Nutrition

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Nutrition is the intake of food, necessary for proper functioning of the body. The benefits of good nutrition are numerous. Besides helping you maintain a healthy weight, eating a proper nutritious diet offers a variety of health benefits that keep you mentally and physically well.

Healthy eating in childhood and adolescence is important for proper growth and development. It can also help to prevent health problems such as obesity, dental cavities and iron deficiency. For tips on how to raise healthy eaters during these critical years of development, see the section Child Nutrition.

If you are concerned about the vitamin shortfall in today’s fast-paced lives, a nutritional supplement may seem like the obvious answer. Find out the pros and cons of nutritional supplements.

This section also provides an overview on Omega-3, -6, and -9 – fatty acids that are important for all systems of the body to function normally, including your skin, respiratory system, circulatory system, brain and organs. To learn more about the best sources of these fatty acids, read on. 

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The benefits of good nutrition are numerous. Good nutrition is essential for the body and all its systems to function optimally for a lifestyle. Besides helping you maintain a healthy weight, eating a proper nutritious diet offers a variety of health benefits that keep you mentally and physically well. These include:

  • Reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , healthy eating helps prevent high cholesterol and high blood pressure, reducing the overall risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Heart healthy diets are rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy. Solid fats (major sources of saturated and trans fats), cholesterol, sodium, added sugars and refined grains increase your risk and should be avoided.
  • Increasing energy levels: Increased energy levels are one of the immediate benefits of switching to a healthy and nutritious diet. Eliminating excess fats, sugars and refined carbohydrates, such as candy and white bread, helps prevent blood sugar fluctuations. Unprocessed carbohydrates including whole grains, fruits and vegetables allow you to maintain steady blood sugar keeping energy levels constant. Small, frequent meals also play a part in helping to maintain energy.
  • Keeping bones strong: A nutritious diet rich in calcium keeps your bones and teeth strong and helps prevent bone loss associated with osteoporosis. Eat foods rich in calcium, such as low-fat dairy products, sardines, salmon, and dark green leafy vegetables. Until age 50, men and women need 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation . Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium so choose products fortified with vitamin D to balance your nutrition.
  • Reinforcing the immune system: Nutritious foods can enable your body to fight disease more effectively. Plant-based foods such as fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts and legumes can play an immune-boosting role in your body. Cutting down on your intake of saturated fat and including more omega-3 fatty acids in your diet by eating more fish, is also an important way to support your immune system. Probiotics, found in yoghurt made with live AB cultures, are another source known to aid the immune system, as well as keeping the intestines healthy and assisting in digestion.
  • Promoting brain health: Proper nutrition increases blood flow to your brain, protecting brain cells and helping to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. For a brain healthy diet, eat more dark fruits and vegetables such as kale, spinach, broccoli, prunes, raisins, blueberries, raspberries, plums and cherries. Nuts like almonds, walnuts and pecans are great sources of vitamin E, which also helps fight Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Helping with weight control: One of the most important steps to achieve and maintain a healthy weight is by following an energy-controlled diet. Healthy and nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, typically contain fewer calories than unhealthy foods. Start by cutting out the saturated fats and added sugars in your diet like sodas, sweets and fast food meals. Shedding excess weight reduces your risk of obesity-related conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and thyroid dysfunction.
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Healthy eating in childhood and adolescence is important for proper growth and development. It can also help to prevent health problems such as obesity, dental cavities and iron deficiency.

Nutrition for kids is based on the same principles as nutrition for adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free and low fat-dairy products for people aged 2 years and above. Aim to limit your child's calories from solids fats and added sugar, such as butter, cake, soda and pizza.

  • Fruits: Rather than fruit juice, encourage your child to eat a variety of fresh, canned, frozen or dried fruits.
  • Vegetables: Serve a variety of fresh, canned or frozen vegetables — the more colourful the vegetables, the wider the range of nutrients your child will receive.
  • Whole grains: Replace white bread with whole grains, such as whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, quinoa, or brown or wild rice.
  • Dairy: Encourage your child to eat and drink fat-free or low-fat dairy products, such as milk, yogurt and cheese.
  • Protein: Choose seafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans, peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds.

