Vitamin A

Vitamin A, also known as the night vision vitamin, actually refers to a group of chemicals (retinoids and pro vitamin A-carotenoids) that have vitamin A activity in the body. Vitamin A is essential for a number of body functions including embryonic development, cell differentiation (the process where stem cells become specialised cells), immune function and vision. In terms of vision, Vitamin A forms part of the process involved in dark adaption, which Read more of this post


Are Carbohydrates Bad For You?

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

One of the most common questions I am asked is: “Are carbohydrates bad for you?”. With so much conflicting information, the answer is not as simple as we would like it to be. So are they bad for you or not?

What are they?

Carbohydrates are a family of nutrients that provide the body with energy. In fact, carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source. They include sugars, starches and fibre. Some examples of sugars include fruit sugars, table sugar, brown sugar, honey, golden syrup, glucose & lactose (sugar found in dairy).  The other types of carbohydrates includes any food that is made from grains or vegetables (rice, wheat, corn, barley, oats & potato) and include things like pasta, bread, rice, crackers, chips and breakfast cereals.

The type matters

Carbohydrates, as mentioned earlier, are the body’s primary energy source so we do need to eat them. We just need to eat the right type.

The ability to manufacture and process food, that occurred over the last half of the 20th century, has meant that Western diets have changed dramatically over the years. Highly processed foods are often very high in ‘refined’ carbohydrates and sugar and tend to be very low in fibre. These foods are generally high in energy and we easily overeat them.

This increase in processed foods is believed to be one contributor to the increase in overweight and obesity seen in modern Western cultures.

Research has shown that consumption of low fibre and high sugar diets are detrimental to long term health and with this research has followed a string of low-carbohydrate diets and weight loss treatments.

The right type

The right type of carbohydrate to be eating has had limited processing and is high in fibre. These foods include fruit, vegetables, wholegrain breads and cereals, legumes (lentils, beans, chickpeas etc), grains (oats, barley etc), nuts, seeds and pseudo grains (quinoa).

Foods that contain fibre are more filling, have a low glycemic index, keep blood sugar levels stable, are essential for good bowel health and reduce total cholesterol levels. In terms of preventing and treating  type 2 diabetes the type of carbohydrate consumed is very important. Research has shown that carbohydrate intake derived primarily from fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes are the best choice (Mann, 2007).

The above mentioned foods not only contain the appropriate type of carbohydrate but also contain other nutritional properties that are incredibly beneficial to our health such as folate, antioxidants and phytochemicals.

Choose whole, fresh and unprocessed foods and you generally can’t go wrong. These foods will always be the best choice. Carbohydrates aren’t all bad and any information that you come across saying that they are is not very good advice. It’s all about balance and ensuring that your diet is characterised by healthy carbohydrates, rather than highly manufactured and processed ones.

If you would like more information and advice on how to construct a healthy meal take a look at this post, Techniques You Must Master to Construct a Healthy Meal.

You Need to Eat More Phytochemicals

I’m sure you’ve all heard of vitamins and minerals, the nutrients found in food essential for good health. What you may not know is that food also contains other chemical components thought to promote health known as phytochemicals and zoochemicals.

So what are these chemical wonders and how can they help me?

Science is continuing to uncover more and more components of food that are physiologically active. This means that they interact with other chemicals or systems in the body and although they are not deemed essential in the diet, they can provide us with significant health benefits.

Studies have shown that diets rich in fruit and vegetables show a reduced risk of cancer, thus fruit and vegetables are thought to contain phytochemicals that block the development of cancer.

Research is still a long way off in terms of fully understanding how these chemicals work and interact with the body, however, because current multi-vitamin and mineral supplements contain little or none of these chemicals, nutritionists always recommend the importance of meeting your bodies needs through a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, seeds, grains, legumes and nuts, instead of swallowing a pill everyday.

Although supplements may be helpful for some individuals to meets certain nutrient requirements, don’t be tempted to take a supplement as a substitute for a healthy diet. Your body will benefit far more from whole fresh foods than a supplement based on limited nutritional knowledge. There is so much about food we have yet to discover.

Here are some great articles on how you can include more vegetables in your diet and reap the benefits of what phytochemicals have to offer.

8 ways to include more vegetables into your day

Cookbook review: Salads and Vegetables

Eat your vegies they’ll make your hair go curly

11 ways to eat more vegetables

10 ways to make vegetables taste good