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Food

Food the substrate for life, it is the great equalizer, without it we all die. We all know that we must have food to survive, but in today’s world I think very few of us really think about why our bodies need food. We rarely think of food as anything more than something to extinguish the physical and emotional craving that we have for it. We give little thought to what it is made, where it comes from, or the sacrifice that was made for us to have it.

Nutrients

I would like to introduce you to some important food terms; Macronutrients, Micronutrients, and Phytochemicals. I give you these terms because I think it is important to understand them in order to have a proper respect for food.

Macronutrients

Macronutrients are those nutrients that our bodies require in large amounts. They provide energy for the body and the basic components to carry out the functions that it must in order to maintain life. They are necessary for building and repairing the body. There are 3 macronutrients; carbohydrates, proteins and fats. For most of us this is as far as our food knowledge goes, in fact it has become quite popular to delete one of these major macronutrient groups as part of the diet fad of the day. The reality is that we need them all in order to maintain health.

Carbohydrates are the macronutrient required in the largest amounts. When broken down in the body carbohydrates are turned into glucose one of the body’s major energy sources. Here’s a news flash: all vegetables and fruits as well as grains are carbohydrates. These are very healthy substances for our body, the issue is how we have processed and manipulated these carbohydrates in today’s food world.

Not all of the carbohydrates found in foods are digestible. This portion of carbohydrates is often referred to as fiber and is present in all fruits and vegetables. Although our bodies cannot use fiber as energy source, this type of carbohydrate plays a very important role in maintaining gut heath. There will be more about this benefit discussed later in the text.

Protein is also a very important macronutrient. Protein provides amino acids which are the building blocks that the body needs for growth and repair of tissue such as muscle. These building blocks are also used to make hormones and enzymes both of which are essential for the body to maintain health and carry out vital functions.

All the proteins in the body are made up of 20 amino acids. Twelve of those amino acids can be produced in the body; however eight of the twenty must be obtained from the foods we eat. These eight amino acids are referred to as “essential”, which means that they must be obtained from out food. The “nonessential” amino acids can be synthesised by the liver if not provided by the diet.

Protein in the diet that comes from animal sources contains all of the essential amino acids needed, in fact for many years scientist thought that if we did not consume animal products we could not get them. We now know that by eating a variety of plant foods the essential amino acids can be supplied.

Fat is the final macronutrient and arguably the most vilified. Although fats have received a very bad reputation, fat is essential to maintain health. Fat is important for a number of reasons, one is that it is essential for brain and nerve health, two is fat in our diet supplies fatty acids such as omega-3’s that cannot be produced in the body, and three we need fat to help with the absorption of the fat soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, D, E, K and carotenoids. Fat also slows the digestion of food which slows the rise of blood sugar levels, this is very important for diabetics. There are healthy fats such as monounsaturated fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids that are important as part of a healthy diet. The important thing is to make sure that you limit your intake of those fats.

Micronutrients

Micronutrients are substances that the body needs but only in small amounts. Vitamins and minerals are the main micronutrients, they are essential for good health. I think it is interesting to note that these substances are needed in SMALL amounts. We get into trouble when we start to take mega doses of these substances. The body cannot process them properly so abnormalities can result. Although needed in only small amounts, they are essential for health and wellbeing. Being deficient in these vitamins and minerals can have significant health consequences.

Vitamins are a collection of organic (carbon containing) compounds that were originally thought to belong to a group of chemical compounds known as amines; scientist gave them the name vitamine to represent their class as “vital amines”. Later it was determined that these substances were in fact not amines, so the ending “e” was dropped and they were given the name vitamin.

Vitamins main function is to serve as catalysts in the body. A catalyst is a substance that causes or speeds up a chemical reaction without itself being affected. In other words it helps the chemical reaction to occur. If these catalysts are missing, as in a vitamin deficiency, normal body functions do not occur properly. This results in disease or the susceptibility to disease. We must obtain most vitamins from food; however there are some that are manufactured in the body. These are vitamin K and D. Vitamin K is manufactured in our bodies in certain bacteria in our intestines, and vitamin D is produced with the help of our skin’s exposure to ultraviolent light from the sun.

Vitamins are classified as either fat-soluble or water-soluble. Vitamins A, D, E and K are lipid-soluble and accumulate in the fat of the body, and in the liver. The lipid-soluble vitamins are often associated with toxicity because they are stored in fat. Vitamin C and the B vitamins are water soluble. When water-soluble vitamins are taken in excess, they are excreted in the urine as a result they are not usually associated with toxicity. There is however some minimal storage of vitamins C and B in the liver.

Although required in small amounts, vitamins provide many functions in the body. For example, vitamin A is involved in the functioning of the eye, vitamin K is involved in the production of blood clotting factors, and vitamin B1 (thiamine) is important for the breakdown of carbohydrates. If you are consuming a diet that is high in plant based, nutritious foods you should be getting an adequate supply of these vital substances. If your diet is in any way inadequate you should consider vitamin supplementation.

