7 Essential Nutrients and How They Benefit the Body

Our bodies are not self-sustaining; our various systems need each of the seven types of essential nutrients to keep functioning. These are substances that our bodies cannot manufacture, so we have to get them from outside sources.

Maintaining sufficient amounts of each is one of the keys to staying healthy. The food and water we consume contains these vital ingredients we need to keep our bodies going. Below are seven essential nutrients and their functions.

Water

Our bodies are mostly water, usually ranging from 50 to 75%, depending on age and sex. Water is absolutely essential to the healthy function of our bodies and has a long list of tasks it performs, from general cooling to transporting energy and nutrients.

Probiotics

The term “Probiotics” usually refers to a dietary supplement that contains friendly bacteria in amounts likely to remain viable in our digestive tract after we’ve swallowed the supplement. These beneficial micro-organisms, when in balance in our body, assist and support our digestive system. Diets high in sugar and refined foods and low in fresh vegetables and fruits, set the stage for an imbalance of intestinal flora. This equilibrium is disturbed most when we ingest antibiotics from a doctor or through foods such as eggs, chicken, beef or cows milk, that kill these beneficial bacteria strains. This loss of flora off causes an imbalance that can create digestive upset and bowel irregularity. Probiotics can me found naturally in cultured dairy foods such as yogurt and kefir and in supplement form.

Vitamins

Casimir Funk coined the word “vitamin” in 1912. He combined the words “vital” and “amine,” as in amino acid, because at that time it was thought that all vitamins were amino acids. Since then, research has discovered thirteen vitamins in two categories: fat-soluble (A, D, E, and K) and water-soluble (8 B vitamins and vitamin C). Fat-soluble vitamins can be stored for a while in the body’s fat reserves, but water-soluble vitamins are readily lost with other body fluids and therefore must be replenished on a daily basis.

Minerals

Dietary minerals are essential chemical elements our bodies use to support the biochemical reactions of metabolism. They include calcium, chlorine, copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, sodium, and zinc. Depending on your own diet, you can usually get enough of them in the food you eat, but sometimes supplements are helpful.

Carbohydrates, Protein, and Fat

Carbohydrates are the primary source of fuel for our bodies and can be classed as either simple or complex. It’s better to eat complex carbohydrates because they release energy at a more even rate over a longer period of time, whereas simple carbs (like sugar) result in a quick burst of energy followed by a low blood sugar crash. Reducing sugar intake by replacing simple carbohydrates with complex can help steady your energy level throughout the day.

Proteins are special because they are made of long, complex molecules and are convenient for our bodies because they represent a kind of short-cut. Instead of spending our own energy to manufacture these complex molecular structures, we can simply eat and digest them to make use of them. Proteins are what our bodies use to build and maintain their tissues and essential structures like bones and muscles.

Fat stores energy for us until we need it and then releases it slowly. There was a time in human history when food wasn’t as readily available as it is today, and we had to be prepared to go from hunt to hunt and harvest to harvest without starving. In general, saturated fats come from animal sources, and overuse causes increased risk of heart disease, cancer, and high cholesterol. Unsaturated fats are derived from plant sources and some types of fish, and these can be helpful in preventing some kinds of heart disease and cancer, as well as reducing bad cholesterol.

Sources:

  1. Pick, Marcelle. (September 12, 2011). Digestion & GI Healthy. women to women. Retrieved June 1, 2012 from http://www.womentowomen.com/digestionandgihealth/probiotics.aspx
  2. Wiktionary. Vitamins. Retrieved June 1, 2012 from http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/vitamin
  3. Wikipedia. Dietary Mineral. Retireved June 1, 2012 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dietary_mineral

Easy Ways to Eat Healthy

You already know that it’s important to eat healthy and natural foods. Eating right is an important part of a healthy diet plan, but unfortunately nutrition is not a level playing field. Most of the food advertising we see urges us to unhealthy processed foods. Overconsumption of fat, sugar, and salt, as well as artificial chemical additives, is rampant in the average American diet, causing obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol, and a variety of other health issues.

The choice is yours when it comes to healthy eating. Here are some easy ways to eat healthy.

