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Know Your Nutrition: The Basics from THI

understanding nutrition

Overloaded with information about healthy living and diets?
THI Explains: Nutrition Terminology

Lets start at the beginning: What is the definition of the word Nutrition? What does it mean?

From the Cambridge online Dictionary:
The substances that you take into your body as food, and the way that they influence your health.

From Wikipedia:
Nutrition is the science that interprets the interaction of nutrients and other substances in food in relation to maintenance, growth, reproduction, health and disease of an organism.
It includes food intake, absorption, assimilation, biosynthesis, catabolism and excretion.

The Basics

Nutrition is definitely important, especially in a time of fast food, high-sugar, high-fat diets. Nutrition is about knowing how to eat healthily and having a balanced diet. The Food and drink we consume provide us with the nutrients and energy needed to be healthy, but depending on the quantity and ratios of certain nutrients within our food and drink, they can also make us really unhealthy. 

Learning to understand about nutrition can help you make better food choices, so here at The Healthy Insider I thought a quick run down of the most popular nutrition terms would be useful to know.

So here goes …

Amino Acids

Amino Acids are the building blocks of Protein, which plays a really important role in practically all the biological processes that go on within your body. Did you know that roughly 20% of your body is made up of protein! Your tissue, muscles and cells are all made of Amino Acids.

They are also involved in transporting and storing various other nutrients around your body. When you get injured, Amino Acids also play a big part in healing and repairing damaged tissue. There are 3 main categories of protein of which Essential Amino Acids cannot be made by your body, and are sourced from foods you eat containing protein.

Blood Glucose

Blood Glucose refers to the amount of Glucose (sugar) in your blood. The Glucose in your blood comes from whatever you eat and drink, in addition to any previously stored glucose which builds up in your liver and muscles. Eating a healthy diet, providing you with good nutrition will in turn help manage your blood glucose levels.

This can be achieved through lifestyle (i.e. exercise) and/or medication. Poor lifestyle and nutrition choices can lead to raised blood glucose levels and eventual damage to your blood vessels.


All the energy your food and drink provides you with is measured in Calories. When you consume more calories than your use, any excess is stored as fat in our liver and muscles. Over a period of time, this can lead to weight gain.

We all need calories to survive, but Men and women require different amounts to help maintain a healthy body weight and the amounts vary depending on certain factors like physical activity, size and age.


Carbohydrates are really important nutrients, and are basically just molecules of sugar. Once digested, your body breaks down carbohydrates (from your food and drink) into glucose (sugar) which your body can then use as energy for your cells, tissues and organs.

There are just three types of carbohydrate: Monosaccharide, Disaccharide and Polysaccharide of which the only difference is the number of sugar molecules each contains, such as: 
Mono = 1 (Simple Carb), Di = 2 (Simple Carb) and Poly = Many (Complex Carb).

Sources of Monosaccharides include things like Milk and Fruit
Sources of Disaccharides include things like Beer and Table Sugar
Sources of Polysaccharides include things like Potatoes and Pasta



Cholesterol is a waxy type of substance which occurs naturally in your blood. Cholesterol is produced mainly by your liver, but is also found in dairy foods such as cheese, butter, eggs and also red meat.

Did you know that cholesterol is essential to your body for maintaining your health, but becomes a real problem when your blood cholesterol levels get too high, contributing to health issues such as coronary heart disease.

Like carbohydrates, there are different types of cholesterol: LDL (low density lipoprotein) also known as Bad Cholesterol and HDL (high density lipoprotein) also known as Good Cholesterol. A healthy lifestyle and diet will help you maintain reduced Bad LDL levels, and raised Good HDL levels.


Being Dehydrated means your body does not contain as much water (fluid) as it requires to function fully.  You can lose water (fluid) through frequent urinating, sweating, diarrhoea, or vomiting.
Can you tell when you are dehydrated? even a little bit? 

Did you know? As adults, each day even without profuse sweating we lose approximately 4% of our body weight in water, and around 15% for younger children! If you don’t treat it (i.e. drink water) it can become worse and eventually a serious problem.

Some symptoms you may find include: dark yellow and strong smelling pee | feeling tired | feeling thirsty | dry mouth and lips | feeling dizzy.


Your Diet is essentially what you eat and drink which, depending on you can be bad, average or good. A good diet is important for our health and well-being, but do you know what a Good Diet is?
There is no single food (apart from supplements) that contains all the nutrients the body requires to stay healthy.

So, our diets need to contain a wide variety of foods providing all the essential nutrition.

As you and I know, there are a huge amount of what we call Fad Diets available to follow, some of which have some scientific backing such as the Mediterranean diet based on eating plant foods and healthy fats.

The majority of fad diets tend to fail because they are too rigid or complicated to follow over a long enough period to have any effect.

Dietary Fibre

Dietary Fibre is a plant-based carbohydrate, but unlike other types of carbohydrate it is not digested in the small intestine. Fibre is really important for keeping your digestive system healthy.
A healthy balanced diet rich in fibre can help with weight maintenance, and help reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Some foods rich in fibre include: Fruits, Vegetables, Nuts and Seeds.

