Protein, Carbohydrates, Fats, Water, Vitamins, Minerals & Phytochemicals
The human body is the most complex thing on earth. How the human body functions is equally complex. The complete answers as to How and Why have not yet been fully discovered. Nutrients are the basic raw materials of body structure and function that allow life to exist. The information in the various nutrient sections is provided as a general Guideline of Understanding for those who desire to expand their knowledge about those basic substances in food that keep our body functioning, keep us healthy and alive, and form the basis of “Proper Nutrition.” They are the very things that interact with each other – and our cells – on the most fundamental molecular level to provide us with our basic physical structure and ability to function, and finally answers the question:
What Do Nutrients Do?…With the answer being: Everything!
Nutrients – The Basis of Life and Health
Nutrients do everything. They are the raw materials of body function, structure, health and life. The human body cannot function, health cannot thrive, and life cannot exist without them. Nutrients are the fundamental biological reason why we eat.
Macronutrients & Micronutrients
The nutrients needed by the human body in relatively large amounts are called macronutrients. The macronutrients are: Protein, Carbohydrates, Fats and Water. The nutrients needed by the human body in relatively small amounts are called micronutrients. The micronutrients are: Vitamins, Minerals & Phytochemicals.
Nutrients are measured by weight in grams (g), in milligrams (mg), and in micrograms (mcg), with some nutrients (vitamins A, D and E) measured by their biological activity in International Units (IU) which roughly corresponds with micrograms. In scientific literature micrograms are often abbreviated as “µg.” Water and food are measured by weight in ounces (oz), while liquids are typically measured by ounces and/or by volume in liters (l). About 28 grams equals one ounce. One liter equals a little more than 33 ounces (slightly more than a quart at 32 oz).
Protein, carbohydrates and fats are measured in grams, while vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals are measured in milligrams and micrograms.
1,000 mcg = 1mg; 1,000 mg = 1 g; 28 g = 1 oz.
Nutrient Intake References
Nutrient Intake References are used as a guideline for nutrient intake, and as a nutrient planning and assessment tool. The following are commonly used references and appear with each nutrient listed (if established or known for that particular nutrient):
RDA – The average daily dietary nutrient intake level designated by the Institute of Medicine sufficient to meet the nutrient requirement of most healthy adults, is known as the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), and is part of the set of guidelines known as the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs). RDAs are a planning tool as a guideline for the amount of nutrient intake.
AI – The average daily dietary nutrient intake level designated by the Institute of Medicine as adequate for apparently healthy people when an RDA cannot be determined, is known as Adequate Intake (AI), and is part of the set of guidelines known as Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs). AIs are an assessment tool.
UL – The highest average daily dietary nutrient intake level designated by the Institute of Medicine that is likely to pose no risk of adverse health effects in most adults (but increases above the UL may increase potential risk of adverse effects), is known as the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL), and is part of the set of guidelines known as the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs). ULs are an assessment tool.
RDI – The average daily dietary nutrient intake level designated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for healthy adults who consume 2,000 to 2,500 calories a day, is referred to on food labels as Percent Daily Value (% DV), and is known as the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) (previously known as the US RDA). RDIs are a planning tool as a guideline for amount of nutrient intake in relation to the total calories consumed.
ALT – The average daily dietary nutrient intake level commonly suggested for healthy adults by most nutritionally knowledgeable alternative doctors and nutritionists, with such Alternative (ALT) intake levels recognized or believed to have added health benefits. ALTs are a planning tool as a guideline for amount of nutrient intake.
TOX – The average daily dietary nutrient intake level for adults generally regarded as Toxic (TOX) or believed to produce adverse effects, if known. TOXs are a guideline of toxic amounts of nutrient intake. Note that anything consumed in very large amounts can have deleterious effects. Even water, which is probably the most benign thing that is consumed, can cause death if consumed in massive amounts.
The following list of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fats and water), and what they primarily do in the human body, will provide a basic understanding that will underscore their vital importance. Amounts indicated are suggested amounts for healthy adults.
