Nutrients are what you must eat or drink to survive.
To be healthy, you need big quantities of five kinds of nutrients: water, carbohydrate, protein, fat, and fiber. (Most Americans eat too much fat, not enough carbohydrate & fiber.) The quantities are measured in “grams” per serving.
You also need smaller quantities of other nutrients, called micronutrients, measured in “milligrams” or “micrograms” per serving. The most important micronutrients fall into two categories: vitamins (whose chemical formulas include carbon) and minerals (whose chemical formulas do not include carbon).
You need 13 vitamins:
Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble: your body stores them for a long time in your fat tissue and in your liver.
Vitamin C and the B vitamins are water-soluble. Since your body can’t store them long (except for B12), you must eat them frequently. When cooking them, don’t boil them long, since they’ll escape from the food into boiling water instead of helping your body. Instead of boiling them, try steaming them or using your microwave.
Here are peculiarities:
In your body, the 7 main minerals (the macrominerals) are sodium, chlorine, sulfur, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium. The average American eats too much sodium (which is in salt and preservatives) and an okay amount of chlorine & sulfur but should eat more of the other 4:
Mineral Where to get a lot of it
The typical multivitamin/mineral pill does not contain a full day’s supply of those macrominerals. Be especially careful about calcium:
Your body also needs smaller quantities of 15 other minerals (called trace minerals). The most important trace minerals are boron, chromium, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, and zinc.
Your body also contains about 40 other minerals that are not necessary.
Sodium is found mainly in salt. (The technical chemical name for “table salt” is sodium chloride, whose chemical symbol is NaCl.) Sodium is also found in preservatives (such as sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate).
Sodium raises the blood pressure in many people — though some super-healthy people who don’t have blood problems yet are unaffected by sodium. There’s no simple test for telling who’s sodium-sensitive, so the general advice is for most people to reduce sodium. Reducing sodium is not as important as reducing fat but still helps.
Here’s how to reduce sodium.…
Instead of putting salt onto your food, try other spices instead (such as black pepper or crushed red pepper or fresh red peppers) or lemon juice (which is the secret healthy ingredient that wakes up any boring food).
Beware of prepackaged frozen dinners: most are high in salt, to make the dinners have a longer shelf life. Beware of canned soups and canned chili: they’re high in salt also. Canned vegetables are high in salt unless you manage to get no-salt-added versions. Instead of canned beans (which are always high in salt), buy dried beans: they cost less and have no salt added but require you to rinse then soak then rinse again.
Eat less meat. Most meat is high in sodium, especially if the meat is sold as “hot dogs” or “prepackaged sliced meat,” even if labeled “turkey.”
Beware of tomato sauce and its variants (such as ketchup, spaghetti sauce, tomato juice, and V-8 vegetable juice): they’re extremely high in salt (even though they don’t taste salty), unless you buy no-salt-added versions.
Potassium chloride “Low-sodium” versions of some products (such as V-8) make that claim because they replace part of the sodium chloride (table salt) with potassium chloride, which is also a white “salt” but contains no sodium. Unfortunately, potassium chloride doesn’t taste good (it tastes less “salty” and is bitter).
Eating potassium chloride is usually healthy, since the potassium in it is a useful mineral that helps your heart beat. But be careful: overdosing on potassium chloride will stop your heart. To kill prisoners on death row, the executioner injects a high dose of potassium chloride (after injecting other chemicals to make the killings seem less gruesome).
When your body uses oxygen, some of the oxygen turns into an unstable, dangerous form called a free radical. Free radicals occur faster if there’s a lot of pollution (or cigarette smoke, alcohol, X-rays, sunlight’s ultraviolet rays, or heat). Free radicals interfere with cell activities, so the cells get damaged, age faster, and have a harder time warding off cancer and heart disease.
To get rid of that dangerous free-radical oxygen, your body uses antioxidants. Your body makes its own antioxidants, but you can help your body by eating extra antioxidants. The most popular ones to eat are vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium (a mineral), and carotenoids (yellow, orange, or red pigments in fruits and vegetables).
Although carotenoids are yellow, orange, or red pigments, they can hide in vegetables that are darker (purple or dark green): those darker colors hide the carotenoid molecules from your eyes. Vegetables that are light green contain hardly any carotenoids.
Here are the most popular carotenoids:
Your body turns some carotenoids into vitamin A, but other carotenoids stay in their original state and provide extra benefits.
Although most fruits & vegetables are most nutritious when eaten raw, carrots & tomatoes are different: carrots & tomatoes are more nutritious if cooked than if eaten raw, because you need cooking to break their tough cells walls (so you can digest the carrot’s beta carotene and the tomato’s lycopene). Unfortunately, cooked tomato sauce typically contain lots of salt (unless you order the no-salt version).
Since pizza includes cooked tomato sauce, it’s a good source of lycopene. The pizza industry likes to brag about that. Unfortunately, pizza can be high in salt (from the sauce), calories (from the breading), and saturated fat (from the cheese and any meat toppings). Go ahead, eat some pizza, but don’t overdo it!
Researchers keep discovering other micronutrients in fruits and vegetables. To get all their benefits, eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
The newest exciting research concerns grapes. The skin of a grape contains resveratrol (a chemical that helps the grape fight against pests). If you eat that chemical, it will help you fight cancer, heart disease, and oxidation. Grapes grown in the north produce more of that chemical than grapes grown in the south, since northern grapes need it to fight against their tough environment. The “food” that contains the most resveratrol is “red wine made from northern grapes,” since red wine’s manufacturing process uses skins more than white wine’s process, and since the alcoholic fermenting helps bring out the resveratrol. The French love of red wine is the chemical reason why French people have fewer heart attacks than Americans, even though French foods come in heavy sauces. (But I suspect that the main reasons why French people have fewer heart attacks are: the French binge less, eat more vegetables, eat less junk food, get more exercise, and have less stress.) Some resveratrol is also in peanuts.