Nutrition Data:
Facts About Sugar, Fats, Protein and Vitamins

nutrition data vitamins

The nutrition data on packaged foods tells you the nutritional value of what you are buying, but do you know what nutrients you need? While it's important not to get too obsessive about reading the nutrition label, it is probably good to familiarize yourself with what the different nutrients do for your health.

If you consistently eat a balanced diet of whole, unprocessed foods, you will likely get sufficient amounts of all the nutrients you need. However, with the increase in soil depletion due to modern farming methods, today's produce is less nutritious than it was in our grandparents' generation. We have to eat larger amounts of food in order to get the same amount of vitamins and minerals as we did 100 years ago.

The more processed foods you eat, the more you will have to increase your intake of nutritious foods. Eating whole, preferably organic, food is the best way to get the nutrients your body craves, though sometimes it is necessary to take a vitamin supplement. Just be sure the supplement you choose is a quality product, as most vitamins on the market for the most part have been found to pass straight through the digestive system without being broken down.

Nutrition Data About Sugar

Sugar is the energy source of choice for our bodies. Only when the body runs out of ready sugar will another energy source be used, usually fat. The sugars our bodies use can be divided into three groups.

  • Monosaccharides: glucose and fructose
    Glucose and fructose are the most well-known examples, and we get them naturally from fruits and vegetables. These are absorbed into our system in just 5 to 10 minutes, which is why they are called fast sugars. Unfortunately we get far too much fructose in our diet due to the excessive use of high fructose corn syrup, which is found in most processed foods and in large amounts in soda, as you can see from the nutrition data printed on the package. Fructose is directly metabolized by the liver, and eating too much of it leads to obesity and insulin resistance, increasing your risk of Type 2 diabetes.

  • Disaccharides: saccharose and lactose
    Some sugars are larger, and because they must be broken down into smaller sugars before the body can absorb them, they take a little longer to metabolize. Saccharose, most commonly used as table sugar, is the most common example. Lactose, the sugar in milk, is another one.

  • Polysaccharides:
    Some sugars are so large and slow to break down that they do not even taste sweet, such as starch and flour (what people on low-carb diets try to avoid). They must first be broken down into disaccharides, and then further broken down into monosaccharides. Since these sugars are so slowly absorbed into our system, they are called slow sugars. Find out more facts about sugar...

Nutrition Data About Fats

Fats (especially saturated fats) have gotten a lot of bad press, and yet we cannot survive without them. The key, as always, is moderation. Fat is the way the body stores excess energy from fat and sugar. Each fat molecule consists of glycerol and three fatty acids. Differences in the combination of fatty acids make the difference between one fat and another. There are many different fatty acids, but some of them are especially worth mentioning.

omega 3 fatty acid
  • Omega-3, Omega-6 and Omega-9
    Our body needs all sorts of different fatty acids. Some of these our liver can make, however, some we cannot, so we must get those through our diet. One of the Omega-3, most of the omega-6 and none of the omega-9 are essential. The main sources of these omega fatty acids are fatty fish, and several plants such as flax and linseed. The modern western diet contains too many omega-6 and not enough omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Linoleic acid
    Linoleic acid is one of the most important essential fatty acids. It is in fact an Omega-6 fatty acid, but since we need it in fairly large amounts, in the early 20th century it was mistaken for a vitamin, and even called vitamin F. Flax is especially high in linoleic acid, and one of the best food sources is flaxseed.

Nutrition Data About Protein

Proteins are the main building blocks of our body. Without protein all the processes in a living body would grind to a halt. Protein is made of amino acids, some of which cannot be made by the body, so we must get them from the foods we eat. The main sources of protein are meat, fish, poultry, dairy, beans, seeds and nuts. In order to get all the amino acids that we need, including all the essential ones, it is important to have some variety in the proteins we eat. Read more facts about protein...

Nutrition Data About Vitamins

Vitamins are organic nutrients that are absolutely essential to have in our food every day, but only in tiny amounts. Taking vitamin supplements is not always helpful, since some, but not all, vitamins do not get absorbed into the body without the presence of large amounts of other nutrients. For other vitamins, mostly the ones that do get easily absorbed in the body, there is a risk of overdosing. Here is an overview of some basic information about vitamins.

vitamin A carrots
  • Vitamin A Nutrition Data
    Vitamin A (Retinol), is a substance that is important in various parts of the eye. The main sources are various fruits and vegetables, especially tomatoes and liver. Carrots are famous for containing large amounts vitamin A, but many other foods contain more. Vitamin A helps to prevent or cure night-blindness and dry eye syndrome. Taking too much vitamin A causes liver problems, osteoporosis and hair loss. It is especially dangerous for pregnant women.

