Nutrition – the ever-popular “n” word in today's health-conscious society. Perhaps the most basic of understandings regarding nutrition involves the existence of calories. Essentially treated as fuel by the body, calories are derived from the food that we eat. If you take in more than consume, you'll gain weight. The inverse is also considered true; taking in less than what you require results in weight-loss. However, there is more to good nutrition than such a simplistic equation.
Nutrients are the most pertinent subject when it comes to this discussion (it is called “nutrition” after all). The three most prevalent ones – protein, carbohydrates and fat – are collectively referred to as macronutrients. From promoting cellular health to regulating hormone production and repairing body tissue, macronutrients are involved in just about every aspect of physical and mental health.
Ensuring that your body gets the proper ratio of macronutrients is crucial to good health. While this figure does fluctuate accordingly to numerous variables (age, gender, physical occupation, body composition, medical status, etc.), the key takeaway here is that is far better to internalise a ratio rather than to not have one at all. If for example your body needs 2,000 calories a day to fuel its activity, having 90% of it as carbohydrates will be akin to short-changing it of the benefits afforded by a balanced diet.
Micronutrients stand somewhat diminutively next to their macro counterparts. Despite occurring naturally in trace amounts, micronutrients (i.e. vitamins and minerals) play the vital role of supporting the macronutrients' efforts to keep the body up and running.
Possessing a micronutrient deficiency may seem harmless on paper, but its effects are far-reaching and can coalesce into something more. Magnesium deficiency – one of the most common micronutrient deficiencies – carries as many as 23 symptoms (both neurological and physical) and is known to be related to 16 medical conditions. Not surprising when you consider its key role in over 350 enzymatic processes and its involvement in virtually every metabolic activity of the body. It is a natural process for our bodies to deplete its store of micronutrients, so it becomes essential for us to replace them at the earliest opportunity.
Bringing things back to the basics, what we eat is important because it has a direct impact on how much energy our body receives and its ability to function optimally. A balanced diet rich in whole foods will ensure that your body gets what it needs, both in terms of quantity and quality. While there are some scientifically-backed diets that advocate a large scale de-emphasis on certain food groups (e.g. the ketogenic diet), bear in mind that these diets are typically prescribed for a pre-determined amount of time or for very specific populations.
Active individuals will also find that they require more nutrients than their less active counterparts, so things like protein powder and fish oil can be a boon when it comes to keeping the body in tip-top shape.
Nutritional supplements are another important factor when it comes to health and well-being. While it is never a good idea to build a nutritional plan solely around supplements, intelligent use of it will allow you to address certain shortcomings and promote recovery. Building a diet around quality whole foods and keeping your consumption to reasonable levels while also minimising alcohol and sugar intake can do wonders for your well-being. A lot of it boils down to good ol' common sense – you get out what you put in!