Dietary Supplements

Dietary Supplements are products you can buy to supplement your current diet, and to improve your health or wellness. The majority of people who use supplements take at least one, if not more dietary supplements either daily or every now and again when they feel it might be needed.

Supplements available today include vitamins, minerals, herbs and many other products. Dietary supplements are available in a variety of forms such as: tablets, capsules, and powders, in addition to drinks and energy bars. 

Do you regularly take dietary supplements? if so, let us know which ones and why in the comments at the end.


Your body needs the nutrients from the food and drink you consume in order to work properly and stay healthy. Nutrients which get digested include proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals.

Your digestive system then breaks these nutrients into much smaller parts in order for your body to absorb them and use them from growth and energy.

Carbohydrates get broken down into Sugars (Glucose), Proteins break down into Amino Acids, and Fats break down into Fatty Acids and Glycerol.


When salts, take your average table salt for example are dissolved in water, the salt breaks apart creating a solution that can conduct electricity. Table salt (Sodium Chloride) splits into Sodium and Chloride ions. When a fluid can conduct electricity, it is known as an electrolyte.

There are several types of electrolytes found in your body, where each serves a specific and important role.

Most electrolytes are partly responsible for maintaining the balance of fluids between the inside and outside of cells, which in turn is very important for muscle function, hydration and nerve impulses. Imbalances of electrolytes in your body can have a negative effect on your health.

A few examples of Electrolytes include: Sodium, Calcium & Potassium.


Enzymes are actually proteins which increase the rate at which chemical reactions take place within your living cells, without being changed by the reactions themselves. They basically help speed up the reactions of other substances.

A reaction is a type of process where one or more substances get converted into other substances. Like carbohydrates, enzymes are also long composed of long chains of amino acids.

Fatty Acids

Like other nutrient molecules, fatty acids are long chains of bonded Carbon and Hydrogen atoms (also known as Hydrocarbons). Fatty acids occur naturally in our food (of which three about 40 types) and are very important in our overall nutrition and health.

They are mainly classified into three groups: Saturated, Unsaturated and Polyunsaturated.

Nearly all the foods you eat contain some type of fatty acid, but the amount varies from one type of food to another. By changing your diet you can change the amounts of fatty acids consumed. Some fatty acids are also know as Essential Fatty Acids, most of which must be provided from the food you eat.


Wheat contains many proteins of which the general name given to them is Gluten. The three main sources of gluten are Wheat, Barley and Rye with other not so well known sources such as Pasta, Cakes and Beer! Gluten actually helps foods maintain their shape by acting as a type of glue.

When you mix flour and water for example, gluten is what makes the dough sticky, elastic and glue-like, which is where gluten got it’s name.

For some people, eating foods rich in gluten can cause serious side effects because the body can treat gluten as a foreign invader. Some of these health conditions include Celiac Disease and Wheat Allergies. 

Glycemic Index

The Glycemic Index is a rating system for foods which contain carbohydrates. It measures how quickly each type of food has an effect on your blood sugar (glucose) when eaten on it’s own.
Foods which have a high GI (Glycemic Index) are broken down quickly by your body, and cause a very quick increase in your blood sugar levels.

Some High GI foods include: Sugary Foods, White Bread and White Rice.

Low or Medium GI foods cause a gradual increase in blood sugar over a period of time, some examples are: Fruit, Vegetables and Wholegrain Foods. We’ll cover the Glycemic Index in more detail soon, but according to the latest research a healthy diet should not be based solely on eating Low GI foods.


Your body converts what you eat and drink into energy, this process is known as Metabolism. The calories from your food and drink are then combined with oxygen to produce the energy your body needs all day, every day – even when you are resting for things like breathing, blood circulation, growth and repair.

The number of calories required to carry out all these functions is known as your Basal Metabolic Rate, or your metabolism.

Metabolism is linked to weight, but not normally the cause of additional weight gain. Genetics do play a part, but generally weight gain is down to the food and drink you consume in addition to your activity level.


Although most minerals are located in the earth, some minerals are found in the foods you eat such as milk and other dairy products, red meat, fish and vegetables. Similar to vitamins, minerals also help your body with growth, development and staying healthy.

Some of the most important minerals are Calcium, Iron and Potassium. Our bodies requires different amounts of each mineral  depending on our age, sex and health condition.

Monounsaturated Fat

Monounsaturated fat is mainly found in foods like nuts and plant oils and probably makes up the majority of your fat intake (well, hopefully anyway).

Eating a diet which contains a larger amount of monounsaturated fat can help lower the bad (LDL) cholesterol levels in your body, which may then help reduce the risks of any heart disease.

Polyunsaturated Fat

After Monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat found in foods like nuts and seeds should make of the next largest amount of fat in your diet, and again these are good fats. Polyunsaturated fats are known as Essential Fatty Acids, such as Omega-3. Your body needs these, and are essential for life.