Protein is the major structural and functional component of all cells in the human body, is used for tissue structure (such as muscle, organs, membranes and membrane carriers, keratin and collagen) and their growth, repair and maintenance, chemical production (such as hormones and enzymes), transport carriers (such as lipoproteins), and also supports water balance, pH balance, and the immune system.
Proteins are organic molecules that contain carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, and in some cases, sulfur. They are made up of linked chains of smaller molecules known as amino acids that can combine in an almost infinite number of ways, forming different proteins that have unique amino acid sequences and chemical characteristics. Proteins in both the diet and body are more complex and variable than the other two energy (calorie) sources, carbohydrates and fats. The defining characteristic of protein is its requisite amino nitrogen group. The average content of nitrogen in dietary protein is about 16% by weight, with nitrogen metabolism considered a measure of protein metabolism.
An adequate supply of dietary protein is essential to maintain cellular structural and functional integrity, and to maintain health. Adequate high-quality protein intake (such as whey protein), but not too much protein (which can increase acidity in the body), along with an abundant consumption of acid-buffering fruits and vegetables, is considered optimum to help prevent age-related loss of muscle mass (known as sarcopenia) and may even help restore lost muscle mass in older adults. This is especially true with the catalytic help of regular resistance weight training exercises (i.e., using weights, machines, bands, pulleys, or even body weight such as with push-ups, pull-ups, and dips). Exercised muscles act as a catalyst that generates the physical stimulus through applied mechanical stress to help keep muscles (and bones) healthy – and requires an adequate protein intake.
Protein Source: Animal foods (meat, eggs and dairy products), fish and seafood, legumes (beans, lentils, peanuts, peas and soybeans), and protein supplements (whey protein supplements are believed to be especially good protein supplements). There are 4 calories of potential energy per gram of protein. (Calories are not physical things in food but rather are a measure of potential metabolism energy, analogous to the way a degree is not a physical thing but rather a measure of temperature.)
RDA: 0.80 gram of protein per kilogram (2.2 lbs.) of body weight per day is believed needed to maintain nitrogen balance for most adults (which is 0.36 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day for an adult, i.e., body weight x 0.36), up to 1 gram per kilogram of body weight per day for those who engage in heavy physical work or resistance weight training (which is 0.45 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day for an adult who regularly engages in physical activity or exercise, i.e., body weight x 0.45). The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine recommends that protein should make up 10-35% of the calories consumed by adults, depending on their health status and level of physical activity.
TOX: Excess protein intake is known to overburden the kidneys which may lead to kidney damage if the excess protein intake is habitual. Excess protein increases acidity in the body, which can have negative health consequences, but can be offset with an abundant consumption of acid-buffering fruits and vegetables. The Institute of Medicine warns that caution is warranted with the intake of individual amino acids taken at levels significantly above that normally found in food. It is generally deemed prudent to take individual amino acids only with the guidance of a nutritionally-oriented doctor.
Carbohydrates (carbs), which are sugars and starches, are the body’s primary energy source (which readily converts to blood glucose), and their consumption is what stimulates insulin secretion.
Carbohydrates are basically composed of carbon molecules and water molecules (hence, the name: “carbo” – “hydrates”). Glucose is the most common source of energy in the body, and is especially important for brain cells and red blood cells as it is their sole source of energy. Energy is released when glucose is converted to carbon dioxide and water during cellular metabolism. Excess glucose is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen for later use, and when these reserves are filled to capacity the excess glucose is converted to triglycerides and stored in adipose tissues as body fat. Carbohydrates are organic molecules that contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, and are of three basic types:
1. Simple carbs are simple sugars or refined carbs. They include all forms of sugar, refined grain products, alcohol, and fruit (concentrated in fruit juice and dried fruit), and are composed of simple sugars (saccharides) with a simple molecular monosaccharide structure such as glucose (a basic sugar) and fructose (fruit sugar), and disaccharides such as sucrose (table sugar), maltose (malt sugar) and lactose (milk sugar). If the word ends in “ose” then it’s a sugar.
