Nutrition Advice

We all need energy to grow, stay alive, keep warm and be active. Energy is provided by the carbohydrate, protein and fat in the food and drinks we consume. It is also provided by alcohol. Different food and drinks provide different amounts of energy. Carbohydrate is the most important source of energy for the body. Sources of carbohydrate include starchy foods, e.g. bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, pulses and breakfast cereals.

Different people need different amounts of energy. This depends on your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which measures the amount of energy you use to maintain the basic functions of the body, as well as your level of activity. Some activities use more energy than the others. The more active you are, the more energy your body uses up.

Beneficial effects include:

  • Healthy growth and development in childhood
  • Keeping your heart healthy. People who are not physically active are at an increased risk of suffering from diseases such as heart disease and stroke
  • Reducing the risk of certain cancers, including breast and colon cancer
  • Reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • Protecting against osteoporosis – as this is a condition that largely affects older adults, it is important that you continue to take part in physical activity throughout your lifetime
  • Maintaining healthy joints and muscles
  • Helping to maintain a healthy weight
  • Coping with stress and reducing anxiety
  • Feeling happy and improving wellbeing –regular physical activity can reduce signs and symptoms of depression. Physical activity often leads to social interaction, improved self-esteem and greater confidence.

Maintaining energy balance

Your weight depends on the balance between how much energy you consume from food and drinks, and how much energy you use up by being active. When you eat or drink more energy than you use up, you put on weight; if you consume less energy from your diet than you expend, you lose weight; but if you eat and drink the same amount of energy as you use up, you are in energy balance and your weight remains the same.

It is important for your health to maintain a healthy weight. For ways to achieve a healthy weight, see energy balance. Bottom of Form

What are nutrients?

Food provides a range of different nutrients. Some nutrients provide energy, while others are essential for growth and maintenance of the body.

Carbohydrate, protein and fat are macronutrients that we need to eat in relatively large amounts in the diet as they provide our bodies with energy and also the building blocks for growth and maintenance of a healthy body. Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients which are only needed in small amounts, but are essential to keep us healthy.

Most people should be able to get all the nutrients they need by eating a healthy, varied diet, although there are a few exceptions. For example, women thinking about having a baby are recommended to take a folic acid supplement to prevent deformities such as spina bifida developing in their baby. Carry on reading to find out the main functions and food sources of the nutrients in our diet.

Providing energy for activity

If you take part in lots of physical activity, or regularly enjoy sports and exercise, you will be using up lots of energy. You will need to eat enough food to match your activity level. Carbohydrate is the most important form of fuel for exercise and sports activities. Quite simply, the more active you are - the more carbohydrates your body needs. The body can store carbohydrate in the muscles and liver, but these stores are small so it is important to keep them topped up. If you get tired during physical activity this might be because your carbohydrate stores are low.

Sources of carbohydrate are starchy foods such as breads, pasta, potatoes, pulses, rice and breakfast cereals. Fruit, juices and milk also provide energy in the form of sugars. Both starches and sugars are broken down in the body to provide readily available energy.

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