Human Nutrition, study of how food affects the health and survival of the human body. Human beings require food to grow, reproduce, and maintain good health. Without food, our bodies could not stay warm, build or repair tissue, or maintain a heartbeat. Eating the right foods can help us avoid certain diseases or recover faster when illness occurs.
These and other important functions are fueled by chemical substances in our food called nutrients. Nutrients are classified as carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water. Nutrients are classified as essential or nonessential. Nonessential nutrients are manufactured in the body and do not need to be obtained from food. Examples include cholesterol, a fatlike substance present in all animal cells.
Essential nutrients must be obtained from food sources, because the body either does not produce them or produces them in amounts too small to maintain growth and health. Essential nutrients include water, carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals
Carbohydrates are the human body’s key source of energy, providing 4 calories of energy per gram. When carbohydrates are broken down by the body, the sugar glucose is produced; glucose is critical to help maintain tissue protein, metabolize fat, and fuel the central nervous system.
Dietary proteins are powerful compounds that build and repair body tissues, from hair and fingernails to muscles. In addition to maintaining the body’s structure, proteins speed up chemical reactions in the body, serve as chemical messengers, fight infection, and transport oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues.
Although protein provides 4 calories of energy per gram, the body uses protein for energy only if carbohydrate and fat intake is insufficient. When tapped as an energy source, protein is diverted from the many critical functions it performs for our bodies.
Fats, which provide 9 calories of energy per gram, are the most concentrated of the energy-producing nutrients, so our bodies need only very small amounts. Fats play an important role in building the membranes that surround our cells and in helping blood to clot. Once digested and absorbed, fats help the body absorb certain vitamins. Fat stored in the body cushions vital organs and protects us from extreme cold and heat.
Fat consists of fatty acids attached to a substance called glycerol. Dietary fats are classified as saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated according to the structure of their fatty acids (see Fats and Oils). Animal fats—from eggs, dairy products, and meats—are high in saturated fats and cholesterol, a chemical substance found in all animal fat. Vegetable fats—found, for example, in avocados, olives, some nuts, and certain vegetable oils—are rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. As we will see, high intake of saturated fats can be unhealthy.
Vitamins and minerals
Both vitamins and minerals are needed by the body in very small amounts to trigger the thousands of chemical reactions necessary to maintain good health. Many of these chemical reactions are linked, with one triggering another. If there is a missing or deficient vitamin or mineral—or link—anywhere in this chain, this process may break down, with potentially devastating health effects. Although similar in supporting critical functions in the human body, vitamins and minerals have key differences.
Among their many functions, vitamins enhance the body’s use of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. They are critical in the formation of blood cells, hormones, nervous system chemicals known as neurotransmitters, and the genetic material deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Vitamins are classified into two groups: fat soluble and water soluble.
Fat-soluble vitamins, which include vitamins A, D, E, and K, are usually absorbed with the help of foods that contain fat. Fat containing these vitamins is broken down by bile, a liquid released by the liver, and the body then absorbs the breakdown products and vitamins. Excess amounts of fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body’s fat, liver, and kidneys. Because these vitamins can be stored in the body, they do not need to be consumed every day to meet the body’s needs.
Food Additives, natural and synthetic compounds added to food to supply nutrients, to enhance color, flavor, or texture, and to prevent or delay spoilage.
Since ancient times table salt has been a preservative for fish, ham, and bacon, and sugar has been used to preserve jelly, fruit jams, and fruit preserves. At present more than 2500 food additives of all kinds are known. Other preservative compounds used today include benzoic acid, C6H5COOH, sodium benzoate, C6H5COONa, and calcium propionate, (C2H5COO)2Ca.
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