It is the simple carbs that tend to spike insulin levels. Excess simple sugars in the diet are thought to be the source of several conditions that affect health (such as obesity, insulin resistance, and development of blood sugar problems), and are believed to be a contributory factor in various forms of degenerative health conditions. Because of their nutrient and fiber content, whole fresh fruit is perhaps the only healthful food that is predominately a simple carb.
A popular sugar substitute in certain manufactured foods is sugar alcohol, which is common in “low-carb” foods and snacks. Sugar alcohols are artificial sweeteners that contain about half the calories of sugar but nonetheless can legally be labeled as “sugar free.” When sugar alcohols are used they are listed in the ingredients on the food label as either: Sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, erythritol, isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, or hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (HSH). Sugar alcohols are generally not considered healthful, and can cause adverse side effects such as abdominal cramping, bloating and diarrhea. The long term effects of the consumption of sugar alcohols are unknown.
2. Complex carbs are starches and fiber. They have a more complex molecular structure called polysaccharides (polymers of glucose), and are found in whole grain products, legumes and vegetables, with dietary fiber also being a type of complex carb.
It is the complex carbs that provide glucose in a more steady fashion than the simple carbs and therefore tend to stimulate a more even and less intense insulin secretion. Complex carbs are regarded as the healthful alternative to simple carbs – they provide energy without spiking insulin production.
3. Dietary Fiber is a type of complex carb that is a combination of partially digestible soluble fiber (such as gums and mucilages) and indigestible insoluble fiber (such as cellulose, lignin and pectin). It is found exclusively in plant foods because it is what forms the structure of plants and plant cell walls.
Dietary fiber originates in plant parts (fruit and vegetable skin, pulp, leaves, stems, seeds, roots and husks), and is especially abundant in whole grains, bran, and dietary fiber supplement products. Refined plant foods and simple carbs contain little or no fiber.
There are two basic types of dietary fiber, soluble fiber and insoluble fiber.
Soluble fiber, so-called because it undergoes metabolic processing by the body via fermentation that yields beneficial end-products, is predominant in such food as apples, carrots and legumes (beans, lentils, peanuts, peas and soybeans).
Insoluble fiber, so-called because it passes through the body essentially unchanged but nonetheless is beneficial as a result of it being hydrophilic (i.e., attracts and holds water, which increases intestinal bulk, softens the stool, and shortens stool transit time) and helps prevent toxin buildup in the intestinal tract. It is predominant in such food as whole grains, bran, flax, celery, green beans, potato skins and tomato peel.
Foods that contain fiber generally have variable amounts of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Some foods, such as oats, have an equal balance of both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Dietary fiber supports health, especially heart and colon health, and is needed by the body for proper food movement through the intestinal tract. Psyllium fiber is believed to be an especially beneficial form of dietary fiber for cardiovascular and GI tract health.
Carbohydrate Source: Plant foods. There is some amount of carbs found in select animal foods such as milk (because of milk’s lactose content). There are 4 calories of potential energy per gram of carbohydrate.
RDA: An intake amount of 130 grams of carbohydrates per day is needed for adults, and is based on the average minimum amount of glucose needed by the brain for it to function. This is less than the average amount of carbs consumed by most adults per day, which is thought to be the source or contributory factor of such health conditions as obesity, insulin resistance, and development of blood sugar problems, especially when such excess carb intake consists primarily of sugar and refined carbs (which can be thought of as hidden sugar). The median intake of carbs is estimated at approximately 220-330 grams per day for adult men, and 180-230 grams per day for adult women. The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine recommends that carbohydrates should make up about 45-65% of the calories consumed by adults.
TOX: Excess carbs, especially excess sugar and refined carbs, tend to spike insulin levels and when habitually consumed can cause insulin resistance which can lead to blood sugar problems. Excess refined carbs are readily converted to triglycerides (which are especially susceptible to oxidation and can cause free radical damage to cells), and are readily stored in adipose tissues as body fat. Excess intake of sugar and refined carbs causes obesity.
