Sugars

Sugars are relatively simply molecules that consist of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon.  Sugars enter our cells through the bloodstream and are subject to chemical reactions that produce energy that our cells are capable of using to carry out life.  Because sugars are such small molecules, they tend to absorb very quickly after they are consumed; usually through the stomach walls.  The body however must keep the sugar content of the blood at about .1% to maintain homeostasis.  That’s why sugar consumption should be monitored.  The body can certainly deal with and eliminate excess sugar if necessary, but because the body is not made to consume large amounts of sugar it can be taxing to do so.  This “taxation” can lead to conditions such as diabetes.

Complex carbohydrates are quite similar to sugars, but complex carbs are long chains of sugars.  Since complex carbs are so much bigger than sugars, they do not absorb in the stomach, but are broken apart in the digestive tract until they are separated into sugar.  This allows a much slower release of sugar into the bloodstream.  Complex  “carbs” should be one of the most consumed nutrients in the human diet.

Fiber is usually considered a carbohydrate although it has quite a different purpose than complex carbs and sugars.  Fiber includes substances that can not be utilized by the human body, but are necessary to assist in the digestion of substances that can be utilized.  It is sort of the grease on the wheel.  Insufficient fiber can deter the proper execution of the digestive system and problems such as constipation can result.  Sometimes referred to as ruffage, fiber comes primarily from plant sources.  The cell walls of plants are composed of chemical substances that humans are unable to digest, but they still aide in digestion.

 Fats

Fats are perhaps the most feared energy source.  The reason for this probably stems from the fact that fat provides more than twice the energy of carbohydrates or protein.  As a lot of people are intimately aware, unused energy often becomes stored energy.  Despite these fears, fats also play important roles in the body.  The human body needs some fat. That being said, the body doesn’t need very much fat, but it is essential in proper quantities, especially “good” fats like Omega 3 fatty acids.

Protein

The main function of protein is for growth and repair.  There is protein all throughout the body.  It is built from chains of amino acids.  There are 20 amino acids and adults only need 8 of them and can produce the rest from those 8.  Amino acids only function to produce protein if all of the essential amino acids are present.  Protein sources with all 8 essential amino acids are called “complete.”  Animal sources, milk, and the like contain at least the 8 essential amino acids.  Other protein sources such as nuts, legumes, and even vegetables provide “incomplete” protein.  These sources are deficient in at least 1 essential amino acid.  Since all 8 must be present, consuming such foods for protein sources necessitates eating complementary foods so that all 8 will be present everyday.  If you eat meat, cheese, milk, or any animal protein you will always be sure to get a complete protein  Plant sources of protein are rarely complete.  As a result, vegetarians must be careful to combine the correct foods so as to provide all 8 essential amino acids.

Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins and minerals are found in foods in various amounts.  We need far smaller amounts of these than fats, carbs, and protein.  In fact, many vitamins and minerals are needed in almost microscopic daily amounts.  They function to aide in the completion of essential chemical reactions in the body.  Without tiny amounts of vitamins and minerals, we would be unable to survive.  We will talk about vitamins and minerals later, but for now just know that they are essential and found in food (and pills).