Nutritionally adequate diet should be consumed through a wise choice from a variety of foods.
Nutrients that we obtain through food have vital effects on physical growth and development, maintenance of normal body function, physical activity and health.
Nutritious food is, thus needed to sustain life and activity. Our diet must provide all essential nutrients in the required amounts.
Requirements of essential nutrients vary with age, gender, physiological status and physical activity.
Dietary intakes lower or higher than the body requirements can lead to under nutrition (deficiency diseases) or over nutrition (diseases of affluence) respectively. Eating too little food during certain significant periods of life such as infancy, childhood, adolescence, pregnancy and lactation and eating too much at any age can lead to harmful consequences.
An adequate diet, providing all nutrients, is needed throughout our lives. The nutrients must be obtained through a judicious choice and combination of a variety of foodstuffs from different food groups.
Carbohydrates, fats and proteins are macronutrients, which are needed in large amounts. Vitamins and minerals constitute the micronutrients and are required in small amounts. These nutrients are necessary for physiological and biochemical processes by which the human body acquires, assimilates and utilizes food to maintain health and activity.
Carbohydrates are either simple or complex, and are major sources of energy in all human diets. They provide energy of 4 Kcal/g. The simple carbohydrates, glucose and fructose, are found in fruits, vegetables and honey, sucrose in sugar and lactose in milk, while the complex polysaccharides are starches in cereals, millets, pulses and root vegetables and glycogen in animal foods. The other complex carbohydrates which are resistant to digestion in the human digestive tract are cellulose in vegetables and whole grains, and gums and pectins in vegetables, fruits and cereals, which constitute the dietary fibre component. In India, 70-80% of total dietary calories are derived from carbohydrates present in plant foods such as cereals, millets and pulses.
Dietary fibre delays and retards absorption of carbohydrates and fats and increases the satiety value. Diets rich in fibre reduce glucose and lipids in blood and increase the bulk of the stools. Diets rich in complex carbohydrates are healthier than low-fibre diets based on refined and processed foods.
Proteins are primary structural and functional components of every living cell. Almost half the protein in our body is in the form of muscle and the rest of it is in bone, cartilage and skin. Proteins are complex molecules composed of different amino acids. Certain amino acids which are termed “essential”, have to be obtained from proteins in the diet since they are not synthesized in the human body. Other nonessential amino acids can be synthesized in the body to build proteins. Proteins perform a wide range of functions and also provide energy (4 Kcal/g). Protein requirements vary with age, physiological status and stress. More proteins are required by growing infants and children, pregnant women and individuals during infections and illness or stress. Animal foods like milk, meat, fish and eggs and plant foods such as pulses and legumes are rich sources of proteins.
Animal proteins are of high quality as they provide all the essential amino acids in right proportions, while plant or vegetable proteins are not of the same quality because of their low content of some of the essential amino acids. However, a combination of cereals, millets and pulses provides most of the amino acids, which complement each other to provide better quality proteins.
Oils and fats such as butter, ghee and vanaspathi constitute dietary visible fats. Fats are a concentrated source of energy providing 9 Kcal/g, and are made up of fatty acids in different proportions. Dietary fats are derived from two sources viz. the invisible fat present in plant and animal foods; and the visible or added fats and oils (cooking oil). Fats serve as a vehicle for fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E and K and carotenes and promote their absorption. They are also sources of essential polyunsaturated fatty acids. It is necessary to have adequate and good quality fat in the diet with sufficient polyunsaturated fatty acids in proper proportions for meeting the requirements of essential fatty acids. The type and quantity of fat in the daily diet influence the level of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. Diets should include adequate amounts of fat particularly in the case of infants and children, to provide concentrated energy since their energy needs per kg body weight are nearly twice those of adults. Adults need to be cautioned to restrict intake of saturated fat (butter, ghee and hydrogenated fats) and cholesterol (red meat, eggs, organ meat). Excess of these substances could lead to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Vitamins are chemical compounds required by the body in small amounts. They must be present in the diet as they cannot be synthesized in the body. Vitamins are essential for numerous body processes and for maintenance of the structure of skin, bone, nerves, eye, brain, blood and mucous membrane. They are either water soluble or fat-soluble. Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble, while vitamin C, and the B-complex vitamins such as thiamin (B ), 1 riboflavin (B ), niacin, pyridoxine (B ), folic 2 6 acid and cyanocobalamin (B ) are water- 12 soluble. Pro-vitamin like beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body. Fat-soluble vitamins can be stored in the body while water-soluble vitamins are not and get easily excreted in urine. Vitamins B-complex and C are heat labile vitamins and are easily destroyed by heat, air or during drying, cooking and food processing.
