nutrition Data
Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) is a
key component in the formation of connective tissue: collagen, by far
the most common protein in the human body (25% - 35% of our proteins)
cannot be made without vitamin C. Vitamin C also plays an important role
in the immune system, and since it is an antioxidant it is thought to
help protect against cancer. Vitamin C deficiency causes scurvy: a
disease that has as its main symptoms spots on the skin and bleeding
gums and mucous membranes. Overdosing on Vitamin C is very difficult,
but when one does manage it, it causes diarrhea and stomach upsets.
Since humans cannot make their own Vitamin C, we need to eat sufficient
amounts. The main sources are fruits, especially citrus fruits.
- Vitamin D Nutrition Data
Vitamin D is the only
vitamin we can make ourselves, from exposing our skin to sunlight. For
fair-skinned people, 15 minutes of sunlight on a fully exposed face and
hands per day (without sunscreen) suffices to make enough Vitamin D,
except for those in the most northern latitudes, and in winter. People
with darker skins need more exposure to get the same amount. Other
sources of Vitamin D are fish oils, liver, eggs and certain mushrooms.
Lack of Vitamin D manifests as osteoporosis, muscle cramps and dental
problems. In children who are still growing, Vitamin D deficiency can
cause severe growth problems and deformities. Overdosing causes
dehydration, fatigue, constipation, vomiting and irritability.
- Vitamin E Nutrition Data
Vitamin E (Tocopherol) is an
antioxidant and helps prevent certain negative effects from oxygen in
our body. Good sources are avocado, green, leafy vegetables, uncooked
vegetable oils, wholewheat foods, nuts and seeds. It is virtually
impossible to choose a diet that would contain either too much or not
enough Vitamin E.
- Vitamin K Nutrition Data
The last of the vitamins
is Vitamin K (phylloquinone). Vitamin K is important for various
processes in the blood. Vitamin K deficiency causes anemia, nosebleeds,
bruising and heavy menstrual bleeding in women. Since Vitamin K is
produced by the bacteria in our intestines, we only need very small
amounts in our food. Parsley, kiwi, avocados and leafy, green vegetables
are the main sources. One tablespoon of parsley contains almost 80% of
the daily recommended allowance of Vitamin K.
- Coenzyme Q10 Nutrition Data
(ubiquinone) is related to Vitamins E and K. It is a major antioxidant
and also has antibacterial, antiviral and anti-tumor qualities. It has
been shown to slow the process of aging and also boosts the immune
system, slows the spread of cancer, increases circulation and is helpful
in preventing and treating cardiovascular disease. Though the body
makes it, we make less of it as we age, so a supplement may be necessary
after age 50. The best sources are organ meats, salmon, mackerel, and
sardines, and it is also found in avocados, peanuts and spinach.
- Resveratrol Nutrition Data
In laboratory experiments on
animals resveratrol has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer, and
helped prevent heart disease and damage to the arteries. Grapes,
Japanese knotweed and mulberries are naturally rich in resveratrol. It
is thought that one of the reasons red wine is considered healthy is
because of its resveratrol content, though you would have to drink a lot
of it in order to reap any significant benefits from the resveratrol.
Relatively little is still known about its effect on humans, as more
research needs to be done.
Nutrition Data About Minerals
Minerals are essential for our health, but we only need them in tiny
amounts. As with vitamins, most minerals are not easily absorbed without
having certain other nutrients available. Supplements are sometimes
useful, but they are not usually as effective as a balanced, healthy
- Potassium Nutrition Data
Potassium, along with sodium, is
vital for regulating the body's energy supply. It is also important for
the nervous and digestive systems. The main sources are bananas, beans,
potato skins and tomatoes. Symptoms of low potassium levels often do not
appear until there is a large deficiency. When symptoms do occur,
muscle cramps and high blood pressure are the most common ones. Taking
too much potassium usually leads to weakness, malaise and palpitations.
Hyperventilation is also common.
- Chloride Nutrition Data
Chloride is needed for the
production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, which kills bacteria and
helps the digestion of proteins. The main source is table salt, though
it is best to use Celtic sea salt and Himalayan crystal salt because
they contain a wider range of minerals.