Good Carbs & Bad Carbs
Generally, the complex carbs from whole grains (barley and oats are thought to be especially healthful), fresh vegetables, legumes, seeds, and dietary fiber are considered the “good carbs.”
Most of the simple carbs (whole fresh fruit excepted) and all the refined carbs (all forms of sugar, refined grain products, alcohol, and especially the omnipresent sweetening agent high-fructose corn syrup) are considered the “bad carbs.”
The “good carbs” support health, while the “bad carbs” detract from health. (See “The Advanced Glycemic Index” for specific details about healthful carbohydrate intake.)
Fats are classified as lipids. Lipids function in the body as cell membrane and nerve sheath insulation protective components, help regulate body temperature, are involved in the production of hormones and hormone-like compounds known as prostaglandins, support internal organ protective padding, assists in the uptake of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, and are a major energy (calorie) source. Fats are composed of fatty acids and glycerol – 3 fatty acids molecularly connected to 1 glycerol derivative.
The main blood lipid and dietary fat is triglycerides, which is the primary fat in food. The other lipids are phospholipids (such as lecithin, which is a fat emulsifier) and sterols (such as cholesterol). Excess dietary fat intake is stored as triglycerides in adipose tissues as body fat.
Basically, fats are organic molecules that contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, with some also containing nitrogen and phosphorus. Dietary fats are either saturated (having more hydrogen saturation in their molecular structure), or unsaturated (having less hydrogen saturation in their molecular structure). There are four basic kinds:
1. Saturated fats, so-called because they have more of a hydrogen molecule saturation in their molecular structure, predominate in animal foods (meat, eggs and dairy products). Excess consumption of saturated animal fats has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular health problems, as well as other health problems. While most saturated fat is found in animal foods, there is a plant-food source in coconut oil which is thought to help support normal health and function of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) when consumed in small quantites. Recent research has suggested that a small amount of saturated fat may be necessary to maintain health.
2. Polyunsaturated fats are an unsaturated fat and are so-called because of their relatively more complex molecular structure (“poly” = many), and predominate in vegetable oils (such as corn, soybean and sunflower oils). Excess consumption of the polyunsaturated vegetable oils has been linked to an increased risk of certain kinds of gastrointestinal tract health problems. Vegetable oils predominately contain omega-6 fatty acids.
The primary healthy polyunsaturated fat is considered to be the omega-3 fatty acids from fish and seafood. The omega-3 fatty acids, specifically from fish and seafood, are believed to support cardiovascular health, help control inflammation, and support brain and nervous system function. Especially good sources for the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are believed to be from sardines and wild salmon.
Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil is another rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. However, there is some concern over the unbalanced and concentrated intake of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the major essential fatty acid in flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, because some studies have indicated that concentrated sources of ALA (specifically from flaxseed oil) may tend to increase the risk of prostate and eye problems. (Reference: “Are essential fatty acids bad for you?” by Dr. Jonathan V. Wright, January 4, 2010, healthiertalk.com.) It is thought that ground whole flaxseeds, with its nutrient and fiber content intact and balanced, may be a healthier alternative than concentrated flaxseed oil. Generally, whole foods tend to be thought of as healthier than isolated and concentrated components because they contain a full spectrum of the nutrients in the whole food, which tends to provide a supportive functional synergy between the components. In a word: Balance.
3. Monounsaturated fats are an unsaturated fat and are so-called because of their relatively simple molecular structure (“mono” = one), and predominate in certain kinds of plant foods and oils (such as avocados, olives, peanuts, nuts and seeds, and canola, olive and peanut oils). Monounsaturated fats contain omega-9 fatty acids, and because they tend to be less susceptible to oxidation than other fats they are generally regarded as healthful.
