Notes from Nutrition Class I

I’ve never been a very good note-taker. I write things down and they make sense as long as I’m in the classroom, but once I factor in a little space and time, they’re mostly nonsensical. I was afraid that would happen with my notes from my nutrition class on Tuesday, but this time I think we’re in luck. I almost understand most of what I wrote. So without further ado…

As I’ve mentioned earlier, the instructor, Leslie, is a licensed nutrtitionist and follows a middle of the road approach to nutrition, mostly along the guidelines of the USDA’s Food Pyramid. (I mention that to allow those of you who disagree with said pyramid a chance to bail out.)

Start where you are.
Leslie’s opening comments included the advice she gives to most of her clients: “Let’s start where you are now.” (I *love* that!) She told the story of one man who needed to lower his blood sugar and lose about 30 pounds. When she asked him to share a typical day’s meal plan, she learned that he was eating a cup of almonds and drinking 32-ounces of orange juice every day. (Proper servings are 1/4 cup of almonds and 8 ounces of orange juice.) She had him reduce just those two items to regular servings and his blood sugar corrected itself within a week. He only had to make a few more changes to get within the food pyramid guidelines. I believe she said he lost the 30 pounds in four months, but that’s one of those fuzzy notes.

Macronutrients
Have you ever heard this term before? I hadn’t. Macronutrients are nutrients that provide calories and energy. They include carbohydrates, protein, and fats.

Carbohydrates (4 cals per gram) are the body’s main source of fuel. They are necessary for the needed for proper functioning of the central nervous system, the kidneys, the brain, and muscles (including the heart). Carbohydrates can be stored in the muscles and liver and later used for energy. (The trick, apparently, is to actually do something to use these jewels.)

Protein (also 4 cals per gram) are needed for the immune system and tissue repair . They preserve lean muscle mass and are used as energy when carbohydrates are not available.

Fats (9 cals per gram) are the most concentrated source of energy and are necessary for normal growth and development. Some vitamins (A,D,E,K) require fat to be absorbed into the body.
In a meal, fats slow down the digestion process so the body has more time to absorb nutrients. Fats are required to make hormones found in every cell in the body. Finally, we get our soft skin and hair from fats.

Micronutrients
Another new term for me and one that refers, generally, to vitamins and minerals essential to the body. Vitamins do not provide energy, but support energy processes. Some are water-soluble and any excess amounts consumed are excreted. The fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E,K), as mentioned earlier, are not excreted and it is possible to consume too much of those vitamins.
Minerals are not broken down during digestion. They aid in energy production, healthy bones and blood, and fluid balance in the body.

Leslie has a thing about Vitamin D, which is needed for the development of healthy bones and immune system function. It is also aids in the body’s ability to absorb calcium. Vitamin D does not naturally occur in very many foods. It was believed that most Americans got sufficient Vitamin D through exposure to sunlight; however, if I noted this correctly, she said that new theories indicate that if you live north of Atlanta you are probably NOT getting enough sun exposure to meet the body’s need for Vitamin D. (We are supposed to continue the fascinating discussion of micronutrients and Vitamin D at the next class.)

Functional Foods
Never heard of this category before either. Basically, functional foods may provide a physiological health benefit beyond those attributed to its naturally occurring benefits. Here, I listed insoluble fiber, probiotics and soy protein as examples. This area of food research is the most dynamic right now and new studies are emerging daily. Along with 40,000 new products exploiting those studies.

And that’s that. Not a lot most of us don’t already know (except, for me, the technical jargon), but it’s certainly pointed out a few areas I want to explore further. More next week….

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