Nutrition is critical for the survival of all living organisms. It is required for the normal functioning of the body parts, repair of damaged tissues, and for healthy growth and sustenance of the body. Everyday, we eat a large variety of food items. All such edibles are classified under different groups according to their composition, nutrient group, and the proportion each item should ideally occupy in the daily food intake of an average person.
Each group of fruits and vegetables have a set of different nutritional values and each nutrient is essential for our health and well-being. Our body requires carbohydrates, proteins, fats, enzymes, vitamins, and minerals to remain strong and healthy. However, the human body cannot synthesize all these nutrients on its own and depends upon lot of external sources for the same. For instance, nutrients like Vitamin C and essential fatty acids can only be acquired by the human body through a diet rich in each of these nutrients. If we don't get these nutrients in sufficient quantities, we may suffer from a number of health problems caused by nutritional deficiency. Also, the insufficient nutrition delays and interferes with healing of wounds and recovery from illnesses and infections.
►The Five Fundamental Food Groups
The food we eat is available either from plant or animal sources. The food we get from the plant source is known as a vegetarian food, while the food obtained from the animal sources is known as non-vegetarian food. The five basic food groups include vegetables and fruits, starchy foods, dairy products, foods containing fat and sugar, and the meat and poultry group.
Fresh vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet. They provide several vitamins, minerals, fibers, and enzymes and are known for offering a number of health benefits. Green, leafy vegetables are rich in iron, which is an important constituent of blood. As vegetables are low in sugar and fats, they are included in weight loss diets. Generally, vegetables contain high amounts of fibers. Therefore, they are good for improving the health of the digestive system.
Benefits of eating raw vegetables
Most vegetables consist of phytochemicals, which help prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. Consumption of vegetables in their raw form or in the form of juice is preferable over their cooked, canned, or pickled forms as cooking or processing robs vegetables of a lot of nutrients.
Fruits are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, fibers, and carbohydrates. They contain a high quantity of antioxidants, which protect the body from cellular damage caused by free radicals and oxidative stress. Citrus fruits such as lemons, grapes, and oranges are high in vitamin C. Fruits like apricot, cantaloupe, nectarine, and peach are a rich source of vitamin A. you can consume fruits whole or in the form of fresh juices.
Fiber and Starch
Starchy food items such as cereals, corn, bread, pasta, and potatoes are an essential part of a healthy diet. They contain carbohydrates, which are an important source of energy. The complex carbs found in the whole grains are especially beneficial. Starchy foods are considered fuel for the body, providing calories which the body burns while you engage in physical activities. More fiber-rich foods in this category are whole-grains such as brown rice, whole wheat bread, grits, and oatmeal.
Dairy products include milk, cheese, heavy and sour cream, butter, and yogurt. Dairy products are an excellent source of calcium and proteins. Dairy food items are also rich in vitamin A, B, and D. Calcium is important for the health of bones. Vitamin D is required for building and maintaining bone health and it also helps the body absorb calcium better. Most milk products are high in fats, which help in the smooth running of various functions of the body and provides energy.
Poultry, Meat, and Fish
They are the most important sources of proteins, zinc, iron, and Vitamins B and D. These nutrients are necessary for growth and repair of the body. Eggs are a rich source of iron, selenium, choline, phosphorus, potassium, folic acid, retinol, riboflavin, calcium, and complete proteins. Meat is a major source of vitamin B12. Fish is also a significant source of proteins. Oily fish such as salmon, sardines, herring, and mackerel contain high levels of omega-3 essential fatty acids.
Fats and Sugars
They are powerful sources of instant energy required for our body when we engage in rigorous physical activities. Fats such as butter, cheese, salad dressings, and oils (usually extracted from edible nuts and seeds), are high in calories. Sweets containing simple carbohydrates, such as desserts, syrups, jellies, jams, candies, and soft drinks contain high amounts of sugar (usually, refined sugar).
Most food items in the category of fats and sugar don't consist of vitamins and minerals. That's why the calories they impart are known as 'empty calories'. They can be consumed in limited quantities as a part of healthy diet. Consumption of fats and simple carbohydrates in excess leads to obesity and related health issues, such as cardiovascular disease.
Cereals and grains, coming under the section of starchy and fibrous food, should occupy the largest basic component of a balanced meal, and is mostly accompanied by some form of vegetable or meat/poultry/seafood preparation or both. Among the two, vegetables should occupy the larger portion of food that accompanies the grain-based preparation.
In balanced meal fruits, eggs, and dairy products should be an equally important part of a healthy diet, and can effectively be had as healthy morning, evening, and between-meals snacks. Fats and simple carbohydrates should be consumed in controlled and limited quantities as the body does not require copious amounts of either, under normal conditions.