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Nutrition Terminology

Protein is made up of structures called amino acids. Of the existing 22 amino acids, 9 are considered to be essential in the diet. A protein is considered complete if it contains all 9 essential amino acids. Generally, animal sources provide complete proteins (meat, fish, poultry, cheese, eggs, milk). Proteins from plants (vegetables, grains and legumes) tend to be limited in one or more of the essential amino acids; for this reason it is recommended that vegetarians combine plant-protein food in order to obtain all of the essential amino acids the body needs.

The general role of protein involves the growth, repair and replacement of body tissues. Protein also provides the body with a source of energy.

Dietary fat is a vital nutrient for the maintenance of a healthy body. Among the three main sources of dietary energy (protein, fat and carbohydrate), fat is the most concentrated source.

In addition to being an important source of energy, fat helps in the absorption of fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E,K). Fat also insulates the body and provides an important protective cushioning layer around internal organs. Furthermore, fat supplies important essential fatty acids, which cannot be made by the body. These fatty acids contribute to the structure of cell membranes and are needed for many bodily functions.

Defining carbohydrates is not a simple task. In general, there are three different types of carbohydrates found in food. These include:

  • Complex carbohydrates (more commonly known as starch), found in grains such as wheat, oats, rice, wild rice, barely, buckwheat, vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, corn; and legumes, such as dried peas, beans and lentils;
  • Simple carbohydrates or sugars, found in milk and milk products, fruits and vegetables, honey, candies and sweets;
  • Dietary fibre, found in whole grain breads and cereals, vegetables, fruits and legumes such as dried beans, peas and lentils.

The primary role of carbohydrates in the body is to provide energy. Every cell in the body uses carbohydrate in the form of glucose for energy; in fact, glucose is the sole source of energy used by the brain.

Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals are substances needed in the diet in small amounts to promote growth, reproduction and the maintenance of health. The body is unable to produce its own vitamins and minerals; therefore it is recommended that a variety of foods be eaten in order to get all the vitamins and minerals the body needs. Vitamins and minerals themselves do not provide calories or energy.

Examples of minerals include: calcium, phosphorous and iron.

Calcium helps build strong bones and teeth and for this reason is particularly important in childhood and adolescence. Calcium is also needed for blood clotting, muscle contractions (including your heart) and the sending of nerve impulses. Click here for more detailed information on Calcium.

Phosphorus is found in all cells of the body and aids in the transportation of nutrients in and out of the cell. It also plays an important role in bone and tooth health.

Iron helps build red blood cells, which deliver oxygen throughout the body. Click here for more detailed information on Iron.

Sodium is an essential nutrient found in varying quantities in nearly all foods. Salt (sodium chloride) enhances food flavours and adds to eating enjoyment. Click here for more detailed information on Sodium.

Vitamins can be classified according to being fat or water-soluble:

Fat Soluble Vitamins
Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the liver and fat tissue of the body until they are needed. Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E and K.

Vitamin A
Vitamin A plays a role in the promotion of vision, particularly with the maintenance of night vision. As well, vitamin A helps in maintaining healthy skin.

Vitamin D
Vitamin D enhances the absorption of calcium and therefore aids in the formation and maintenance of bones and teeth.

Water Soluble Vitamins
Water-soluble vitamins unlike fat-soluble vitamins, are not stored in the body and must be replenished on a daily basis. Water-soluble vitamins include the B vitamins and vitamin C.

The B Vitamins
The B vitamins play crucial parts in the cycle of food absorption. This group of vitamins includes Thiamine, Niacin, and Riboflavin.

Thiamine plays a part in the release of energy from carbohydrates and aids in nerve function.

Niacin aids in normal growth and development and is a factor in energy metabolism and tissue formation.

Riboflavin is a factor in energy metabolism and supports normal vision and skin health.

Vitamin C or Ascorbic Acid
Vitamin C plays a role in the development and maintenance of bones, cartilage, teeth and gums. Vitamin C also strengthens resistance to infection and helps the body absorb iron.

These natural substances include vitamins C and E and minerals selenium and zinc. They appear to work by deactivating free radicals, the unstable oxygen molecules associated with cancer, heart disease and the effects of aging. Click here for more detailed information on Antioxidants.