  • Vitamin B Nutrition Data
    Vitamin B comes in many varieties: B1 (Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), B5 (Pantothenic Acid), B6 (Pyridoxine), B7 (Biotin), B9 (Folic Acid, or Folate) and B12 (Cyanocobalamin). B-vitamins play an important part in the functioning of the nervous system, digestive system and skin. If you don't consume sufficient amounts of B-vitamins, nervous and mental problems, skin problems, anemia, liver problems and digestive problems can develop. For some B-vitamins (B2, B7, B9 and B12) no known problems are associated with overdosing: the body excretes them fast enough to avoid problems. The others (B1, B3, B5 and B6) can cause liver damage, nausea, heartburn, diarrhea and drowsiness when consuming too much.
vitamin C bell pepper
  • Vitamin C Nutrition Data
    Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) is a key component in the formation of connective tissue: collagen, by far the most common protein in the human body (25% - 35% of our proteins) cannot be made without vitamin C. Vitamin C also plays an important role in the immune system, and since it is an antioxidant it is thought to help protect against cancer. Vitamin C deficiency causes scurvy: a disease that has as its main symptoms spots on the skin and bleeding gums and mucous membranes. Overdosing on Vitamin C is very difficult, but when one does manage it, it causes diarrhea and stomach upsets. Since humans cannot make their own Vitamin C, we need to eat sufficient amounts. The main sources are fruits, especially citrus fruits.

  • Vitamin D Nutrition Data
    Vitamin D is the only vitamin we can make ourselves, from exposing our skin to sunlight. For fair-skinned people, 15 minutes of sunlight on a fully exposed face and hands per day (without sunscreen) suffices to make enough Vitamin D, except for those in the most northern latitudes, and in winter. People with darker skins need more exposure to get the same amount. Other sources of Vitamin D are fish oils, liver, eggs and certain mushrooms. Lack of Vitamin D manifests as osteoporosis, muscle cramps and dental problems. In children who are still growing, Vitamin D deficiency can cause severe growth problems and deformities. Overdosing causes dehydration, fatigue, constipation, vomiting and irritability.
vitamin E avocado
  • Vitamin E Nutrition Data
    Vitamin E (Tocopherol) is an antioxidant and helps prevent certain negative effects from oxygen in our body. Good sources are avocado, green, leafy vegetables, uncooked vegetable oils, wholewheat foods, nuts and seeds. It is virtually impossible to choose a diet that would contain either too much or not enough Vitamin E.

  • Vitamin K Nutrition Data
    The last of the vitamins is Vitamin K (phylloquinone). Vitamin K is important for various processes in the blood. Vitamin K deficiency causes anemia, nosebleeds, bruising and heavy menstrual bleeding in women. Since Vitamin K is produced by the bacteria in our intestines, we only need very small amounts in our food. Parsley, kiwi, avocados and leafy, green vegetables are the main sources. One tablespoon of parsley contains almost 80% of the daily recommended allowance of Vitamin K.

  • Coenzyme Q10 Nutrition Data
    Coenzyme Q10 (ubiquinone) is related to Vitamins E and K. It is a major antioxidant and also has antibacterial, antiviral and anti-tumor qualities. It has been shown to slow the process of aging and also boosts the immune system, slows the spread of cancer, increases circulation and is helpful in preventing and treating cardiovascular disease. Though the body makes it, we make less of it as we age, so a supplement may be necessary after age 50. The best sources are organ meats, salmon, mackerel, and sardines, and it is also found in avocados, peanuts and spinach.
resveratrol grapes
  • Resveratrol Nutrition Data
    In laboratory experiments on animals resveratrol has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer, and helped prevent heart disease and damage to the arteries. Grapes, Japanese knotweed and mulberries are naturally rich in resveratrol. It is thought that one of the reasons red wine is considered healthy is because of its resveratrol content, though you would have to drink a lot of it in order to reap any significant benefits from the resveratrol. Relatively little is still known about its effect on humans, as more research needs to be done.

Nutrition Data About Minerals

Minerals are essential for our health, but we only need them in tiny amounts. As with vitamins, most minerals are not easily absorbed without having certain other nutrients available. Supplements are sometimes useful, but they are not usually as effective as a balanced, healthy diet.

potassium bananas
  • Potassium Nutrition Data
    Potassium, along with sodium, is vital for regulating the body's energy supply. It is also important for the nervous and digestive systems. The main sources are bananas, beans, potato skins and tomatoes. Symptoms of low potassium levels often do not appear until there is a large deficiency. When symptoms do occur, muscle cramps and high blood pressure are the most common ones. Taking too much potassium usually leads to weakness, malaise and palpitations. Hyperventilation is also common.

