Macro and Micronutrients in the Diet

Our bodies are like very complicated machines. They need energy (fuel) and materials to build, maintain and repair them and to make them work properly and keep going for a long time. We eat food to provide all the energy and materials that our bodies need. These materials are called nutrients and nutrition is the study of them.

There are different types of nutrients and they are put into two groups:

  • Macronutrients: These are needed by the body in large amounts and they are protein, fat, and carbohydrate.
  • Micronutrients: These are needed by the body in small amounts and they are vitamins, minerals, and trace elements.

There are other important materials and natural substances in foods which are important for health. These are:

  • water: found naturally in foods and as a drink
  • fibre: found naturally in plant foods.

What else is in food?

Apart from nutrients, water and fiber there are other substances in foods. They include:

  • flavourings and colourings: these may be found naturally in the food or added by a food manufacturer to processed food
  • enzymes: these are natural chemicals which cause foods such as fruits to become ripe or to break down once they are harvested
  • preservatives: these may be found naturally in the food (e.g. acids) or added by a food manufacturer to processed food
  • substances that give texture: such as ‘stone’ cells that give pears a gritty texture or carrageen (from seaweed) which gives a smooth texture for milk products such as yoghurt.

What is a Healthy Diet?

What is a diet? Many people think that the word ‘diet’ means trying to lose weight. This is not quite true because the correct definition of a diet is ‘the food that you eat every day’. So everyone is on a diet! Sometimes people have to follow a special diet to improve their health in some way, so they might follow one of the following diets:

  • a weight loss diet
  • a fat reduced diet
  • a low salt diet
  • a high fibre diet

In order to grow, stay healthy and have enough energy we should eat a variety of foods every day. This is because different foods contain different amounts and types of nutrients. We should aim to have a balanced diet. This means eating the right amounts of nutrients from a variety of foods every day for our particular needs.

As we go through life, our needs for nutrients change. When we are babies, children and teenagers, we are growing fast and so we need a balanced diet to allow this to happen as well as to repair our bodies when we damage them.

When we become adults we need the right foods to maintain and repair the body. During pregnancy and when breastfeeding a baby, women need extra nutrients to enable their bodies to cope with the demands of the growing baby. As people get older they need a balanced diet to continue to maintain and repair their bodies, but they gradually need less energy as their bodies slow down.

Malnutrition means ‘bad’ nutrition, when the body has either too much of some nutrients (e.g. fat) or not enough, and suffers as a result.

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