Nutrition & Hydration Week

Emma Brown - Nutritionist | 11 Mar, 2019

This week is Nutrition & Hydration Week! We all know that good nutrition is essential for our health and wellbeing – but it helps to know exactly why. What job does fibre do, and why are certain vitamins so important? I’ll be putting a spotlight on different nutrients and explaining why each is important and what it does for our body. First up... fibre!

fibre

Fibre

Fibre is essentially a carbohydrate that can’t be digested in the small intestines. This means it travels through the digestive tract and reaches the large intestines where it helps create bulk, absorb water and feed good bacteria. These actions mean that fibre promotes a health digestive system by ensuring our stools pass through easily and helping to keep the good bacteria happy and healthy too.

Fibre has been linked to other health benefits too:

  1. It’s good for our heart health, as fibre can help to reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol levels.
  2. It has been shown to lower the risk of bowel cancer, possibly because it helps reduce the time waste products spend in our bowel.
  3. It can aid weight loss as it helps to keep us feeling full.
  4. Some types of fibre can help control blood sugar levels by slowing the absorption of sugar.

Essentially, we can’t praise fibre enough! Aim for 30g per day – so eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds and pulses

B12

Good fats

It’s well known that too much fat in our diet is not good for health – it can lead to excess body fat stores meaning we’re overweight, and saturated fat in particular can increase ‘bad’ cholesterol levels, which increases our risk of heart disease. But some fats are particularly good for us and we should therefore aim to include more of them in our diet.

Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are unsaturated fats that are ‘essential’ meaning we can only get them from our diet. They have various important roles in the body, including:

  1. Being used to make cell membranes.
  2. Regulating cell functions – making them very important for all cellular activity.
  3. Unsaturated fats help to reduce bad cholesterol but boost good cholesterol – which is important for heart health.
  4. Omega 3 fatty acids have been linked to improved joint health, reduced inflammation, better skin and better memory.
  5. We also need some fats in our diet to absorb fat soluble vitamins A, D and K.

Good fats are just that, good! So ensure you’re including these foods in your diet regularly; nuts, olive oil, oily fish such as salmon, mackerel or sardines, and jump on the ‘avo on toast’ train (that's avocado, if you've not tried it!).

calcium

Calcium

It’s well known that calcium plays a vital role in the health of our bones and teeth. Without adequate calcium we can be at risk of bone diseases such as osteoporosis. But that’s not all we need calcium for. Calcium also has important roles in:

  1. Nerve impulse transmission and muscle contraction.
  2. Cell signalling in metabolic processes.
  3. Potential role in reducing blood pressure.
  4. It may also improve endurance during activity.

Calcium is therefore such an important nutrient for various elements of health – from energy production to bone health. Aim for 700mg per day. Make sure you get enough by including some or all of the following in your diet; low fat dairy foods, calcium-fortified dairy free alternatives, leafy green vegetables, pulses, nuts, soya beans and breads made with fortified flours.

iron

Iron

Iron has a big impact on our energy levels; an iron deficiency can leave people feeling tired and lethargic. The reason for this is because iron has a very important role in the transport of oxygen around our body. We use iron to make haemoglobin in red blood cells, this binds to oxygen which is carried it around the body to our cells. It goes without saying how important oxygen is to our cells, so it’s a no-brainer that iron is essential.

Aside from this vital role, iron is also linked to various other crucial functions:

  1. Iron has been shown to have an important role in immunity.
  2. It has a role in skin, hair and nail health.
  3. It’s important for energy metabolism.
  4. It’s also important for metabolising foreign products which we need to remove from our body.

Iron is a vital nutrient for ensuring we feel healthy and energised. We should aim for 8.7mg and 14.8mg per day for men and women respectively. Make sure you’re getting enough by including meat, eggs, fish, pulses, dried fruit, dark green leafy veg, wholegrains and dried fruits in your diet.

B12

Vitamin B12

Many people may be aware of vitamin B12 because it’s often highlighted as an important consideration if you’re thinking of switching to a plant based diet. B12 is only found in animal products, so anyone excluding these from their diet must take a dietary supplement to replace their B12. But why is it so important we get it?

  1. A lack of vit B12 can result in B12 anaemia – resulting in oxygen not being transported as effectively.
  2. Vit B12 has a vital role in our brain and nervous system functioning.
  3. It’s used to help make DNA – essential for the production of cells.
  4. It’s needed for the absorption of folic acid – which teams up with B12 to help produce red blood cells and DNA.

It’s clear vitamin B12 has several important roles and without it, our body would be unable to function as healthily as it should. Ensure you’re getting enough by including meat, fish, eggs, milk, yogurt and cheese in your diet. If you’re following a plant based diet – you must talk to your doctor about taking a supplement.

protein

Protein

It's been pretty well promoted that protein has satiating benefits – more so than fats and carbs – making it a dieter’s friend. And it's also common knowledge that protein is needed to build muscle – hence the appeal for weight-lifters and people interested in bulking up. But why else is it important?

Protein has so many essential roles in the body, it’s hard to know where to start!

  1. Protein is the building block of all cells and tissues in the body.
  2. There are several ‘essential’ amino acids (building blocks of protein) that we have to get from our diet.
  3. It is used to make hormones and enzymes.

In summary, protein is essential for every aspect of a healthy body. Ensuring we get an adequate amount in our diet will prevent vital stores from being broken down and used for energy by our body, which helps maintain lean muscle mass. Adequate muscle mass promotes a health metabolism, strength, stability and quality of life.

Some of the best sources of protein are skinless chicken and turkey, fish, pulses, low fat dairy, Quorn, eggs, nuts and wholegrains.

water

Water

Water is essential for life – while humans can potentially survive a few weeks without food, we can only last 3 or 4 days (conditions dependent) without fluids. Here’s a few reasons why:

  1. Up to 60% of the adult human body is water - our cells need water to survive and function.
  2. Our blood is over 90% water.
  3. Water is vital for temperature regulation.
  4. The removal of harmful waste products from the body requires water.

Ensuring you consume a good volume of water each day may help boost energy levels, aid weight loss by helping us feel fuller, and also boost exercise performance, which helps to burn more calories.

Aim to drink at least 2 litres per day – more if it’s hot or you’re exercising a lot.

(A note of caution: as with anything, too much can be a bad thing. Excessive water consumption can be harmful so don’t overdo it. Drink little and often – more than 1 litre per hour can be harmful)

Nutritionist Emma Brown (ANutr), MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.