In this day and age, we are increasingly exposed to the concept of “nutrition”, whether this be hypes in the media, a new trendy diet that everyone is talking about or even the run-of-the-mill food shopping at the supermarket. So, what exactly is “Nutrition”? Put simply, nutrition is the science of food at work in our bodies after it has been broken down via the digestion process, generating our primary source of energy. Think of nutrition as the building blocks of life and the interaction of nutrients which deliver observable health effects.
The essential nutrients for life include macronutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids (fats), as well as fibre, micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals, and water. The absorption of nutrients starts the moment we begin to digest our foods, as they are transported to assist all the metabolic processes in the human body.
Optimal nutrition translates into getting the right amount of nutrients from foods in the right combinations in relation to our body’s dietary needs– it often boils down to balance. Having a certain level of nutrition knowledge empowers you to make smart, healthy choices about the foods you eat on a daily basis and will help you achieve optimum health over your lifetime. Optimal nutrition is also key to avoiding poor health, and combating many of today’s most prevalent chronic diseases, for example obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Nutrition represents an important element in achieving and maintaining good health. Good health is defined as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being — a healthy mind, body, and spirit. Nutrition is of vital importance throughout our entire life-cycle — from childhood to adolescence, adulthood and in our senior years, with slightly differing nutritional requirements depending on which stage of our lives we are in. Nutrition can also help towards preventing and treating many of today’s common issues, such as stress, tiredness, weight gain, mood, maintain a healthy heart, food allergies, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, to name a few.
The nutrition world is extremely interesting but can also be quite complex and confusing. We are constantly learning new things about the food we eat and are often bombarded with contradicting messages in the media. Despite this well-known complexity, there is an emerging trend nowadays where people oversimplify nutrition and focus on individual components, or individual "superfoods" and nutrients rather than taking a holistic view on nutrition.
A factor that adds a layer of complexity, is that we consume food, not nutrients. Health professionals may encourage certain foods to be increased/decreased in order to improve someone’s overall diet and health; however, there is no such thing as a perfect food or the perfect diet. What is ‘right’ for me may not be ‘right’ for you, and neither would it suit every person in the world because each person is different- we all have differing, lifestyles, activity levels, medical histories, body composition and nutritional requirements. Nutrition is often very personal. However, there are main lines and general healthy eating advice that can be extracted and that apply to everyone.
What we eat and drink is so interwoven within the fabric of our culture, celebrations, emotional status, habits, and plays an important role in social interaction. Whether it is a drink with friends in a bar, a dinner date or catching up with your best friend over dinner and glass of wine, we bond and connect with each other while eating and drinking together. Remove the food and we take away our connections.
Nutrition also translates into health, and health represents a form of freedom. Being healthy not only can it make us feel and look great, it also enables us to enjoy and experience life to our fullest potential. Conversely, a poor diet can have a serious implications on health, and result in the inability to enjoy life to its potential.
The bottom line: Food represents so much more than simply the sum of the nutrients it contains.
Sophie Bruno is a Registered Dietitian living and working in Brussels (Belgium). Read Sophie's foodie blog which will enable you to learn, increase your knowledge & cultivate yourself in the field of nutrition & health directly from Brussels