4. Trans fats are manipulated polyunsaturated or monounsaturated vegetable oils that have had extra hydrogen atoms forced onto their trans side (as opposed to their cis side) of their carbon chain molecular structure, making it more like the straight carbon chain of a fully saturated fat. (“Trans” is Latin for “across” as in across to the other side of the carbon chain, and “cis” is Latin for “on the same side” as in on the same side of the carbon chain.) The added hydrogen atoms of a trans fat causes the carbon chain to straighten, which dictates how the trans fat is used (metabolized) by the body. Trans fats are metabolized differently by the liver than other dietary fats, interfering with the delta 6 desaturase enzyme that is involved in normal essential fatty acid conversion.
Trans fats are listed in the ingredients on food labels as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. Trans fats can generally be thought of as a naturally occurring fat that has been transformed by man into an unnatural fat.
A small amount of a type of trans fat naturally occurs in the milk and body fat of cows and sheep. As a percentage of their total fat, hydrogenated vegetable oils contain about 45% trans fat, shortenings about 30% trans fat, margarine about 15% trans fat, cow’s milk about 4% trans fat, and, for comparison, human milk contains about 3% trans fat.
Because of their unnatural hydrogen molecule structure and unnatural processing by the body, hydrogenated trans fats are thought to pose even more of a health risk than saturated animal fats. The primary health risks associated with trans fat consumption is an increased risk of elevated blood levels of C-reactive protein (an inflammation marker) and cardiovascular health problems. Any amount of hydrogenated trans fats in the diet are considered unhealthy.
Recently, some food processors have replaced hydrogenation (which modifies the fat’s molecular structure) with a process known as “interesterification” (ITE), especially in such foods as margarine to produce a more solid spread. However, “interesterification” also modifies the molecular structure of the fat (oil), and the regular consumption of such an unnatural fat may carry with it untold health consequences. In spite of natural churned butter being predominately a saturated animal fat, it is still considered a healthier alternative to processed margarine because of their hydrogenated trans fat content or their ITE processing.
All dietary fats and oils are a varying combination of saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, and are considered which kind by whichever fat predominates. As an example, olive oil is considered a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat because it is composed of about 76% monounsaturated fat. Likewise for canola oil at about 63% monounsaturated fat.
High heat and rancidity can change the molecular structure of a fat and damage it. Damaged fats are considered unhealthy. Oils and fats that are heated to the point of smoking are damaged. This is why canola oil (with its higher smoke point) is better for cooking applications, while olive oil (with it lower smoke point) is best consumed only slightly heated or even unheated. Meat cooked to the point of charring has damaged fat and is considered unhealthy. Charred fat is burnt fat. Oils and fats excessively exposed to air and light become rancid, which damages them. Damaged fats are unhealthy to consume.
Fats Source: A diet that maintains a balance in the following dietary fats is generally considered part of a healthy diet:
Consuming a diet that contains foods where monounsaturated fats predominate (avocados, olives, peanuts and other legumes, nuts, seeds, and canola, macadamia, olive and peanut oils), and where the polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids predominate (seafood and fatty fish, such as wild salmon and sardines) over the omega-6 fatty acids in vegetable oils. Also, only small amounts of saturated fat (from animal foods or coconut oil), no trans fats, no hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, and probably no ITE fats.
Good Fats & Bad Fats
The monounsaturated fats, and especially the omega-3 fatty acids, are considered the “good fats.” Excess saturated animal fats, excess polyunsaturated vegetable oils, and especially the trans fats and hydrogenated oils (and possibly the ITE fats) are considered the “bad fats.” The “good fats” support health, while the “bad fats” detract from health.
The one thing that can change a “good fat” into a “bad fat” is if it has been altered, such as adding hydrogen atoms onto the fat molecule (making it a hydrogenated fat), or excessively heating the fat during cooking which also changes its molecular structure (transforming it into a trans fat). The reason hydrogenated and trans fats are considered “bad fats” is because they are unnatural fats that the human body cannot properly metabolize. It remains to be seen if the altered ITE fats fall into the “bad fats” category or not. Because their molecular structure has been altered, they probably will.
At 9 calories of potential energy per gram, fats are the most calorie dense food. Rather than being a physical thing in food, calories are a measure of potential energy (analogous to the way degrees are not a physical thing but rather a measure of temperature).