Choose Slow Food, Not Fast

Although some fast food restaurants are starting to offer healthier options, drive-throughs aren’t known for promoting healthy lifestyles or weight management. It’s not even healthy for your wallet – believe it or not, fast food isn’t as cheap as it looks. By weight and portion size, most fast food prices are comparable to the markups at sit-down restaurants.

It’s much easier to make healthy food choices when you cook and eat at home. For one thing, you know exactly what’s going into your food – there are no hidden sugar surprises or chemical additives. It’s also easier to eat an appropriate portion size when you’re the one doing the serving. You can make sure that you and your family are eating enough of the right stuff, including:

1.Whole grains, nuts, and beans

2.Vegetables and fruits (locally grown is ideal)

3.Reduced fat dairy products

4.Antioxidant rich “super foods”

5.Lean protein

Keep It Simple

In the last few years, our diets have come to rely heavily on packaged, processed foods. Heavily processed foods not only retain very little of the nutritional value of their original ingredients, they also contain additives and artificial dyes, which are in no way nutritious. Some research has even found links between depression and diets that are high in fat and processed foods. If the list of ingredients is long and mostly unpronounceable, why eat it?

School Lunches

Does your child’s school have vending machines, and if so, what’s in them? Junky snacks or healthy ones? Get involved, and make sure your child is able to make healthy food choices at school with healthy and fun options in their lunch box like VitaRocks. Many schools now have organic gardening programs – it’s revelatory and empowering when a child realizes the rewards of being able to grow and then enjoy food.

Take charge of your eating by cooking at home and skipping the fast food this week, sticking with foods that have a short list of pronounceable ingredients you’ve heard of, and ensuring that your children know the importance and benefits of natural foods. When you develop good eating habits now, you’ll reap the healthy rewards for life.

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Health Benefits of Acai, the Number One Superfruit

Acai is powerful super fruit that contains more antioxidants than blueberries. Acai is purple berry native to the Amazon rainforest. Acai is found on large palm trees and grows in bunches similar to bananas.

The health benefits of acai berry include monounsaturated oleic acid, dietary fiber, and phytosterolstops. Acai tops just about everyone’s superfruit list, including Oprah and Dr. Oz, who are among acai’s notable supporters.

Healthy To Go explains more about this unique food here on our blog.

Reducing Sugar Intake – A Guide To A Low Sugar Diet

Americans are addicted to sugar. It’s in most processed foods and present in nightmarish quantities in fast food, junk food, and “comfort food.” Continued over-indulgence of sugary foods greatly increases the chance of diabetes and subsequent heart disease. Taking the initiative to make healthy food choices by creating a low sugar diet plan before problems develop can mean avoiding health risks and major issues down the road.

Here are eight tips for reducing sugar intake.

1. Read the Label

When comparison shopping, it’s important to know how to read a nutrition label. Nutrition labels on food packaging list ingredients decreasingly in order of amount, so as a rule of thumb, avoid foods that have any form of sugar listed in the top three ingredients.

2. Desert the Dessert 

One of the worst characteristics of refined sugar that is added to foods is that it often leaves you craving more, so if you can figure out what triggers your cravings, you might just avoid an entire day of bad eating. Another great way to manage sweet cravings is to keep portion sizes down. In other words, you don’t have to deny yourself the snack (which might backfire with an overindulgence later), but always chose “fun size” over “king size.”

3. Drink More Water

Add more water to your day starting right now. Feel better? That’s because just plain water is what your cells need to replenish themselves. Our bodies are 50-75% water and just can’t function correctly without enough of it. Water also helps satiate thirst so that you don’t reach for a dehydrating beverage with loads of sugar or caffeine.

4. Drop the Pop

Sodas and energy drinks are some of the worst offenders when it comes to sugar content. Many popular 16-ounce energy drinks contain the sugar equivalent of a dozen donuts. Swapping out your daily regular soft drink for a plain iced tea, a natural low sugar powdered drink mix, or water can make an enormous impact on sugar consumption and daily caloric intake.

5. Reduce Cravings with Healthy Food Choices

If you eat balanced meals, your body’s digestive and endocrine systems can work correctly to keep your blood sugar level optimum. Eat a good balance of protein, fiber, whole grains, and complex carbohydrates, as well as copious amounts of vegetables and fruits. Between meals, get into the habit of satisfying your cravings by substituting something that provides more nutritional value.

