Healthy Habits

Ask the Expert: Understanding Nutrition Information

nutritional meal

Content provided by the GBS Health & Wellness Team

With Rebecca Gibbs, MS, CNS-Candidate; Health and Wellness Coordinator

Nutrition information can be confusing if you don’t understand the terminology. Get some clarity as we break down the basics.

Macronutrients vs. Micronutrients

Nutrients are components of food that don’t directly provide energy but instead provide vitamins and minerals essential for the body to function. There are two categories of nutrients: macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients.

Macronutrients provide your body energy (calories) and come in the form of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 45-65% of your calories coming from carbohydrates, 20-35% coming from fat, and 10-35% coming from protein. As these are general recommendations, always work with a nutrition professional to find the ratios that will be specific to your unique needs.

Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) help with digestion, chemical reactions, cell regeneration, immune function, growth, fluid balance, energy production, blood clotting, bone health, hormone production, brain function, and so much more.

  • Vitamins A, D, E, and K are classified as fat-soluble vitamins and are important for vision, bone health, immunity, and blood clotting. They are transported and absorbed by fats we eat and can be stored in the fatty tissues of the body and in the liver.
  • All B vitamins (B-complex) and vitamin C are considered water-soluble vitamins and are important for brain function, immune health, energy production, and more. They are transported and absorbed by water and are needed in a steady supply as they aren’t stored in the body for very long.
  • Minerals are involved in body growth and development, bone health, maintaining fluid balance, cell structure, nerve and muscle function, maintaining acid-base balance, transporting oxygen, aiding in wound healing, regulating the thyroid, hormone production, and protecting against oxidative stress.
  • Water is also an essential nutrient in its own category as we need it in large quantities, but it doesn’t provide calories. It is used in the body for hydration, chemical reactions, transportation, cushioning of organs, and temperature regulation.

Benefits of Nutrient-Dense Foods

Getting the right balance of calories and nutrients in your diet is a major component to health. Nutrient-dense foods typically have more nutrients than calories and are full of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Calorie-dense foods tend to have higher amounts of saturated fats, added sugars, and sodium.

Consuming large quantities of calorie-dense foods can increase your risk of chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. Eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods helps to prevent nutrient deficiencies and reduces your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. It can also help you have more energy, a clearer mind, reduce stress, and lower the amount of inflammation in your body.

Balancing Your Nutrition

Work with nutrition and medical professionals to see where you may be imbalanced. After working with you to discover where you need support, they will recommend diet and lifestyle interventions to help you change your habits. Check with your insurance provider to see if nutrition visits are covered and to find an in-network provider. Find a list of nutrition professionals at www.eatright.org.

Include nutrient-dense foods in each meal and snack you eat. Set a goal to eat at least five portions of fruits and vegetables each day. Look for whole food and whole grain options when possible and eat a variety of colors to ensure you are getting all the different nutrients.

Pro tip: shop along the edges of the grocery store. This is where you can usually find fresh, whole foods.

Bonus (other resources)

  • In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan
  • Just Eat Real Food: 30-Minute Nutrient-Dense Meals for a Healthy, Balanced Life, by Caitlin Greene
  • The How Not to Die Cookbook, by Michael Greger, M.D.

References
https://health.clevelandclinic.org/macronutrients-vs-micronutrients
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002916523050748?via%3Dihub
https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/healthy-diet-keys-to-eating-well
https://health.clevelandclinic.org/water-soluble-vitamins
https://health.clevelandclinic.org/fat-soluble-vitamins
https://medlineplus.gov/minerals.html
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK554545/

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