Proteins, which are just long chains of Amino Acids are available from a wide range of foods we eat such as Fish, Chicken and Eggs. Protein is broken down in the body into smaller chains and individual Amino Acids which are used for functions such as growth and repair. 

Aside from these functions, did you know proteins help with many other functions including aiding digestion, creating hormones and building muscle.

One thing we all know is that to grow your muscles, you need protein. How much is debatable and a cause of many discussions.

Saturated Fat

Bad Fats, Unhealthy Fats = Saturated Fats. Not as bad a Trans Fats, but still bad for most people when consumed in large quantities. Although most people think saturated fats are bad, there are a few types, and not all of them have negative effects on our bodies.

In general, it is still best advised to keep saturated fat intake to a minimum to avoid increasing any risks associated with heart disease. The main sources of saturated fats are from animal products.


Hidden Salt

Salt is also known as Sodium Chloride. Most food labels will only detail how much Sodium is contained in a particular product. An average adult should be consuming no more than 2.4g of sodium per day, but many consume well in excess of this.

Too much salt in your diet can lead to an increase in your Blood Pressure, which again can increase the risks associated with heart disease.

To really cut down on the amount of salt in your diet, you also need to be aware of how much hidden salt you are consuming in general foods like breads and breakfast cereals!

Check your food packaging carefully. Some foods contain a lot of salt because of the manufacturing process, other foods add a large quantity of salt to our diets because we eat them in large quantities.

High Salt intake affects your kidneys by making your body hold onto more water, which eventually raises your blood pressure, putting a strain on your heart, brain and other important organs.


Eating too much sugar (sourced from sugarcane and the roots of sugar beet) can make you gain weight because of the number of calories.

Most people eat too much of what we call Free Sugars, which is any sugar added to food and drink, such as in biscuits, breakfast cereals, fizzy drinks honey and some smoothies.

Sugar found in milk, fruit and vegetables are not free sugars, but still count towards the total amount of sugar on food packaging. Try to get most of your dietary calories from other types of food such as wholegrain, fruits and vegetables and foods high in free sugars.

Trans Fat

Fat is a chain of three fatty acids and depending on the structure, can change how it affects the body. Trans fats are solid at room temperature, and have a negative affect on the body by causing higher levels of the bad (LDL) cholesterol. Manufacturers make them in a process known as hydrogenation.

Some trans fats occur naturally in certain foods, but the ones given bad press are the ones we manufacture for food additives.

The reason they are manufactured is because they are cheap and they help food last longer on the shelves. Trans fats also take longer to break down, which makes it hard for your body to use as a source of energy, so the fat just remains in your bodies fat stores, building up. 

Types of food which are made using oils containing trans fat include things like biscuits, cakes and crisps, but the industry is changing fast due to consumer health awareness.


Triglycerides are a type of fat essential for health found in the blood, and are the most common fat found in our bodies. Larger quantities can be harmful and may increase your risk of heart disease. As you know, we get calories from the food and drink we consume.

Excess calories are stored in our bodies as triglycerides, which can be used as a source of energy later on.

Most of the fats we eat from our diets are also triglycerides, and eating both Good and Bad fats can increase the amount of triglycerides in our blood, but consuming more trans fats from foods like margarine, saturated fats from animal products and some full-fat dairy products cause higher increases than when measured against eating unsaturated fats from foods like nuts and plant oils.


Vitamins are compounds from food sources such as milk, liver, vegetables and fruit which our bodies require in very small amounts for optimal health: For functions such as growth and development.

Vitamins are needed in our diets because our bodies cannot create them fast enough to meet our daily requirements.

There are 13 essential vitamins such as Vitamin A, C  and D and a deficiency in any one of these can create severe health problems. Vitamins are grouped as either fat soluble or water soluble as far as how they function in the body.

Nutrition Round-up

Understanding the basics of Nutrition can really help you adapt your dietary choices to support a healthier lifestyle.

Next time you check the nutrition labels on the food you choose to buy you’ll hopefully have a better understanding of what everything means, and what quantities may constitute a healthy or unhealthy food choice.

We’ll dig deeper into Food Nutrition Labeling in another article soon, so make sure you sign up to The Healthy Insiders newsletter to keep informed of our latest updates.


Did you find this article useful?

What aspects of Nutrition would you like to know about in greater detail?

Let us know in the comments below, or if you have any questions – feel free to ask, thanks ?


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David Gordon

Lifestyle and Holistic Fitness Coach

Hi! and welcome to DHG Fitness, where I help you improve your Lifestyle by showing you How To Eat Well, Exercise (the right exercise!), Burn Calories (Fat) and Reduce Your Stress.
You can read more about me here

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David Gordon

Lifestyle and Holistic Fitness Coach

Hi! and welcome to DHG Fitness, where I help you improve your Lifestyle by showing you How To Eat Well, Exercise (the right exercise!), Burn Calories (Fat) and Reduce Your Stress.
You can read more about me here

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