6. Drop That Teaspoon

Reduce or eliminate that spoonful of sugar in your coffee or tea; in a short while, your taste buds will adapt and be happy with the complex natural flavors and sweetness of your favorite foods.

7. Keep Track of Your Grazing

Sometimes the worst food addictions are the ones we’re not even aware of. Food is everywhere, and we’re encouraged to eat for entertainment in movie theaters and at parties. Keeping track of everything you eat with a notepad or an online health management program is a good way to help focus your attention on your diet and to become more aware of your sugar daily sugar consumption.

8. Get Some Fresh Air

Staring at a computer screen all day can sap the life out of you and fatigue your brain, making your body yearn for a pick-me-up. Instead of relying on a candy bar for quick energy, take a walk around the block. The fresh air will refresh your head, and the exercise will oxygenate your blood and reduce sugar cravings. If you’re still hungry when you get back, snack on complex carbs like whole grains and nuts for a more even, longer lasting energy boost.

Recent studies indicate that with current eating and health habits, for the first time in several generations, future generations’ lifespans may actually be shorter than our own because of poor nutrition. Controlling and reducing sugar intake is a great start on the path to better health.

What are Super Foods- Top 5 SuperFoods List

Antioxidant rich foods are often referred to as “super foods,” a label that has been frequently used by healthy eating proponents like Oprah and Dr. Oz as well as nutritionists and food brands. A top 5 SuperFoods list would vary, depending on who you’re asking, but here are some that many authorities agree are very beneficial.

1. Red Wine

Let’s start with a fun one! We’ve known for a while about the benefit of drinking red wine, but only recently have we been able to pinpoint that it originates in the grape skin. Grape skin is high in resveratrol, an antibody grapes produce when fighting disease or injury. The most effective way of absorbing resveratrol is directly through the blood vessels in the mouth, a lucky coincidence since many wine-drinkers swish it in their mouths before swallowing. Resveratrol helps to repair cells and stop the oxidation process initiated by free radicals. It also helps you to think better!

2. Acai Berries

These dark reddish-purple berries are produced by a palm tree native to the Amazon, and the health benefits of acai are numerous. Their pulp contains an astonishingly high concentration of antioxidants, as well as fiber, amino acids, minerals, and Oleic acid, which works with Omega-3, which has a nourishing and regenerative effect on cells.

3. Avocado

Guacamole, anyone? Avocado is one of the most nutrient-dense foods, full of fiber, folate, potassium, magnesium, and vitamin E. They’re also rich in mono-unsaturated oil, a “healthy fat”. A diet that includes avocado can decrease LDL cholesterol and increase HDL (good) cholesterol.

4. Barley

It’s a good source of Niacin, a B vitamin – another antioxidant that helps to prevent cellular damage from free radicals and lowers cholesterol – as well as selenium, tryptophan, copper, manganese and phosphorus. Although it contains gluten, it can be digested far more easily than wheat.

5. Walnuts

Amazingly, eating a handful of walnuts a day will reduce the chances of a heart attack by at least 15% and as much as 51%! It’s a high-fat food, but it’s the good kind of fat, with high levels of Omega-3’s, vitamin E and A, magnesium, copper, biotin, folate, and potassium, not to mention fiber. And if you satisfy your fat craving with a healthy fat, you won’t be as tempted to hit the drive-through for a dose of the bad stuff.

Our modern lifestyles subject us to stresses and environmental toxins undreamed of by our ancestors, but fortunately, help is available in the form of these natural SuperFoods.

Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables

Do you know the actual health benefits of fruits and vegetables or just that you’re supposed to eat them? Moms have been telling their children for generations to “Eat your vegetables!” and while we spend plenty of time reinforcing healthy food choices, we don’t spend enough time talking about why certain foods are better than others. Here are some answers to those questions.

Nutrients

Eating fruits and vegetables provides you with essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber that may help protect you from stroke, cardiovascular disease, and certain types of cancer. Your recommended calorie intake depends on your age, gender, and average daily activity level. In general, adults should eat five to nine servings (serving = ½ cup) of each every day. Single fruits and vegetables are usually not labeled, but packages of fresh produce often include nutritional facts labels, making it easier to figure out serving size and nutritional info.

