The importance of healthy nutrition becomes more evident as we look at the shocking numbers regarding severe obesity and its healthcare-related costs in the United States. Severe obesity is rising each year, and could affect 11% of the country’s adult population by 2030, which should be considered a nationwide crisis. According to a 2016 study released by the University of Washington, an U.S. American can attain a medical cost excess of $200,000 over a lifetime, and severe obesity causes an annual medical spending of around $150 billion on a national scale. There are the direct costs of treating diseases related to severe obesity, as well as indirect costs caused by an increase of additional severe obesity related illness, loss of productivity, extra fuel and infrastructure costs. The lost economic productivity, due to severe obesity, is estimated to range from $390 billion to $520 billion annually, in 2030.
Even though severe obesity can cause serious health problems, such as type 2 diabetes, heart diseases, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, arthritis and varicose veins, many people with severe obesity are not changing their way of eating. Consequences might not be clear for some, and many don’t know what healthy eating really means and why it is important.
Sure, everyone knows a thing or two about calories, essential vitamins and minerals, but the number of deficiencies shows that the relation between essential nutrients, calories and health is not clear at all. Deficiencies in vitamins B12, A, E and K2, as well as in calcium, iodine, iron and magnesium are very common. For instance, 80% of U.S. Americans have a magnesium deficiency, about one in four adults are deficient in vitamin B12, and too many inflammatory omega-6 fats are consumed, causing a series of health problems.
A balanced diet, meaning a balanced calorie-intake and consuming the right amount of vitamins and minerals, is crucial for the prevention of health problems caused by nutrient deficiencies and excess weight. Understanding nutrients will help you become more conscious of your diet, making it easier to take control and lose weight. The following article and infographic should help you understand how essential nutrients affect your body, how and especially what you need to eat to achieve a balanced and nutrient-rich diet, and how to manage your weight.
Essential nutrients are named this way, as your body cannot synthesize them on its own to the amount needed, so you must provide them through your diet; the six classes are carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and water. Carbohydrates, proteins and fats are macronutrients, needed in bigger amounts, since they provide us with energy. This nutritional energy is measured in calories (kcal).
Severe Obesity solution #1 – Carbohydrates
Carbs are our main source of energy, primarily consisting of glucose (blood sugar), which fuels our brain. This energy is provided when saccharide/carb chains break down into glucose and two other simple sugars: fructose (fruit sugar) and galactose (sugar found in dairy products). These simple sugars are called monosaccharides. When two simple sugars are linked, they form disaccharides; three to ten linked sugars form a oligosaccharides; and more than ten linked sugars are called polysaccharides. Disaccharides are lactose (the “milk sugar” that many people are sensitive to), maltose (often found in beer) and sucrose (the sugar used in candy).
When people talk about sugar, they mostly mean sucrose, which is indeed dangerous, considering the amount of sucrose found in almost every food. The problem here is that sucrose, consisting only of two simple sugars, is broken down very fast, so it doesn’t satiate you for long and you need to eat a lot to feel full. So if you eat lots of sugar and don’t burn these calories, it will be stored in your body in the form of fat. Therefore, it is healthier to eat complex carbs, like vegetables, whole grains, oat, corn; these foods have long sugar chains, which are broken down slower, keeping you satiated for longer and storing energy. Complex carbs also contain several other nutrients, such as fiber, vitamins and minerals, which have additional health benefits. Dietary fiber enhances digestion and is important for the absorption of other nutrients. Water-soluble fiber controls blood sugar levels and can help lower blood cholesterol, while water-insoluble fiber has been linked to a reduced risk of diabetes.
Severe Obesity solution #2 Proteins
Proteins consist of amino acids which are attached to one another, forming at least one long chain. They are differentiated by the kind of amino acids in the chain, the amino acid sequence within the chain, as well as the protein structure, meaning the way the chains fold into a three-dimensional structure. Due to this complex structure, there are many variations possible, creating thousands of proteins.
There are over 20 amino acids, from which nine are essential and six are known as “conditionally essential”, as their synthesis is sometimes not possible under special conditions, like stress or illness. Essential amino acids are crucial, since the body needs them in order to synthesize non-essential amino acids and create different proteins. Since proteins are more complex than carbs, they take longer to digest and are, therefore, a longer-lasting source of energy. Besides serving as an energy source, proteins fulfill a variety of very important functions, determined by the protein folding, such as:
- serving structural functions;
- Molecules transportation;
- cell signaling, which leads basic activities and coordinates cellular actions;
- signal transduction;
- catalysis of metabolic reactions as an enzyme,
- DNA replication.
Since proteins are crucial for the functioning of every cell, they are essential for the health of all organs, being particularly important for the health of the skin, heart, hair, bones, body tissues and muscles. Proteins are abundant in meat, but if you prefer a meat-free diet, there are also many vegetables with a high protein content, like beans, lentils, nuts, mushrooms, peas, broccoli, spinach. Especially when losing weight is a goal, it is important to choose lean protein sources, like lentil, nuts or beans. Meat or dairy products contain lots of proteins, but also lots of fat, which when consumed in excess, will be stored in fat cells (adipocytes) throughout the body.
Severe Obesity Factor #3 – Fat
Fat is also a form of caloric energy, and every excess of fat will be stored in fat cells (adipocytes) all over the body. If more fat is stored than used, these adipocytes will expand and cause weight gain. Fat, which is a chemical compound of fatty acid chains, is essential, but only when consumed in small amounts. It is also important to differentiate between saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, which translate into unhealthy and healthy fatty acids, respectively.
There are two essential unsaturated fatty acids, which the body cannot synthesize on its own: alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3) and linoleic acid (omega-6). Omega-3 and omega-6 are a very important part of your diet, since they synthesize other fats in the human body. Omega-6 fatty acids are vital, especially when being physically active, since they promote growth and cell repair and stop cell damage. Omega-3 fatty acids are linked to lower blood pressure, and may have a beneficial effect on people with varicose veins, as they stimulate blood circulation. They have anti-inflammatory properties and increase the breakdown of fibrin, a protein necessary for blood clotting and scar formation.