Nutrition “U” Tutorial: Introduction

Posted 02/15/14 in [Nutrition "U" Tutorial] | 2 Comments

The purpose of this tutorial is to give a broad overview of what nutrition is about. It should not be considered a technical or scientific textbook about nutrition. I welcome corrections with non-Internet NutritionUtutorial citations.

Before we can get involved in the reasons for nutrients and how they are processed by the body, we need some foundational information. Here it is:

  • The purpose of nutrition is twofold: to maintain a stable environment in the body, so that chemical processes can occur, allowing us to do all the stuff we want to do, and to allow the body cells, tissues, and organs remain strong and healthy so they can do all the stuff they need to do. This is called homeostasis. If you want your body to function well, homeostasis must exist.
  • For the sake of beginning understanding, let’s consider atoms the tiniest things in the universe (they’re not, but bear with me), and every very, very basic “thing” has a certain type of atom. There are many different types of these elements. The most popular ones you need to know about for several lessons are named carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. You will recognize the elements mentioned in the later lessons.
  • Atoms have 3 parts: protons, neutrons, and electrons. (The element hydrogen doesn’t have a neutron.) The protons and neutrons are put together in the center of the atom, called the nucleus. In “orbits” around the nucleus are electrons, and there might be many layers of these orbits. These layers are energy levels. The amounts of protons, neutrons, and electrons in an atom determines its name.
  • All nutrients are made up of molecules. A molecule is a glob of atoms. The electrons in the atom either attract or deflect other atoms, creating these molecules and determining whether the new molecule will be positively or negatively charged.
  • If something is organic is it is made up of more than one carbon atom, and is or was living. (Really. The term “organic” you see in the grocery store loosely means it was grown a little more pure-ly than typical foods of that category. That isn’t the true definition of “organic.”)
  • If something is inorganic, it is not a plant or animal, and it doesn’t contain any combination of the elements listed in #2.
  • There are 6 classes of nutrients. Everything you eat falls into one of these categories, although some foods you eat have more than one category in them. These classes are:
  • water – the water class contains, well, water. Sixty percent of our body is made up of water. It lubricates, helps things get around, and keep our body temperature within its appropriate range.
  • lipids – Lipids are what we consider “fats.” They cannot be dissolved in water. There are differing organic molecules in the lipids class.
  • carbohydrates – The carbohydrate class has sugars, starches, and fiber in it. Water, Lipids, and Carbohydrates need to be the bulk of our diets. The term for these are macronutrients.
  • proteins – proteins are actually amino acids glued together. The common misconception is that proteins are these things in meat and amino acids are separate and do other stuff. Nope. Protein only exists because of amino acids that are chained together and folded up.
  • vitamins – organic molecules which help chemical processes in the body.
  • minerals – inorganic elements which help chemical processes in the body Proteins, Vitamins, and Minerals are needed by us in less quantities than water, lipids, and carbohydrates. The term for these are micronutrients. Hands down, the best organic supplement to supply vitamins and minerals is Body Balance liquid whole food supplement.
  • Think that food to your body is like gasoline to a car. It provides energy to make the car work. It just goes through a lot to get to the final product.
  • Calories are how we measure what energy all nutrients provide to our bodies. They are not a tangible thing we eat. Everyone is familiar with the term “miles per hour.” If a car goes 60 mph, the miles per hour measure the speed of the car, they are not something you can pick up and carry. The calories on a food label are actually that number times 1000, and the proper writing of what we think of calories is either Calorie (capitalized), kilocalorie, or kcal.
  • The body gets energy mostly from lipids, carbohydrates, and proteins. Water, vitamins, and minerals do not give the body actual energy, so we cannot measure them with calories.
  • Phytochemicals or phytonutrients are other stuff in foods that haven’t been studied enough to know how they help our bodies. However, most experts agree they are also vital to health, even though research in this area is new.
  • An animal cell is mostly in a disc shape. Covering the disc is a cell membrane. Inside the cell, there are things that float around in a liquid called cytoplasm. These things are a nucleus, which is the control center for the cell. Inside the nucleus is twisty DNA, which provides information to the cell of how to reproduce. Another thing floating around in a cell is vacuoles. These store food for the cell to use. There are also mitochondria. They break down food, add oxygen, and produce energy for that cell. Also, there are ribosomes. Protein is made in this part of the cell.

These terms will be used throughout these lessons. If you read it and forget what it means, just come back and find out.

Go to Lesson 2: The Path Food Takes here.

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