In the last two posts I wrote about Why Eating Mindfully is so Important and provided some Tips for Planning Mindful Meals. But none of this information really matters if you don’t understand why nutrition is so important. In my work I am often surprised by how many people do not associate their poor health with their food choices. Many people only associate food with weight loss or gain and believe that they don’t need to worry about the food they eat because they are not over weight. Its a common misconception, and one that can leave your body nutritionally unsupported. Knowing that your body is fueled by food and nutrition is really important and having a basic understanding of how nutrition works can help you to prevent some pretty serious illnesses.
So lets have a look at these nutrients and what they do to support your very existence.
When a group of Vitamins spell out the word ACE its pretty clear that they are going to be good for you and this trio certainly is. This combination of nutrients have a common function and that is they each have qualities that support immune cell structure and function. But as individual nutrients they each have a number of other qualities which support various systems and organs of the body.
Vitamin A is found in a variety of foods in one of two forms. Form one is ready for the body to use and is found in animal products like red meat, eggs and dairy. Form two is found in orange, green and red coloured plants. Vitamin A supports the health and function of the eye, by helping to maintain moisture and aiding in night vision. Interestingly, the leading cause of blindness around the world is Vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A is important in the health of the skin and has been used clinically in the treatment of skin conditions such as acne and psoriasis. It is necessary for growth and development, reproductive capability and may reduce the incidence and severity of some infectious diseases. Vitamin A is dependant on iron and is also a fat soluble nutrient, meaning it cannot be absorbed without fat being present at the time of consumption.
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant which means it is able to protect cells from damage caused by poor diet, smoking and environmental factors. It is essential for the formation of collagen which keeps our skin looking good, our teeth strong and blood vessels circulating blood. Vitamin C is needed in the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and is also an excellent antihistamine helping to reduce allergy symptoms. The use of Vitamin C in the body goes way beyond the immune system and can be used therapeutically in a number of conditions. Vitamin C is sensitive to light, heat and oxygen and so foods containing Vitamin C need to be stored and prepared carefully to ensure the nutrient is not lost. Eating foods raw, using quick cooking methods and keeping food whole or uncut during cooking will help to retain a number of essential vitamins.
Vitamin E is another nutrient dependant on fat for absorption and is found in a range of foods including almonds and sunflower seeds, spinach, kale, egg yolk, coconut oil and in whole grains where the bran and germ are still intact. It is also an important antioxidant. Antioxidants are essential, as they protect the body from ‘free radicals’ and oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can have a significant impact on the body and plays a major role in the development of many chronic and degenerative illnesses such as cancer, auto immune disorders and neurodegenerative diseases like dementia and Alzheimer. Not only does vitamin E protect us from oxidative stress but it has also been shown to be beneficial in managing menopausal symptoms, skin conditions including scarring and burns, male infertility and can slow the progression of age related macular degeneration.
Without getting too sciencey and complicated, here is a brief explanation of what free radicals and oxidative stress means.
The body naturally produces free radicals through various processes in the body. Now all cells and compounds are made up of electrons, which normally occur in pairs, but free radicals are missing an electron. Free radicals will steal an electron from healthy cells and compounds in an effort to become a pair. But this is at the expense of the originally healthy cell and leaves them unable to function normally. These cells or compounds can then go stealing from others and over time can cause DNA damage. This contributes to accelerated aging and harms certain organs like the heart and brain. Antioxidants are the regulator and donate electrons to free radicals so they don’t have to steal from others and damage them in the process. If you would like a more detailed explanation you can read more here.
In just these 3 vitamins many parts and processes of the body have been covered, but this is only a fraction of what each of them do. Getting the required daily amount means eating about 30 almonds for Vitamin E, 1/2 cup of cauliflower for Vitamin C and for Vitamin A 1 teaspoon of cod liver oil or 9 eggs. While some of these amounts would be easy to reach some are not. This highlights the importance of having a varied diet, made up of whole food and that reaching these amounts can need some consideration.