Nutrition Basics

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I think it would be safe to say that majority of Australians don’t know the basics of nutrition. I mean there is a common knowledge of healthy foods and many Australians would know which foods would be preferential to buy in the supermarket. However if you asked the average individual if they knew the difference between a calorie and kilojoule, or what the glycaemic index is I think most people would be clueless or know next to nothing.

We at Living Books aim to educate young Australians with this information. Yes our program is designed for kids but that doesn’t mean that they won’t be able to understand that a steak is part of the lean meats and poultry food group.

So for the purposes of this blog, I want to communicate to you some basics about nutrition. I will start off with the main macronutrients, the associated food sources and then the health related risks if you’re deficient or in excess of these macronutrients.  For the health related risks, I will provide a few of the main conditions.

Carbohydrates

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Carbohydrates (carbs) are one of the most important macronutrients. Simply, carbohydrates are used a fuel source for energy production. When food is consumed it is broken down in the digestive system and foods containing carbs release glucose into the bloodstream. This glucose is then utilised by cells in the body to produce energy needed for us to survive.

When looking at food packages, one of the things you may notice is the glycaemic index (GI). The Glycaemic Index is a system used to measure the rate at which foods containing carbohydrates release glucose into the blood stream. Foods containing carbohydrates are given a score between 0 and 100 based on the effects they have on blood glucose levels usually over a 2 hour period. The classifications of GI and example foods are as follows:

  • Low GI (0-55) – sustained blood glucose levels over a longer period of time.
    • Examples include most grain breads, oats, pasta, soy beans, most fruits, cauliflower, broccoli, milk.
  • Medium GI (56-69) – moderate effect on blood glucose levels.
    • Examples include table sugar, raisins, sultanas and basmati rice.
  • High GI (70 -100) – cause high increases in blood glucose levels over a short period of time.
    • Examples include white bread, potatoes, white rice, some breakfast cereals and most soft drinks.

 

GI index
Visual representation of the Glycaemic Index

From the above graph, it’s shown that low GI foods sustain blood glucose levels over a longer period of time compared to high GI foods. This means that foods low in GI keep you fuller for longer and don’t raise your blood glucose (sugar) levels too high. It is also important to know that carbs will be stored as adipose tissue (fat) if not primarily used for energy production. This means that an excess of carbohydrates can contribute to obesity as well as other diet-related problems such as Type 2 Diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Deficiency in carbohydrates Excess in carbohydrates
– Lack of energy

– Tiredness

– Underweight

– Fatigue

– High energy

– Weight gain

– Excess that is stored as fat may contribute to cardiovascular disease and obesity

Protein

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Proteins are made up of amino acids which are ‘building blocks’ for muscles and are used in the repair of tissues. Proteins are required for hormone and antibody production and thus important for maintenance of general health and wellbeing. Proteins are also a secondary source of fuel for energy production.

In the body it’s important to know that amino acids cannot be stored. This means that on a daily basis we must consume protein in order to prevent health conditions. In contrast, excess protein consumption will be excreted as urine in the body.

According to Victorian Government’s Better Health page, some major sources of protein include:

  • Lean meat, poultry and fish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products like milk, yoghurt and cheese
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Beans and legumes (such as lentils and chickpeas)
  • Soy products like tofu
  • Some grain and cereal-based products are also sources of protein, but are generally not as high in protein as meat and meat alternative products.
Deficiency in protein Excess in protein
– Wasting and shrinkage of muscles

– Oedema (fluid retention)

– Anaemia (either the level of red blood cells or the level of haemoglobin is lower than normal, which deprives the body of adequate oxygen)

– Can reduce calcium levels and contribute to osteoporosis (condition where bones become less dense, lose strength and break more easily)

Fats and lipids

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The main function of fats and lipids is to provide fuel for energy production. In the body lipids are a major component of cell membranes whilst also providing cushioning for vital organs. Fats and lipids also assist in temperature control and can absorb and transport fat soluble vitamins throughout the body.

There are different types of fats which all carry out the normal functions listed above but vary slightly as well.

Monounsaturated: Assists in the lowering of Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) cholesterol which can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

  • Sources include avocado, and nuts such as peanuts, hazelnuts, cashews and almonds (including peanut and other nut butters), margarine spreads such as canola or olive oil based choices, oils such as olive, canola and peanut.

Polyunsaturated: Assists in the lowering of LDL cholesterol and increasing High-density lipoproteins (HDL) cholesterol which can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Polyunsaturated fats also include Omega 6 which reduces blood clotting and Omega 3 which may reduce the risk of arthritic conditions. Another function of polyunsaturated fats is that they help to reduce the risk of infection and assists with healing in the body.

  • Sources include fish, seafood, polyunsaturated margarines, vegetable oils such as safflower, sunflower, corn or soy oils, nuts such as walnuts, and seeds.

Saturated: Increases LDL cholesterol and can contribute to cardiovascular disease.

  • Sources include fatty cuts of meat, full-fat milk, cheese, butter, cream, commercially baked products such as biscuits and pastries, deep-fried fast foods, coconut and palm oil.

Trans Fats: Increases LDL cholesterol and can contribute to cardiovascular disease but also may interfere with the structure of cell membranes which can lead to insulin resistance and increase risk of type 2 diabetes.

  • Sources include deep fried foods, commercial baked cakes and biscuits, pies and pastries.
Deficiency in fats and lipids Excess in fats and lipids
– Low weight

– Weak immune system

– Obesity

– Type 2 diabetes

– Cardiovascular disease

These are the main macronutrients and only a taste for the depth of information we know here at Living Books. As always if you have any questions, let us know!

– Nigel

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