Nutrition has always been an important factor of human life, and now in western cultures it has been elevated to unprecedented heights. Weight and nutrition are two separate spheres and should not be confused. In western cultures, leanness of the body is regarded as a virtue and beauty, whereas in the Middle East a thin, emaciated and pale person is regarded as malnourished, sick, and generally unappealing.
Humans evolved as hunter-gatherers over the past 250,000 years, and agriculture started developing approximately 10,000 years ago in Mesopotamia.
Water is an important requirement. It is recommended that an individual should consume an adequate amount, while taking into consideration the amount of fruits and vegetables consumed daily.Some scientists claim 1 ½ litres per day, but others state that water should be consumed as the body indicates.
In tropical countries people relied on tropical plant foods and lived healthy lives. They derived water from fruits, vegetables and drank water as they felt the need for it. (70 per cent of the body consists of water).
Plants provided enough phytochemicals and antioxidants for a healthy life.
Of late, weight has become a big issue in North America, and in fact much of this unfortunate condition stems from many factors starting with processed foods, quality over quantity considerations, occupation, and lack of time. Nutrition involves the study of foods from planning a meal, preparing, portioning, consuming, digesting and assimilating.
Nutritious meals require careful planning, which in turn requires purchasing all the ingredients. It is important to obtain fresh seasonal food to the extent possible.
Combining foods requires knowledge of compatibility and should be practised, i.e calcium ad phosphors, one without the other becomes less nutritious. The same is true for rice, potatoes, and bread in the same course or on the plate.
A healthy human diet must contain adequate amounts of protein, fat, carbohydrates, fibre, vitamins, minerals, and water.
A carbohydrate rich diet can provide sufficient amounts of calories, but nutritionally is flawed because of the lack of all other important groups of essential nutrients.
A sedentary male needs approximately 2400 – 2500 calories and female 2000 – 2300.
Accordingly, calorie needs can be calculated to satisfy adequacy.
Carbohydrates consist of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. There are simple- and complex carbohydrates. Cereals, breads, pasta (are complex carbohydrates), sugar is a simple carbohydrate.
Fruits, sweets, soft drinks, breads, pasta, rice, cereals, and bran are rich in carbohydrates and fall into mono- and disaccharides, most of are not essential for survival. They can be obtained from a variety of other ordinary, everyday sources.
People constantly refer to the Mediterranean diet, point out its advantages, and stress how it can contribute to longevity. What is often conveniently forgotten is the lifestyle, less stress, a balanced family-life, and regularity of daily activities including walking.
Of course, a nutritious diet plays a significant role and people living around the Mediterranean basin just use seasonal foods and a lot of fish.
The sea has been the source, and continues to be, of protein and provide excellent cool, storage for delicate seafood. Freshness is crucial. A two-day old, but refrigerated fish, offers less nutritional value. People buy fresh fish (i.e caught early in the morning and used either for lunch or dinner).
Chicken, other poultry and meat were used seldom because of cost.
Proper nutrition requires knowledge of cooking, and exposing food to heat long enough to make it more palatable and easier to digest. Overcooking diminishes both the nutritional value of food and eating pleasure.
Generally one gram of protein per one kilogram of body weight is considered to be adequate. (Some protein rich foods are: lean beef, tuna, cheese, lean chicken, roasted peanuts, grilled fish, Brazil nuts and eggs).
Fat satiates more and longer contains because it contains more calories (one gram nine calories versus four in carbohydrates). Chinese food has less fat, and this is the reason most people feel hungry after eating Chinese specialties.
Fat should constitute approximately 25 per cent of total calories of your diet. (Fat containing foods are: oil, butter, nuts, sausages, fatty meat, cheese, chocolate, and egg yolk.)
There are saturated of unsaturated fats. Some are insoluble in water but soluble in solvents and may be liquid or solid.
Oils, fats, lard, fish oil, butter, whale blubber, edible plant fats, peanuts, soybean, sunflower, sesame, coconut, olive oil, cocoa butter, fall into this category.
Margarine is hydrogenated oil and not recommended for human consumption. Unsaturated fats are more healthy than saturated ones, but yield less energy.
Fats maintain skin (the largest organ of the human body), hair, insulate the body, and promote proper functioning of cells.
Vitamins constitute an important part of proper nutrition. Without an adequate intake of vitamins, diseases start creating havoc with essential and regular body functions.
Vitamins are organic compounds, and each has a diverse biochemical function.
Egyptians of antiquity knew about vitamins, but never identified them. That honour goes to a Polish scientist. Vitamin deficiency during the Renaissance made this phenomenon common among sailors causing beriberi.
Vitamins are essential for growth and development, but must be consumed in adequate amounts. Overdoses result in undesirable side effects i.e nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting.
Of the 13 vitamins, some are water soluble, and others fat-soluble.
Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble, the remainder water-soluble.
Here are the vitamins – A, B complex (B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, and B12), C, D, E, and K.
Minerals such as potassium, chlorine, sodium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, manganese, copper, iodine, selenium and molybdenum are essential, but only in micro doses.
Convenience foods contain mostly the following ingredients – fat, salt, flour and sugar. All of them lack vitamins, minerals, and proteins, and fibre. If you consume too much fast food, you will end up being overweight, and undernourished.
Much maligned carbohydrates have their place in the diet and should be present in adequate quantities. You can survive without directly consuming carbohydrates, as other foods contain sufficient amounts of them.
Fibre is an important ingredient and contributes to proper functioning of the gastrointestinal tract. A diet poor in fibre is bound to create serious illnesses.
Some fibre rich foods are – bran, dried apricots, prunes, peas, black currants, whole wheat bread, roasted peanuts, celery, and most fruits.
Good nutrition means a balanced diet in adequate portions of all the above daily.