No RDA or AI has been set for dietary fat intake. However, The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine recommends that fats should make up about 20-35% of the calories consumed by healthy adults, while the American Heart Association recommends a total fat intake of less than 30% with no more than 10% from saturated animal fat, and warns about consuming trans fats.
Protein, carbohydrates, and fats all provide potential energy (calories) and can be burned as fuel. However, the human body prefers carbs as its primary energy source, followed by fats, with protein last. These major nutrients can generally be thought of as: Protein for structure, Carbohydrates for energy, and Fats for protection.
Although not thought of as a nutrient, water is nonetheless extremely important.
Water helps regulate body temperature, supports blood flow, and provides the fluid environment for all bodily processes. Water makes up about 60% of the body by weight in adult men, and about 55% in adult women, with the difference being because women generally have more body fat than men (to accommodate childbirth).
About 60% of the water in the body is used inside the cells (intracellular), and about 40% is used outside the cells (extracellular). The approximate water composition of body parts are: Blood 95%, the brain 85%, muscle tissue75%, organs more than 70%, bone 22%, and body fat about 10%. In addition to the blood, the water-based extracellular fluid bathes all the cells and is part of the spinal fluid, the ocular fluid for lubricating the eyes, the synovial fluid that lubricates the joints, the lymph fluid that drains from tissue spaces that helps carry away waste and remove germs, and is a fundamental part of various secretions (such as bile, gastric juice, mucus and saliva).
Water is an active participant in all chemical processes of the body, and plays an important role in the maintenance of the vitally important electrolyte balance.
Water is the body’s basic lubricant, reactant, solvent, and is an active participant in hydrolysis (the separation of the components of water, hydrogen and oxygen, for use in a variety of body functions). As a solvent, water disassembles and rearranges molecules that are essential to the chemistry of body function and life. As a conductor of electricity, water is vital to the electrical potential of nerve cells (neurons) and the important electrochemical neurotransmitters.
Water is vital for the chemistry and physiology of the neurotransmitters in the brain that allow all bodily processes and thought processes to take place, and to allow cells to communicate with each other (known as cell-signaling). Neurotransmitters are chemicals used to relay, amplify and modulate signals that bridge the gap (synapse) between neurons and other cells, and when function as such are known as chemical synapses. Chemical synapses are specialized junctions through which neurons signal to each other and to non-neuronal cells such as those in muscles or glands, triggering their function. Chemical synapses allow neurons to form interconnected circuits within the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), are thus critical to the biological computations that underlie perception and the thought process, and are what allow the nervous system to connect and control all the other systems of the body. Chemical synapses are what basically allow the thought process and body function to take place – and is facilitated by water.
Water Source: The body’s water supply comes from three basic sources: Consumed food, carbohydrate breakdown, and direct fluid intake.
1. Food (except for fats, oils and dried grains) runs about 40-95% water. Food contains approximately the following percentages of water: Oils 0%, dried grains 10%, fats (such as butter) 15%, dairy products 40-80% (40% for the denser hard cheeses and 80% for yogurt), meat, poultry and fish 65-80%, and fruits and vegetables 80-95%.
2. Carbohydrate Metabolism Byproduct – Is the “hydrate” part of carbohydrates (with carbon molecules being the other part). Water is released as carbohydrates are broken down (metabolized) into their component parts for use by the body.
3. Drinking – Direct fluid intake.
Water Intake: There is no RDA for water. However, it is generally recommended that the average adult needs about 2 quarts (64 oz., or 8-8 oz. glasses) of water a day to replace what is lost through the skin, urine, bowels and lungs.
A basic rule-of-thumb for water intake is to consume about one-half your body weight in ounces per day. However, not to be forgotten is the fact that food also contains varying amounts of water, and this also counts toward fulfilling the body’s water requirement (with fruit and veggies having the highest percentage of water content). The need for water increases for those who are in hot environments and/or are engaged in a physical activity where heavy sweating occurs.
