Throughout the Universe, there are eight key nutrients that are essential for providing energy, growth, and maintenance to all living organisms: water, carbohydrates, protein, fat, iron, B vitamins, vitamin C, and vitamin D. They do so through a process of chemical breakdowns and conversions, which are organized into six smaller classes, and distinguished between the smaller and bigger parts. They each come from different food sources, serve a number of different purposes, and for humans, can be influenced by several factors such as culture, trends, cost, habits, and emotions.
But altogether, they are the fundamental building blocks for all living things as we know it.
According to the National Ocean Service, the ocean holds about 97 percent of the Earth’s water; the remaining three percent is distributed in many different places, including glaciers and ice, below the ground, in rivers and lakes, and in the atmosphere. Most of the water we have to drink comes from surface water – streams, rivers, and lakes, or groundwater – located underground and obtained by drilling wells and pumping it to the surface. Nutritionists suggest drinking at least half your body weight in water every day to stay adequately hydrated. The rest of our key nutrients, however, come from much more complex sources.
Carbohydrates are macronutrients that provide short-term energy.
Not only are carbs needed in high abundance, but they are essential for fueling a body’s metabolism. The digestive system converts them into glucose (blood sugar), which then gets used to provide energy for your body’s cells, tissues, and organs. Any leftover sugar gets stored in your liver and muscles, so they can be called into action if they’re ever needed sometime in the near future.
Carbs can be simple or complex, depending on their chemical structure. Initially, they are created by green plants using the energy from sunlight, during a process called photosynthesis. The simple carbs are found naturally in foods such as fruits, vegetables, and dairy; the complex carbs include sugars added during food processing and refining, like whole-grain breads, potatoes, and nuts. So if you’re looking for any excuse to dig into those curly fries that have been calling your name right now.. This is it. Go get that savory short-term energy.
Fats, or lipids, are macronutrients that provide long-term energy.
There are three types of dietary fats: triglycerides, phospholipids, and sterols. They play major roles regarding cholesterol, which are a sterol found only in animal products, and are good for serving structural purposes in small quantities, but fundamentally unnecessary.
“Healthy fats” like unsaturated fats are easy to spot because they are liquid at room temperature. They come from food sources like avocados and nuts. Yes, fats do some good by providing our bodies with nourishment. However, they have twice as many calories than carbs and protein, and if consumed too much, could cause more damage to the body’s health than good. So, it’s still okay to eat those fries.. Just pay attention to the portion size, and research where the ingredients came from and the way they were cooked.
Proteins serve a number of purposes, depending on how they’re shaped.
Protein are made up of these things called monomers. All the macronutrients have them, but the monomers of protein – in this case, amino acids – are especially important because they determine how to protein will metabolize and function. The range of their functions spreads from the production of enzymes to muscle growth and maintenance.
The typical American diet finds protein from sources like meat, dairy, nuts, grains, and beans. However, 100 percent of protein is plant-based; only green plants are able to synthesize protein. The way we get protein by eating meat comes from the diet farm animals are fed. While humans eat small portions, animals can eat their body weight and more. This could make it difficult for vegan and vegetarian humans to meet a healthy protein standard (although I personally do just fine), while animals take in high quantities of plant protein, and simply pass it along to humans through their body meat. Medlineplus suggests eating different types of plant proteins every day to get all of the amino acids our bodies need.
Vitamins are substances bodies need to grow and develop normally.
There are thirteen essential vitamins, but the three considered as key are vitamin D which dissolves in fat, and vitamin C and the B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12 and folate), which dissolve in water. Each vitamin has a specific job.
You may experience health issues if you consume too little, but the good news is that we can get most of our vitamins from the foods we eat. The best way to get enough vitamins is to eat a balanced diet with a variety of foods, including all sorts of bright-colored fruits and dark, leafy veggies. In some cases, you may need to take vitamin supplements, but it’s smart to ask your health care provider first since too much vitamins can actually cause problems.