An understanding of healthy food and nutrition is among the most important things you can share with your children. As a parent or caregiver, you can do your best to raise healthy eaters during these critical years of development by doing your best to:

  • Serve regular, balanced meals and snacks with a variety of nutrient-rich foods
  • Allow children to use their internal signals to decide how much and what to eat
  • Explore a variety of flavours and foods from different cultures and cuisines
  • Share an appreciation for healthful food
  • Teach basic skills for making positive food choices away from home

If you have questions about nutrition for kids or specific concerns about your child's diet, talk to your child's doctor or a registered dietitian.

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Omega-3, -6, and -9 are fatty acids that are important for all systems of the body to function normally, including your skin, respiratory system, circulatory system, brain and organs. Omega-3 and -6 are considered essential fatty acids because your body does not produce them on its own. These, rather, must be consumed as part of your diet. Omega-9 fatty acids can be made by the body if there are enough omega-3 and -6 fatty acids present. All omega fatty acids play specific roles in overall health.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in salmon, herring, sardines, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, green leafy vegetables, walnuts, canola oil, and grains. Research on the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acid have shown its use in improving brain function, decreasing inflammation naturally and in improving depressive disorders. They are also helpful in lowering triglycerides, decreasing blood pressure and lowering the risk of death from heart attacks and strokes.
  • Omega-6 fatty acids: The best sources of omega-6 are seeds, nuts and grains and green leafy vegetables, like lettuce, broccoli, purslane and kale. Omega-6 fatty acids are helpful in brain function, growth and development, bone health, regulating metabolism and functioning of the reproductive system. They can be useful in protecting against diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, allergies, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, breast cancer, eczema, high blood pressure and menopausal symptoms. However, unlike omega-3 fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids can boost inflammation in the body. It is important to eat omega-3 and -6 fatty acids in the right amounts. The recommended balance between omega-6 and omega-3 is a ratio of 2 to 1, however it is not uncommon for most people to actually be getting 15 times more omega-6 than omega-3.Research suggests that eating omega-6 and omega-3 in the wrong proportions may actually negate the health benefits.
  • Omega-9 fatty acids: Omega-9 fatty acids are monounsaturated oleic and steric acids. They are a non essential fatty acid can be produced by the body when enough omega-3 and -6 are present. Otherwise, if you do not have enough omega-3 and omega-6, then you must get omega-9 from your diet. Omega-9 fatty acids play a role in promoting heart health as they can help lower cholesterol and keep the arteries from hardening. Omega-9 fatty acids can also increase immune function. They are naturally found in avocados, pecans, cashews, olives and olive oils.
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High-speed lifestyles leave many people gulping down pre-made meals and grabbing a coffee on the go, which is not a recipe for nutritional balance. To make up the vitamin shortfall, a supplement may seem like the obvious answer. However, health experts maintain that your nutritional needs should be primarily met through your diet. This is because, according to Mayo Clinic , supplements are designed to complement a healthy diet, not replace it.

Nutritional supplements versus foods

Supplements aren't intended to be a food substitute because they can't replicate all of the nutrients and benefits of whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables. Whole foods are complex and contain a variety of the micronutrients your body needs. An orange, for example, provides vitamin C plus some beta carotene, calcium and other nutrients, while a vitamin C supplement lacks these other micronutrients. Whole foods also contain protective substances important for good health such as phytochemicals, which can help protect you against cancer, heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. In addition, many fruits and vegetables are good sources of antioxidants, slowing down the natural process that leads to cell and tissue damage.

Further, despite being labeled as natural, many vitamin supplements on sale are synthetic and cannot be used by the body in the same way as whole foods. In nature, vitamins come packaged with many other molecules including minerals and cofactors that enable the body to use them. Since synthetic vitamins are isolated and are not recognised by the body, they are often excreted in urine or stored in fat.

When to take a supplement

If you're generally healthy and eat a wide variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, low-fat dairy products, lean meats and fish, you likely don't need supplements. In certain cases though, non-synthetic dietary supplements may be beneficial in providing one or more nutrients. These can include:

  • Women trying to conceive or those in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy can take a supplement containing folic acid
  • Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding may benefit from a multivitamin
  • Vitamin D supplementation is sometimes recommended for those over 65
  • People over 50 years of age may require a supplement that contains B-12
  • People who are malnourished due to digestive difficulties or chronic illness
  • Vegans or vegetarians who eat a limited variety of foods

Talk to your doctor or a dietitian about which supplements might be right for you. Be sure to ask what dosage is most appropriate, and whether there are possible side effects and interactions with any other medications you take.

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