Lack of adequate water consumption can cause dehydration. Chronic dehydration can cause kidney damage, which can lead to potentially life-threatening kidney failure. It is possible however to consume too much water under extreme circumstances. A massive amount of water consumption over a short period of time will dilute the sodium content of the blood (sodium is an essential electrolyte mineral), which causes a condition known as hyponatremia (low blood sodium), also known as “water intoxication,” which causes intracranial pressure (the brain to swell and press against the inside of the skull) – which in severe cases can cause seizures, coma, and even death to occur. Fortunately, it is easy to maintain a healthful balanced intake of water between the extremes of dehydration (which is fairly common) and water intoxication (which is quite rare), simply by following the reasonable guidelines for water intake.
Water Quality: The best sources of drinking water are generally believed to be natural water that has had nothing added or removed and thus contains all of the naturally occurring minerals inherent in natural water, with minerals being the only nutrients in water.
Natural spring water and deep-well water are generally regarded as the best quality and least contaminated natural drinking water. Distilled water and de-ionized water have the naturally occurring minerals removed and as a result are not regarded as healthful, in spite of the fact that distilled water has most contaminants removed (which isn’t the case with de-ionized water which only has its minerals removed). It has been noted that gold fish cannot survive in a fish bowl of distilled or de-ionized water, while natural water that has not been manipulated by man can support life (as evidenced by the abundance of life in the mineral-rich oceans and streams of the world).
There are only two basic aspects to natural water: It being a fluid, and it having minerals. If it lacks naturally occurring minerals then it is not how Mother Nature intended it and shortchanges the body if consumed. The regular consumption of distilled water may even cause or contribute to various health conditions by causing a drain of minerals from the body’s limited mineral stores. The regular consumption of carbonated water, which is acidic, may disrupt the normal pH balance which can cause acid-buffering calcium to be leached from the bones (similar to the way phosphoric acid in sodas do), which is thought to be a contributory factor in unbalanced calcium metabolism and dystrophic calcification. The regular consumption of the newer fad or modified waters, such as alkaline water, may interfere with nutrient uptake and normal food digestion. Pure natural spring water that has its natural mineral content intact (and contains minimal contaminants) is considered the best quality drinking water, and the most healthful. Drinking water that is especially rich in the essential electrolyte mineral magnesium is believed to be especially healthful, particularly for the health and normal function of the cardiovascular system.
Water is the fundamental fluid of body function and life.
Oxygen is of course not a nutrient, but it is the single most vital thing we consume.
Cells burn fuel (carbs, fats and protein, in that preferred order) for metabolic energy by combining with oxygen, with this known as cellular respiration. The environmental air we breathe actually contains only about 21% oxygen, with the rest of air being composed of about 78% nitrogen and small amounts of argon and carbon dioxide (and trace amounts of other gases), and contains a variable amount of water vapor averaging about 1%.
Oxygen is produced by the sunlight-driven splitting of water during the process known as photosynthesis of algae (70%) and plants (30%), in exchange for exhaled carbon dioxide as provided by humans and other mammals.
Oxygen is a double-edged sword. Oxygen, which is needed for life to exist, also readily combines with other elements and compounds which is the source of oxidation. Oxidation is a chemical reaction where oxygen combines with an element, or where there is a loss of one or more electron in an atom, molecule or ion that then becomes an unstable free radical. Free radicals are atoms, molecules or ions with an unpaired electron which are highly reactive and potentially damaging to the body, especially if in excess. Antioxidants, such as vitamins A, C and E, help keep free radicals in check and thus help prevent free radical damage from occurring.
After thoughtfully reviewing the macronutrients it becomes apparent that there is a close relationship and interaction between what they do and how they function in the human body. However, they are not the whole story. The micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals) are the rest of the story that completes the picture. All of the nutrients together are what allows the human body to function and life to exist, with their quality and quantity being what allows the body to achieve its optimum healthful state – homeostasis – and to thrive.
(See “Vital Vitamins,” “Magnificent Minerals” and “Special Nutrients I & II” for more detailed information, and see “Nutrients-At-A-Glance™” for a concise nutrient summary.)