Minerals are micronutrients bodies need in order to function properly.
Minerals are important for your body to stay healthy. Your body uses them for many different jobs, like keeping your bones, muscles, heart, and brain working properly, and even regulating hormones. However, the key mineral is iron. Iron is found in every cell of the body, and is considered essential because it is needed to make hemoglobin, a part of blood cells. A deficiency can occur if your intake is too low to replace the amount you lose every day, leading to feelings of fatigue and anemia. Particularly, this goes for menstruating women who according to the NHS, lose roughly 30 to 40 millilitres of blood each cycle (does the list of reasons why periods suck ever end!?)
Sometimes, supplements are called into action. Popular among pregnant women, elderly humans, and bodybuilders, they come in several different forms like pill capsules or even granola bars, and can be prescribed by a doctor or even purchased over the counter. If you ever find yourself deficient in a key nutrient, or struggling to meet a certain number, these can very well help you. However, if you’d like to avoid the extra expenses of taking supplements, a generally diverse and healthy diet will provide you with all that you need.
And on the topic of expenses, it is important to note that unfortunately, the nutritious foods are not available to everybody – not internationally, not even nationally. The nation is abuzz with talk about good, healthy food. But for far too many people, and especially for those living in low-income communities and developing countries, healthy food is simply out of reach.
The reality is that, for better or for worse, what we eat does affect people living in these conditions.
Producing meat is extremely resource-intensive, and the demand for it is growing rapidly in parts of the developing world, most significantly in China. But what if we could produce meat without having to raise animals? Andras Forgacs, bio-printing entrepreneur, has started a company to 3D print in vitro meat. “This is biofabrication, where cells themselves can be used to grow biological products like tissues and organs,” he said during a 2013 TED Talk appearance. He pointed out that such techniques have already been used in medicine to grow such body parts as ears, blood vessels and bone. “Beyond medicine, bio-fabrication can be a humane, sustainable and scalable new industry,” he said During his talk, Forgacs displayed some cultured leather, which he said is the first step toward producing meat and other animal products in the laboratory.
Not everybody in the modern world hears “GMO!” and feels inclined to run towards it. And don’t worry, I hear that. But supporting biotechnical advances like this one is a feat to which engineers deserve recognition and credit, and one that could benefit the food industry on a political and global scale. Because while they may be thousands of miles away, the conditions of their countries also have an affect on Americans.
Malnutrition keeps people from reaching their full potential. Children underperform in school, limiting their future job opportunities. Adults are less able to work, contribute to local economies, and provide care for their families. Mothers are more likely to have underweight children, who will in turn have a higher risk of physical and cognitive impairment. This perpetuates a cycle of poverty and economic stagnation.
Suffice it to say: what we eat makes an impact on our bodies, the choice in what others get to eat, and the human race as a whole.
It even affects the climate and ecosystems of our planet, but that is an entirely different topic.
There is no such thing as a perfect diet. However generally speaking, a diet that’s diverse with a range of fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, and grains has a high potential to provide living organisms with the right vitamins and minerals their bodies need. Water, the beautiful dihydrogen monoxide and common denominator of life, is also important to keep our bodies going. And of course, the choices regarding the food we put on our plate can influence the choices that other get to make regarding theirs.
As our time on Earth continues to tick, learning more about our human bodies and life as we know it here can possibly provide us with the right ideas and technology to discover more about extraterrestrial life. It’s taught us more about how plants, bacteria, and even tardigrades navigate this pale blue speck, so the possibilities truly are endless.
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“Understanding the True Cost of Malnutrition.” Food and Agriculture Organization. 16 July 2014. Web.
“Where is All of Earth’s Water?” National Ocean Service. Web.
Spritzler, Franziska. “11 Healthy Foods That are Very High in Iron.” Healthline. 17 April 2016. Web.
Citation: Rovira, Lia N. “Dietary Nutrients and the Universe.” SkyFeed. 18 March 2018. Web article.