Do you know what nutrients your body needs? Here’s all you need to know about why nutrition is important along with some simple tips to ensure you get your five portions of fruit and veg per day.
We all know the importance of eating a healthy, balanced diet, it’s drummed into us almost every day. But have you actually stopped to think about the nutrients you’re putting into your body? Correction — do you even know what nutrients your body needs?
Don’t worry, the majority of people don’t either. So to help, we thought it would be helpful to give you a crash course in nutrition, so you know exactly what your body needs to keep it in optimum health.
What is nutrition?
To put it very simply, the definition of nutrition is how the food you eat affects your body’s health. So the healthier the food is, the healthier you are. Your body needs nutrition to function.
Nutrients are the source of energy for our bodies. When we eat, our bodies convert food material into energy and/or living tissue. It takes in food and absorbs the nutrients that are necessary for us to grow and be healthy.
Good nutrition means getting the right amount and combination of nutrients from healthy foods; these nutrients are classed as carbohydrates, fats, fibre, minerals, proteins, vitamins and water.
Why is nutrition important?
If you eat the right combination of healthy nutrients, you’re on the road to good health. If you don’t, you’re putting your body at risk of a whole host of issues and ailments. Poor nutrition lead to a lack of energy, digestive problems, food allergies, weight gain, depression and anxiety, as well as many of today’s most prevalent chronic diseases like coronary heart disease, cancer and ADHA.
So the key is knowing what nutrition you need to make informed choices about the foods you eat. Having this nutritional knowledge will help you achieve your ultimate health goals.
So what nutrients do I need?
A healthy, balanced diet made up of carbohydrates, fats, fibre, minerals, proteins, vitamins and water, fills your body with the nutrients it needs to function and start healthy. It’s your body’s natural medicine. Without it, your body is prone to disease, infection, fatigue, low energy and low performance, both mentally and physically.
In fact, poor nutrition can lead to stress, tiredness and our ability to work, and over time, it can contribute to the risk of developing a number of illnesses and health problems such as:
- being overweight or obese
- tooth decay
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- heart disease and stroke
- type-2 diabetes
- some cancers
- eating disorders
So, the simple way to avoid developing any of these health issues is to eat a healthy, balanced diet from the five main food groups, (you can read more about them here) which are:
- vegetables, legumes/beans
- grains (cereal) – mostly wholegrain and high fibre varieties
- protein — lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds
- dairy — milk, yoghurt, cheese or dairy alternatives mostly reduced fat. (Note that reduced fat milks are not suitable for children under the age of two.)
- + plenty of water!
** CHARIS https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/sites/default/files/files/the_guidelines/n55_agthe_large.pdf - can we embed this infographic?
A combination of these foods will usually include the following nutrients:
- vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants
- carbohydrates, including starches and fibre
- healthy fats
You can have a look at the Australian Dietary Guidelines for further information on making healthy nutrition choices (the guidelines may differ depending on your age and sex), but here are a few quick tips to help get you started.
- eat a variety of healthy foods from the five food groups each day.aim for two servings of fruit and five servings and vegetables per day.
- avoid sugary, salty or fatty foods (like biscuits, cakes, fried foods, crips etc.), and if you do have them, only eat them occasionally and in small amounts.
- drink plenty of water — avoid sugary drinks.plan your meals ahead and shop for healthy ingredients.
- try cooking healthy recipes at home instead of ordering takeaway — here are some delicious healthy recipes to try
- eat less salt — try not to add salt in cooking or at the table.
- cut back on alcohol — drink no more than two standard drinks per day.
What about calories?
All food contains calories. The number of calories in a food refers to the amount of energy stored in that particular food. Calories are the amount of energy released when your body breaks down (digests and absorbs) food. The more calories a food has, the more energy it can provide to your body. Your body uses those calories for things like walking, thinking, breathing, and other important functions.
The average person needs about 2,000 calories every day to maintain their weight, but the amount will depend on their age, sex, and physical activity level. Men tend to need more calories than women, and people who exercise need to eat more calories than those who don’t, as they burn off this energy when they work out.
A calorie isn’t a nutrient, but certain nutrients provide calories. Protein, carbohydrate, and fat make up the calorie contents of various foods. If a food is calorie dense, that usually means it is high in energy and low in nutrients — these tend to be processed foods with added fat and sugar — so it doesn’t give you the nutrients, vitamins and minerals, your body needs to stay healthy.
What’s more, if you eat more calories than you need and you don’t burn off that energy by exercising, it gets stored in the body as fat, which can lead to weight gain, poor heart health, and the onset of diabetes.
In comparison, if a food is nutrient dense, it means it has more nutritional value than calories. These types of foods (all of which you can find on your five main food groups list) give your body lasting energy that won’t be stored in the body as fat.
They tend to be lower in calories and are high in Vitamins A, C, D, and E, calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, fibre, and healthy fats. They also provide protein and complex carbohydrates the body needs to stay healthy.
So the golden rule is to pick nutrient dense foods over calorie dense foods.
If you’re looking for inspiration, try some of these delicious healthy recipes.
Can I take supplements?
Theoretically, if you’re eating a balanced, healthy diet, you should be getting the nutrients, vitamins and minerals your body needs from the food you consume. But of course, we don’t always stick to our healthy eating plans as much as we should do. That’s ok, everything in moderation!
But of course you can take an additional supplement to give your body that extra health boost. Our pharmacists recommend taking at least one multivitamin a day, alongside your healthy, balanced diet. But you should consult your doctor first.
If you’re getting all the nutrients you need, then you shouldn’t need to take extra supplements at all. You only need to take them if you’re diagnosed as vitamin deficient. Your doctor will run a blood test to decipher whether you need to take additional supplements. If your levels of vitamin D or iron, for example, are low, they will recommend a specific supplement to bring you up to the daily recommended requirement.
You can read more about what vitamins and supplements you should take here.
But we’ve also listed a couple of multivitamins that contain a mix of antioxidants, nutrients, probiotics, protein, greens and more, which are perfect for those looking for a simple health boost. These are recommended along with your healthy diet of 5 veggies a day!
Here are a few suggestions below:
Loved our advice on nutrition? We've got lots more health advice on our Health & Wellness Edit, guaranteed to give your body a well-deserved boost. Suffer with UTIs? Here are some helpful tips. Find out what your headache is trying to tell you.