Minerals are inorganic elements found in body fluids and tissues. The important macro minerals are sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and sulphur, while zinc, copper, selenium, molybdenum, fluorine, cobalt, chromium and iodine are micro minerals. They are required for maintenance and integrity of skin, hair, nails, blood and soft tissues. They also govern nerve cell transmission, acid/base and fluid balance, enzyme and hormone activity as well as the blood- clotting processes.
A balanced diet is one which provides all the nutrients in required amounts and proper proportions. It can easily be achieved through a blend of the four basic food groups. The quantities of foods needed to meet the nutrient requirements vary with age, gender, physiological status and physical activity. A balanced diet should provide around 50-60% of total calories from carbohydrates, preferably from complex carbohydrates, about 10-15% from proteins and 20-30% from both visible and invisible fat.
In addition, a balanced diet should provide other non-nutrients such as dietary fibre, antioxidants and phytochemicals which bestow positive health benefits. Antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, riboflavin and selenium protect the human body from free radical damage. Other phytochemicals such as polyphenols, flavones, etc., also afford protection against oxidant damage. Spices like turmeric, ginger, garlic, cumin and cloves are rich in antioxidants.
Foods are conventionally grouped as:
However, foods may also be classified according to their functions .
|MAJOR NUTRIENTS||OTHER NUTRIENTS|
|ENERGY RICH FOODS||Carbohydrates & fats|
|Whole grain cereals, millets||Protein, fibre, minerals, calcium,iron & B-complex vitamins|
|Vegetable oils, ghee, butter||Fat soluble vitamins, essential fatty acids|
|Nuts and oilseeds||Proteins, vitamins, minerals|
|BODY BUILDING FOODS||Proteins|
|Pulses, nuts and oilseeds||B-complex vitamins, invisible fat, fibre|
|Milk and Milk products||Calcium, vitamin A, riboflavin, vitamin B12|
|Meat, fish, poultry||B-complex vitamins, iron, iodine, fat|
|PROTECTIVE FOODS||Vitamins and Minerals|
|Green leafy vegetables||Antioxidants, fibre and other carotenoids|
|Other vegetables and fruits||Fibre, sugar and antioxidants|
|Eggs, milk and milk products and flesh foods||Protein and fat|
Requirements are the quantities of nutrients that healthy individuals must obtain from food to meet their physiological needs. The recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) are estimates of nutrients to be consumed daily to ensure the requirements of all individuals in a given population. The recommended level depends upon the bioavailability of nutrients from a given diet. The term bioavailability indicates what is absorbed and utilized by the body. In addition, RDA includes a margin of safety, to cover variation between individuals, dietary traditions and practices. The RDAs are suggested for physiological groups such as infants, pre-schoolers, children, adolescents, pregnant women, lactating mothers, and adult men and women, taking into account their physical activity. In fact, RDAs are suggested averages/day. However, in practice, fluctuations in intake may occur depending on the food availability and demands of the body. But, the average requirements need to be satisfied over a period of time.
Our diet must provide adequate calories, proteins and micronutrients to achieve maximum growth potential. Therefore, it is important to have appropriate diet during different stages of one’s life . There may be situations where adequate amounts of nutrients may not be available through diet alone. In such high risk situations where specific nutrients are lacking, foods fortified with the limiting
Nutrients become necessary. A good example of such fortified foods is the salt fortified with iron and iodine.
Senior Citizens: For being physically active and healthy require nutrient dense low fat foods.
Pregnancy: For maintaining health, productivity and prevention of diet-related diseases and to support pregnancy/lactation require nutritionally adequate diet with extra food for child bearing/rearing.
Adolescent: For growth spurt, maturation and bone development require body building and protective foods.
Child Age: For growth, development and to fight infections require Energy, body building and protective food.
Infant: For growth and appropriate milestones require Breast milk, energy rich foods.
Last Modified : 11/15/2022
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