(Health Watch-3), By Haruna M. Sabo
We now continue our discussion on the vital contribution to health, of proteins, carbohydrates, fats and oils, otherwise known as MACRONUTRIENTS, as well as vitamins, minerals, etc., generally known as MICRONUTRIENTS. In doing so, we shall begin by examining, in more detail, what micronutrients are and how they relate with their big brother, macronutrients, in a synergy that is invaluable in the prevention or cure of ill health.
The term VITAMINS is used more often by laymen, to describe any substance in the food group, which gives vitality to the body, but as you must have observed from our discussion, vitamins are only senior members of a closely-knit nutrient family.
A review or recall of the previous issue of this magazine will show that vitamins act as catalysts in providing vital elements in the body’s process of converting food into energy and in maintaining body tissues.
Unlike macronutrients, which are easy to describe and understand, apart from the fact that they can be seen with the naked eye, micro-nutrients are so structured that they are not visible to the naked eye, but their absence can negate the work or usefulness of macronutrients, sometimes triggering or causing irreversible metabolic problems in the body, although they are needed only in small amounts.
The micronutrient extended family has about 11 major vitamins, 19 minerals, 22-28 amino acids and about 700 enzymes, which are in nearly all cases, derived from the food we eat or manufactured in the body. VITAMINS: In this leading, but dependent group, we have vitamins A, B or B-Complex, C, D, E, F, H, Biotin, Choline, Inositol, Folic Acid, PABA, K and Co-enzyme Q10.
Vitamins are found in nearly all food items but are concentrated in fruit, vegetables, grains and cereals. Tubers and legumes like potatoes, carrots and soya-beans also have a high concentration of vitamins, more so when they are eaten raw.
Food items from which vitamins may be derived are also the sources of minerals but in varying degrees. Since they are very many, the best we can do for readers is to list all the known sources of every nutrient during the practical aspect of our discussion coming soon.
AMINO ACIDS. Proteins, in the macronutrient group, are chains of amino acids linked by what is called peptide bonds, each individual type of protein composed of a specific chemical arrangement suited for its given function. Thus, the sources of proteins are also the sources of amino acids.
ENZYMES assist in particularly all bodily functions. They are in two groups facilitating the functions of metabolism and digestion.
Digestive enzymes break down food particles for storage in the liver or muscles to be converted by other enzymes for use by the body whenever necessary.
Metabolic enzymes catalyze the various chemical reactions within the cells of the body such as energy production and detoxification. All the body’s organs, tissues and cells are run by the metabolic enzymes. Thus, they are the real workers.
Enzymes may be found in many different foods, both plant and animal. These will be provided when necessary.
The Nutrient Organization
To help readers understand and appreciate the importance of nutrients in the body, I would liken them to human beings in a business organization with varying degrees of responsibility. They are arranged in a hierarchical form with you, the reader, as chairman and chief executive. This has to be so because of the enormous powers vested in you for deciding the direction the business should go for its survival.
Unfortunately, this executive role has been abandoned, ignored or given little or no attention by most people, especially in a developing country like Nigeria. Indeed, it is responsible for the poor quality of life and health in the developing world.
Proteins, carbohydrates, fats and oils in the macronutrient group represent the directors of the business, who work with the chairman and chief executive. When you are driven by hunger to eat, the food you are attracted to is usually in the form of carbohydrates, fats, oils, fruit and vegetables or others in the nutrients group.
If you refuse to eat or are careless about what to eat, you subject your body to the risk of starvation or over-feeding. Macronutrients are, therefore, the visible aspect of the business being the prominent aspect of the business as perceived by the outside world.
Vitamins and minerals in the micronutrient group represent the management team seen more often than directors within the company. It is, to a great extent, their effects on the organs of the body that gives an account of their activities in the business.
The foremen in this business organization are the amino acids in the sense that proteins are made up of amino acids in an interesting relationship, which makes it difficult to know which actually comes first, proteins or amino acids. Of course, we know more of proteins than amino acids. Amino acids operate behind the scenes in spite of their importance.
Metabolic and digestive enzymes make up the bulk of the work force because of their involvement in virtually all bodily functions, their large number making this possible.
The Giant Factory
It is easy to see that the body operates very much like a giant factory manufacturing essential commodities for the survival of humanity on this planet earth. Every part of the factory, no matter how relatively insignificant has a role that cannot be ignored by the most important part of the body without jeopardizing the efficient performance of the body.
I have not gone into an exhaustive explanation of every nutritional substance mentioned here, since we are not engaged in an academic exercise. We appreciate that readers are interested only in what they can put into practice immediately, to maintain good health, which is in short supply in this country. This is what we intend to achieve in these health series.
However, if an occasion demands the explanation of all the known functions of a nutrient, I shall gladly explain such functions, based on the information at my disposal.
For example, vitamin A is known to perform more than twenty different functions in the human body and occurs in two forms, but is more generally known as the EYE VITAMIN because of its positive effects on the eye. Ignorance about its functions and the sources of its supply, leading to its neglect, has given rise to thousands, if not millions, of cases of early blindness or poor vision on the continent of Africa.
I can go on and on mentioning, many cases of still birth, abortion or deformed babies arising from poor nutritional status of pregnant women or soon after delivery. Then we have children, who are autistic, difficult to discipline or have poor learning ability – all due to poor feeding habits of their mothers, while they were still in the womb or of the babies after delivery.
It is now time for us to move on to the next determinant of health – physical and mental exercise. It is only after we have discussed all the three determinants that we can profitably go into the practical aspect of our work. Our next port of call will not take as much time as space as NUTRITION.
Culled from Our VISION magazine, Vol.5 No.3, 2004
(To be continued next Tuesday)