  • Chloride Nutrition Data
    Chloride is needed for the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, which kills bacteria and helps the digestion of proteins. The main source is table salt, though it is best to use Celtic sea salt and Himalayan crystal salt because they contain a wider range of minerals.

  • Sodium Nutrition Data
    Sodium, along with potassium, is vital for regulating the body's energy supply. It is also important for the nervous and digestive systems. The main sources are table salt, sea vegetables like spirulina and chlorella, and spinach. A lack of sodium causes headaches, nausea and confusion. An excess of sodium causes weakness, lethargy and edema. Try to salt your food only with sea salt if possible, as regular table salt has been stripped of important minerals and can contribute to high blood pressure, which does not generally happen with unprocessed, evaporated sea salt.
calcium spinach
  • Calcium Nutrition Data
    Calcium plays a key role in bone formation, muscles, blood cells, the heart and the digestive system. The main source is fish, dairy products and spinach. The earliest symptom of a lack of calcium is the feeling of "pins and needles". More advanced symptoms are rashes and muscle cramps. For calcium to be absorbed properly it is necessary to have a sufficient amount of magnesium, which people are often lacking.

  • Phosphorus Nutrition Data
    Phosphorus is used in teeth and bones, is a key component in the body's energy storage system, and is involved in many chemical reactions. Milk, and to a lesser extent dairy products, are the main source.

  • Magnesium Nutrition Data
    Magnesium is used mainly in bones and teeth and is useful in aiding calcium absorption. Natural sources of Magnesium are nuts, chocolate and soy beans. Low levels of magnesium causes weakness, muscle cramps and spasms, and in very bad cases cardiac arrhythmia and irritability. Too much magnesium causes problems in heart and lungs.
zinc oysters
  • Zinc Nutrition Data
    Zinc is involved with the production of sperm, and is important to several processes in the liver, most notably the breaking down of alcohol. All our sensory nerves also use zinc. A lack of zinc causes sensory problems, as well as hair loss and skin lesions. The best sources of zinc are oysters, beef and lamb.

  • Iron Nutrition Data
    Iron is especially important in red blood cells, making it possible for our blood to transport oxygen. The main sources of iron are red meats, fish, eggs, dairy and whole grains. A lack of iron causes anemia, and an excess of iron can cause all sorts of liver problems, most notably cancer of the liver.

  • Manganese Nutrition Data
    Manganese is used in the production of certain enzymes, is built into our bones and is important for the healing of wounds. Leafy green vegetables, wheat, seeds and nuts are the main sources of manganese. Those with low manganese levels heal very slowly.

  • Copper Nutrition Data
    Copper helps the intestines to absorb iron from our food, while at the same time copper and zinc reduce each other's uptake. Good sources of copper are calf's liver, sesame seeds, crimini mushrooms and molasses. Copper deficiency is not well understood, but often leads to anemia, since a lack of copper makes it difficult for the body to absorb enough iron.
iodine sushi
  • Iodine Nutrition Data
    Iodine is a key ingredient of several of our thyroid hormones, most notably thyroxine. The best source of iodine is seafood, both animal and vegetable. Raw seafood like sushi or sashimi is especially rich in iodine. In areas where little seafood is eaten, governments usually make sure iodine is added to salt, flour, etc. A lack of iodine causes goiter, mental problems, and in unborn children it can cause severe deformities and deaf-muteness.

  • Selenium Nutrition Data
    Selenium is used mostly in the thyroid gland, the heart and cartilage. Good sources of selenium are Brazil nuts, tuna, oysters and clams. A lack of selenium leads to thyroid problems and a weakening of the heart and cartilage.

  • Molybdenum Nutrition Data
    Molybdenum is needed for certain processes in the body that have to do with oxygen, most notably our body's energy supply. Molybdenum occurs as a trace element in all plants and animals. Legumes such as beans, lentils and peas are the richest source of molybdenum.

Understanding nutrition data can be useful when shopping for food so you can compare the health value of different items. But as long as you eat a varied diet of whole foods (preferably organic), you will most likely get enough of the nutrition you require without needing to take supplements.

Learn more about healthy nutrition from holistic health practitioner Helena Ederveen.

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