- Sodium Nutrition Data
Sodium, along with potassium,
is vital for regulating the body's energy supply. It is also important
for the nervous and digestive systems. The main sources are table salt,
sea vegetables like spirulina and chlorella, and spinach. A lack of
sodium causes headaches, nausea and confusion. An excess of sodium
causes weakness, lethargy and edema. Try to salt your food only with sea
salt if possible, as regular table salt has been stripped of important
minerals and can contribute to high blood pressure, which does not
generally happen with unprocessed, evaporated sea salt.
- Calcium Nutrition Data
Calcium plays a key role in bone
formation, muscles, blood cells, the heart and the digestive system. The
main source is fish, dairy products and spinach. The earliest symptom
of a lack of calcium is the feeling of "pins and needles". More advanced
symptoms are rashes and muscle cramps. For calcium to be absorbed
properly it is necessary to have a sufficient amount of magnesium, which
people are often lacking.
- Phosphorus Nutrition Data
Phosphorus is used
in teeth and bones, is a key component in the body's energy storage
system, and is involved in many chemical reactions. Milk, and to a
lesser extent dairy products, are the main source.
- Magnesium Nutrition Data
Magnesium is used mainly
in bones and teeth and is useful in aiding calcium absorption. Natural
sources of Magnesium are nuts, chocolate and soy beans. Low levels of
magnesium causes weakness, muscle cramps and spasms, and in very bad
cases cardiac arrhythmia and irritability. Too much magnesium causes
problems in heart and lungs.
- Zinc Nutrition Data
Zinc is involved with the production
of sperm, and is important to several processes in the liver, most
notably the breaking down of alcohol. All our sensory nerves also use
zinc. A lack of zinc causes sensory problems, as well as hair loss and
skin lesions. The best sources of zinc are oysters, beef and lamb.
- Iron Nutrition Data
Iron is especially important in
red blood cells, making it possible for our blood to transport oxygen.
The main sources of iron are red meats, fish, eggs, dairy and whole
grains. A lack of iron causes anemia, and an excess of iron can cause
all sorts of liver problems, most notably cancer of the liver.
- Manganese Nutrition Data
Manganese is used in the
production of certain enzymes, is built into our bones and is important
for the healing of wounds. Leafy green vegetables, wheat, seeds and nuts
are the main sources of manganese. Those with low manganese levels heal
- Copper Nutrition Data
Copper helps the intestines
to absorb iron from our food, while at the same time copper and zinc
reduce each other's uptake. Good sources of copper are calf's liver,
sesame seeds, crimini mushrooms and molasses. Copper deficiency is not
well understood, but often leads to anemia, since a lack of copper makes
it difficult for the body to absorb enough iron.
- Iodine Nutrition Data
Iodine is a key ingredient of
several of our thyroid hormones, most notably thyroxine. The best source
of iodine is seafood, both animal and vegetable. Raw seafood like sushi
or sashimi is especially rich in iodine. In areas where little seafood
is eaten, governments usually make sure iodine is added to salt, flour,
etc. A lack of iodine causes goiter, mental problems, and in unborn
children it can cause severe deformities and deaf-muteness.
- Selenium Nutrition Data
Selenium is used mostly in
the thyroid gland, the heart and cartilage. Good sources of selenium are
Brazil nuts, tuna, oysters and clams. A lack of selenium leads to
thyroid problems and a weakening of the heart and cartilage.
- Molybdenum Nutrition Data
Molybdenum is needed for
certain processes in the body that have to do with oxygen, most notably
our body's energy supply. Molybdenum occurs as a trace element in all
plants and animals. Legumes such as beans, lentils and peas are the
richest source of molybdenum.
Understanding nutrition data can be useful when shopping for food so
you can compare the health value of different items. But as long as you
eat a varied diet of whole foods (preferably organic), you will most
likely get enough of the nutrition you require without needing to take
Learn more about healthy nutrition from holistic health practitioner Helena Ederveen.
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