Nutritonal Literacy

Understanding the nutritional information on your food packaging.

Understanding the nutritional information on your food packaging can play a large part in your health, both mentally and physically and also determine what your weight is going to do next.

Dieticians and nutritionists have spent years learning to understand what it is that the body requires in order to remain healthy, maintain weight and develop at the required pace.

There is indeed truth to that bit of old school wisdom about eating your fruit and vegetables and not eating too many sweet treats. The concept of nutrition has evolved with time and more information is made available on an almost continuous basis, and very likely fueling the debate over which form of diet is best.

Each nutrient that we put into our bodies has an impact, both whether too little is taken or if we overdo our consumption.

The ideal diet will consist of a set of main components which in turn consist of further sub-components:

  • Protein
  • Fat
  • Fibre
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals

Each of these are made up of further sub-categories, adding to the whole

Carbohydrates – The main source of energy for the body, also broken into sub-groups.  Carbohydrates often take the form of grain based products, which usually find themselves on the unfavourable side of a food debate. Carbohydrates are often the scapegoat for weight gain; if all the energy provided by carbohydrates is not expended the result will be an increase in weight.

Fat – The fat content in food was always given the blame for weight gain, although it seems carbohydrates are now sharing that load.  Fat is no longer a forbidden substance. Quite the contrary, there are many functions that for which the body requires fats.  Fats can be best classified as good fats and bad fats.

Good fats – An example of a good fat is the fat found in certain plants, nuts and fish. The Omega fatty acids of which the most commonly known is omega3. These fatty acids are essential for good brain function.

Bad Fats – Transfats; these are the result of partial hydrogenation which occurs when oils are processed from liquid to solid. Fried foods and snacks, and many types of convenience foods contain large quantities of trans fats.  Foods containing trans fats should be avoided as they have no nutritional value but do in fact contribute to weight gain, cholesterol related problems and poor health.

Minerals – are the chemical elements that are present in your food. Most of which occur naturally in the food product. These are essential for the proper absorption of nutrients from other food sources and contribute to the development and proper function of various organs and parts of the body.

Calories – This is the measurement of energy which foodstuffs contain. Too little means that we are not taking in enough food for our bodies to function optimally. Our calories are obtained through the consumption of carbohydrates, protein and the various types of fat.

Micronutrients – such as vitamins and minerals which are essential for the prevention of disease and for the assisting the body in the absorption of other nutrients. A lack of vitamins and minerals in the diet renders the body susceptible to various diseases like scurvy and rickets while in cases where these nutrients have been taken to excess organ damage and cardiovascular disease can occur.

Educate yourself on the various items that appear on the nutritional information bar of food packaging and make a better informed choice of meal.

While what you consume needn’t be boring or repetitive it is best to be aware of what it is that you are putting into your body and what the effects may be. Consulting with a dietician is not only for those who feel they need to lose weight, but for everyone who would like to understand how to live a healthier life through better nutrition.

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