Every now and then it is important to return to the fundamentals. Whether we are hearing something for the first time or it is a familiar concept, each time we engage it supports our understanding. With that in mind the next few articles will review the fundamentals of nutrition. We will look at the big picture, then break it down into its components, and take a closer look at how our body works and how we nourish it.

This article looks at the big picture. I like the bank account analogy. There are deposits and withdrawals. We want to build our deposits so we have a surplus of nutrition which translates into good health. When our withdrawals are greater than our deposits we will have nutritional deficits leading to poor health and disease.

The human body is amazing. There are thousands of chemical reactions happening simultaneously, every second. That is life! For life to exist the body requires energy and building materials. This comes from what enters our body in one form or another, mainly from the food we eat and the air we breathe. Without these the body cannot continue to function.

But, there is an important difference between basic functioning and thriving.

Our diet is critical to our health. We are what we eat. What we put into our body is what it has to work with. And remember – this is a volunteer activity. We choose what we put into our body.

We classify “food” into three broad categories called the macronutrients – protein, fat, and carbohydrate. “Macro” because we need these foods in relatively large amounts. We also have the micronutrients – vitamins and minerals. “Micro” because we need these nutrients in relatively smaller amounts. The last of the “big six” nutrients is water. Over the next several articles we will explore these macronutrients.

This classification system generates some questions right away. Exactly what is larger, what is smaller, and how much of each? We will explore these questions in subsequent articles. In addition, virtually all foods are a combination of these nutrients, so it is somewhat difficult to completely isolate these components.

Real foods in nature appear in combination. Think of the first food for humans – mother’s milk – it contains all of the nutrients.

What do these nutrients do?

Protein provides the building blocks, while fats and carbohydrates provide energy. Protein can be broken down into carbohydrate to provide energy upon demand. Vitamins and minerals support the biological processes that occur in our body. Without their support our body will not function optimally. Most disease stems from deficiencies of various nutrients.

When it comes to providing energy fats and carbohydrates do it differently. Think of a fire. A carbohydrate is like a piece of paper. You put it in the paper and it burns up quickly and to keep the fire burning more paper is needed quickly. Fat is like a log. It burns smoothly, steady, and for a much longer period of time. Vitamins and minerals provide the sparks for the fire.

We will be discussing protein, carbohydrates, and fats in more detail. At this point I’ll keep it real simple about vitamins and minerals. In short, they are found in real foods. These are the foods that are listed in all the sections on what to eat. Eat the recommended foods and your diet will be filled with all the vitamins and minerals that you need.

In the next article we will explore protein.

Bernard Rosen, PhD is a Nutrition Consultant and Educator. He works with individuals, groups, and at corporations to create individualized nutrition and wellness programs. His office is in Mequon, WI. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, e-mail at bernie@brwellness.com, call (262) 389-9907 or go to www.brwellness.com.