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