Variety

The different colors that fruits and vegetables come in indicate that they each have something different to offer your body, so it is ideal to eat a wide variety of colors. Each color offers a certain range of nutrients such as fiber, folate, potassium, and vitamins A and C. Brighten up meal time by adding some green broccoli, orange carrots, black beans, yellow corn, purple plums, red strawberries and white cauliflower to your plate.

Diet

Substituting fruits and vegetables instead of higher calorie snacks throughout the day not only gives you more of the nutrients that you need, but is also great for weight management. One of the best benefits of fruits and veggies is having calories that work for you instead of against you. Fresh fruit such as apples and bananas make great between-meal snacks, and adding a leafy green salad to lunch helps fill you up.

In an on-the-go lifestyle, fresh fruit and vegetables aren’t always an option. Healthy To Go products, like powdered drink mixes, give you convenient access to antioxidant rich foods and are made from 100% natural ingredients, including fruits and vegetables.

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Five Ways To Read Nutrition Labels

A nutrition facts label is designed to help you make healthy food choices, and knowing how to read nutritional labels gives you the power to quickly compare products and choose ones that have nutritional values that meet your needs as part of a well-balanced diet. The following is an overview about how to decipher the food labels you see every day.

There are five key components to nutrition labels: serving size, calories, nutrients, %DV, and footnote. Each of these parts offers valuable information about the food product and helps you determine how the food fits into your diet as you strive to meet your personal nutritional needs.

1. Serving Size

One of the most important healthy eating tips is portion control, and paying attention to a food’s serving size is the key to moderation. The serving size is listed at the top of the nutritional label and tells you what a standard serving size is for that particular product. This makes it easier to compare similar products and to keep track of how many servings you are consuming.

2. Calories

Calories measure how much energy you gain from a serving of food. Eating more calories than your body burns can lead to weight gain, so keeping track of calorie intake is important. In this section of the nutrition label, you will also find how many calories in the food are from fat content. Often, the more fat calories in the product, the less nutritious the product is overall. As a general rule, foods that have 40 calories or less per serving are considered low calorie foods, items with 100 calories per serving are moderate, and foods that have 400 calories or more per serving are high calorie foods.

3. Nutrients

This section of the label lists all of the nutrients that are found in the food and how much of each is found in a serving. The first three listed are always fat, cholesterol, and sodium. A healthy diet should limit all three, especially saturated fat and trans fat. The nutrients that follow these, including varying items like dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron, are all nutrients that are a necessary part of a well-balanced diet and found in antioxidant rich foods. Care should be taken to get the proper amount of these each day.

4. %DV

These numbers in the column farthest to the right on the label indicate how much of each nutrient a particular food will supply in a daily diet of 2,000 calories. 5% of a nutrient is considered low, while the 20% range is optimal for vitamins and minerals.

5. Footnote

The footnote at the bottom of the nutritional information typically shows either how a diet with more or less than 2,000 calories would alter the %DV for key nutrients or compares the standard amounts of certain components for diets of 2,000 or 2,500 calories.

Take the mystery out of healthy eating by taking the time to read nutrition labels. A little research can go a long way toward good eating habits.

What are Antioxidants and Why do I Need Them?

You’ve heard of them. You know they’re good for you. You may even know which foods contain them. But what are antioxidants and why are they so important?

We offers a brief guide to this crucial component of nutrition so that you can be better informed to make good healthy eating choices.

The Science

As your body breaks down food, a series of complex chemical reactions takes place, including what is called oxidation. As part of the oxidation process, free radicals are produced, which can start chain reactions that damage your body’s cells. Free radicals can also enter your body through environmental exposure to things such as tobacco smoke and radiation. Antioxidants are molecules capable of stopping free radicals from causing these chain reactions and protecting your body’s cells from the harm that comes from them.

Where to Look

There are many antioxidants capable of protecting your body from free radicals and many more places to find them. Some of the most commonly known are vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene. These are all found in a variety of foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, but also in nuts, grains, and some meats, poultry, and fish.

Staying Healthy

Free radicals cannot be avoided completely; in fact, the oxidation reactions that your body produces as part of its natural processes are crucial for maintaining life. However, you can minimize your exposure to harmful environmental free radicals by not smoking and wearing sunscreen when you spend time outside. Including a variety of antioxidant rich foods as part of a well-balanced diet is the best way to protect your cells from unwanted exposure to free radicals.