Neat and petite

We do quite a lot of eating and drinking in our lives. In this respect, our body looks just like a chemical factory. We stick all kinds of food stuffs into our mouth. These are being processed in various way stations. Useful chemicals are taken out and deployed elsewhere in our body. Waste goes on to be expelled via bladder and intestines.

Eating is one of the great pleasures in life. (© Joe Gough - Fotolia.com)

Eating is one of the great pleasures in life. (© Joe Gough – Fotolia.com)

Usually, we eat our food with gusto. Most of the time, we find eating a very pleasurable activity. Preparing food has become quite an art. Food must be very important to us since it plays such a leading part in our lives.

To survive, it isn’t enough to gulp down a plate of potatoes or a bowl of rice every day. You can carry on fairly long on such one-sided food, but in the end your body will succumb to diseases. To stay healthy, we need certain nutrients. They have been divided into two groups: macronutrients and micronutrients.

Macronutrients are carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Carbohydrates and fats are mainly fuel, while fats are used to build up a reserve as well. Proteins also function as fuel, but first and foremost play an indispensable role as building blocks. Macronutrients should be taken in large quantities as they supply energy to the body.

Most foods contain all three macronutrients. Carbohydrates exist in a simple form, which are found for instance in flour, most snacks and baked products, and in many types of bread. Far more healthy are the complex carbohydrates that are found in food stuffs containing whole grains, in beans, nuts, vegetables, and fruit.

Broadly speaking, it is advised to limit the amount of fats in your food. The fats you do take in should best be unsaturated. An excellent example are the omega-3 fatty acids, which are present in fatty fish. Proteins are of vital importance. They can be found in large quantities in meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes, and nuts.

Vitamins
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. You only need very little of these, but they do play an important role. Vitamins are essential to metabolism, to cell growth and to cell division. In addition, they perform a duty as antioxidants, necessary for stabilising unstable molecules that could harm cells.

Some vitamins, like the B vitamins and vitamin C, are water-soluble. Since this will make them leave the body fast, you will have to make sure you will get a new supply every day through your food. Other vitamins, like vitamin A, D, E, and K, dissolve in fat. This means they will be stored in the body. When you take in too much of these vitamins, this may generate health problems.

A shortage of certain vitamins may contribute to depression, changes in personality, varying moods, and insomnia. Especially the B vitamins carry much weight in the way your brain functions. For example, a vitamin B12 deficiency may lead to dementia. This vitamin happens to be very important to metabolism within cells. A deficiency slows down information processing within the brain.

Vitamin B6 is involved in among other things the formation of neurotransmitters, chemicals that transmit signals from one brain cell to the other. This vitamin lays the foundation for instance of the neurotransmitter serotonin, involved in mood and memory. That’s why vitamin B6 may alleviate symptoms of premenstrual syndrome and depression. It also exerts a positive influence on memory function.

Vitamin B9, also referred to as folic acid, is essential to numerous bodily functions. It is involved in synthesis of DNA, the molecule that contains our hereditary information, and is necessary to produce healthy red blood cells. This vitamin helps te reduce the risk of a stroke.

As for minerals, we normally get sufficient of them from our food. Examples of important minerals are calcium, phosphorous, potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, magnesium, iron, cobalt, copper, zinc, manganese, molybdenum, iodine, bromine, and selenium.

Supplements
Reading how important the various micronutrients are for our health, you may feel an inclination to go and buy dietary supplements. After all, it is better to prevent than to cure. But whether it is wise and useful to take vitamins and minerals in pills is by no means certain.

Vitamins and minerals in dietary supplements are never as good as the real thing. (© andreaobzerova - Fotolia.com)

Vitamins and minerals in dietary supplements are never as good as the real thing. (© andreaobzerova – Fotolia.com)

A dietary supplement is a concentrated source of in most cases one or more vitamins and minerals. They are being sold under the guise of improving health, but no unambiguous proof exists for such a claim. That’s why governments oblige manufacturers to add to the labels of their products that a dietary supplement is not a substitution for a varied diet.

Discussions about which vitamins and minerals would be useful as dietary supplements and how much of the active ingredients would need to be added, abound. Long-term high doses might even be harmful to your health. Vitamin E is a clear example. There’s enough vitamin E in your food. An extra dose could turn the action of vitamin E around. In stead of its positive effect as an antioxidant, vitamine E will then damage molecules.

If you eat a varied diet and thus get sufficient micronutrients from your food, you certainly don’t need to take dietary supplements. They won’t produce an additional positive effect. The action of vitamins and minerals is simply greatest when they enter your body via your food. You will receive a complex combination of substances that together promote your health. Vitamins and minerals processed in a laboratory will never be able to imitate the same effect.


Metabolism

There’s no doubt we have to eat to survive. But how does that nice piece of meat or that bite of rice finally end up in the cells of our body? That’s the area of metabolism, an expression you regularly find in the media, especially where weight loss diets are concerned.

Metabolic processes are about the conversion of one substance into another via chemical reactions. (© chemtoddler - Fotolia.com)

Metabolic processes are about the conversion of one substance into another via chemical reactions. (© chemtoddler – Fotolia.com)

As for food, we talk about digestion. This is the mechanical and chemical breaking up of food into smaller parts that can be taken in more easily by the blood flow. Digestion is part of general metabolic processes. All chemical reactions that take place within living beings belong to these metabolic processes. It’s about the conversion of nutrients into building blocks for the body. During the conversion, energy is released which is being used for normal functioning of the body and for repairs.

Metabolism within cells concerns the chemical reactions that are necessary to preserve life. These processes make sure organisms are able to grow, reproduce, react to their environments, and survive.

The food we eat undergoes some important metabolic processes. Carbohydrates are converted into glucose. Fatty acids are converted into lipids. Proteins are converted into amino acids. Subsequently, these substances also change form during new chemical reactions to contribute to the functioning of cells in our body.

Metabolism in fact is a chemical chain reaction in which you start out with food and end up with minute substances that make your body’s cells function.

Images

Chemical factory © Eric Middelkoop – Fotolia.com
Juices © visivasnc – Fotolia.com

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