Minerals are naturally inorganic substances that are solid and have an orderly crystalline structure. We get them from our diets. The food acquires insulin from the soil it grows in. There are macrominerals and microminerals. Our bodies require larger amounts of macrominerals in the diet. There are 7 macrominerals: calcium, phosphorus, chlorine, potassium, sulphur, sodium and magnesium. The recommended daily dose of these macrominerals ranges from 1–2 grams. Our bodies require smaller amounts of the microminerals. The microminerals iron, copper, zinc and fluorine are needed in milligram amounts. There are also trace minerals. These include iodine, selenium, vanadium, chromium, manganese, cobalt, nickel, molybdenum and tin. The trace minerals are needed in microgram amounts.

Phytochemicals

Phytochemicals are plant chemicals that contribute to the nutritional content of the plant. They do however provide protection from disease. They are considered nonessential nutrients, because they are not necessary for the body to carry out the basic functions of life. They do help the body preserve life by protecting it from disease. Scientists have known about these plant based chemical for many years. It was initially known that they protected the plants themselves, it was not until recently that the knowledge of that effect on the human body was uncovered. There are more than a thousand known phytochemicals. Some of the more well -known phytochemicals are lycopene which is found in tomatoes, isoflavones found in soy, and flavanoids in fruit.

Phytochemical compounds all have different mechanisms of action; some of those actions are outlined below:

  • Antioxidants - Most phytochemicals have antioxidant activity, they protect cells from damage caused by oxidation and free radicals. This is thought to be important in cancer prevention. Phytochemicals with antioxidant activity include: allyl sulfides which are found in onions, leeks, and garlic; carotenoids which are found in fruits, and carrots; flavonoids which are found in fruit and vegetables; and polyphenols which are found in tea, and grapes.
  • Hormonal influencers – such as Isoflavones and are found in soy, imitate human estrogens and help to reduce menopausal symptoms and osteoporosis.
  • Enzyme Stimulants – such as Indoles are found in cabbage, they stimulate enzymes that make estrogen less effective. This action could be important in reducing the risk of estrogen stimulated breast cancers. Other phytochemicals, which interfere with enzymes, are protease inhibitors which are found in soy and beans; and terpenes which are found in citrus fruit and cherries.
  • Interference with DNA replication - Saponins which are found in beans interfere with the DNA replication. This can prevent the multiplication and spread of cancer cells. Capsaicin which is found in hot peppers protects DNA from carcinogens.
  • Anti-bacterial - The phytochemical allicin found in garlic has anti-bacterial properties.
  • Physical binders - Some phytochemicals physically bind to cell membranes, this prevents the binding of pathogens to the cell membrane. One such phytochemical is Proanthocyanidin which is found in cranberries. This property is believed to be responsible for the reduced risk of urinary tract infections associated with cranberries and cranberry juice.

Phytochemicals have been used as drugs for centuries. Hippocrates is thought to have prescribed willow tree leaves for fever. Salicin was originally extracted from the white willow tree and later synthetically produced to become Aspirin. The anticancer drug Taxol (paclitaxel) is a phytochemical initially extracted and purified from the Pacific yew tree. We get phytochemicals from plants in our diet. It is important to note that phytochemicals in freshly harvested plant foods may be destroyed or removed by modern processing techniques, and cooking. For this reason it is important to consume a variety of fresh or frozen minimally processed plant foods. There is one exception to this rule and that is the phytochemical lycopene, a phytochemical present in tomatoes. Lycopene is either unchanged or made more bioavailable when concentrated by processing into juice or paste. So processed tomato products have higher levels of this potent phytochemical.

Whew! We have covered the scientific explanations for the important components in food. The general information is important to know, but the bottom line is this, Macronutrients and Micronutrients are important for building and repair but Phytochemicals are important for the prevention of disease. You must consume them all to have a well-rounded disease fighting meal plan.

Fiber

Fiber is not a macronutrient, a micronutrient or a phytochemical but it is a very important part of a healthy diet. Dietary fiber includes parts of plants that we are unable to digest. Because fiber is not digested by the body, it passes through the stomach and intestines and out of the body. Fiber is either soluble or insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves easily in water and forms a gel-like substance. Oats, apples, and barley are common sources of soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber increases the bulk of the stool; this increases the rate of movement of waste through the bowel. This is beneficial for people who suffer from constipation. Nuts, bran, vegetables and beans are high in insoluble fiber. In diabetics fiber slows the absorption and digestion of sugars from the diet, this helps to stabilize blood sugar levels. In people who are not diabetic fiber helps with achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, decreasing the risk of colon cancer and reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. It is recommended that the diet contain 30-40 grams daily.

Knowing more about food than how many calories and fat it contains is essential for making healthy food choices. “My Sister’s Keeper; is your temple in order” has all the information you need to know about food and the disease fighting property it contains.

GET IN TOUCH

Dr. Jill Waggoner
Charlton Medical Group
3450 West Wheatland Road
Physician Offices II, Suite 340
Dallas, Texas  75237

T 972.217.3007

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Desoto, Tx 75213

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