Here we will provide you with some important information about the varied nutrients found in food, and the health benefits that scientific research has connected to these macro and micronutrients. Do keep in mind though, that while it is a good idea to be more conscious of what is in your food and to eat foods known to be high in certain nutrients that will provide specific benefits, reducing each food to its constituent parts is not the solution to eating healthfully, or to supplementing an unhealthy diet.
Each whole food is a complex system with many interconnected parts, and though “reductionist” science and the revolution of nutritionism has provided a lot of valuable information, it does not provide a true understanding of the whole system of each food, and the interplay between different foods when consumed and digested at a meal. Eating a diverse and balanced diet of whole and fresh foods is our recommendation here at Defeat Diabetes Foundation. We believe that focusing on healthful individual whole foods and entire dietary patterns, as opposed to isolated nutrients, is more effective in promoting overall integrated health. It is our belief that with this healthful and mindful approach to eating, the body will get all the nutritional components it needs, and also help in the prevention and management of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.
Macronutrients: The Building Blocks of A Balanced Diet
Macronutrients are substances that are required in large amounts in a balanced diet in order for the body to function properly. There are three principle macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Dietary fiber can also be considered an essential macronutrient, though technically it is a type of carbohydrate. Fiber cannot be broken down into glucose, however, and therefore does not contribute calories.
Is There an Optimal Diet for Preventing and Managing Diabetes?
There’s quite a bit of debate, literature and marketing over which “diet” is the best, or which macronutrient to eliminate, limit or consume most of. These diets can target the health of the general populace, those at high risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and those already suffering from diabetes, as just a few examples.
For many years “low-fat” diets were all the rage, then it was “low-carbohydrate,” high fiber, and protein-based diets. These dietary fads are particularly pronounced in the nutrition-obsessed United States, which remains one of the countries with the highest incidence of obesity and obesity-related diseases, such as type 2 diabetes.
Dietary recommendations can often be vague and convoluted when broken down into their constituent macronutrient and micronutrient parts. The fact of the matter is that all of these macronutrients are important, and the focus should not be principally on cutting out one or the other, but making sure to consume them from healthful sources of food as part of a balanced diet.
Some examples of macronutrient function in certain whole foods:
- Eating whole grains supplies abundant quantities of carbohydrates (as well as adequate quantities of protein and fat), which provides energy to the mind and body, but they are absorbed in a healthy and gradual way because of their high dietary fiber content.
- Lean animal protein coming from unprocessed meat and seafood can provide the body with essential amino acids for tissue building in the muscles, organs, bones and blood, but should be eaten in moderation due to their saturated fat content (for red meats mostly), and potential environmental impact.
- Healthful unsaturated fats derived from plants, especially nuts and seeds and vegetable oils, as well as certain animal foods, like fish which contain omega 3 fatty acids, have been shown to be of great benefit to heart health and diabetes prevention and management.
Above are just a few of the countless examples of how macronutrients work together to provide the human body with the energy, strength and protection that it needs to function optimally. Each of these whole foods, especially those that come from plants, are also packed full of valuable micronutrients and phytonutrients that further ensure the overall health of the body and mind.
Diverse and balanced diets based on whole foods that are grown in ecologically sustainable (and locally whenever possible) ways will provide the body with the essential macronutrients that it needs. For overall health, focus on the food source, not on the fad diet, or limiting any particular macronutrient.
Micronutrients are essential chemical substances that are required in trace amounts for human development and function. They are consumed and metabolized best from natural sources (as opposed to supplements), such as whole fresh foods and sunlight (vitamin D).
Vitamins and minerals are the substances most traditionally defined as micronutrients. Vitamins are usually categorized as being fat-soluble or water-soluble. Vitamins A, D, E and K are examples of fat-soluble vitamins, while several types of B vitamins and vitamin C are classified as water soluble. Vitamins serve a wide range of functions, including: helping to derive energy from foods (such as B1, also known as thiamin), boosting immune health, preventing metabolic and cardiovascular problems like diabetes and heart disease, strengthening bones (vitamin D), and much much more. Sometimes water is also considered a micronutrient, though it is the most essential of all things that we and most other animals consume, so water really deserves to stand in a category of its own, along with the oxygen that we breathe.
Calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphate, phosphorus, sodium and zinc, are examples of minerals considered important to human development, function and protection against various diseases. Manganese, magnesium and zinc, for example, have been shown to be important in the prevention and management of diabetes. There are thousands of minerals, however, and much research is left to be done to better understand the impacts that their consumption have on the human body and mind.
Phytonutrients - Plant-based Micronutrients
Plant-foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices, and beans and legumes, contain valuable micronutrients known as “phytonutrients,” or phytochemicals, in addition to high levels of essential vitamins, minerals and macronutrients.
Consuming a diverse and balanced diet of whole, fresh, and locally grown foods, is the recipe for consuming all of the essential micronutrients and phytonutrients that the body needs. Whole plant-foods provide the highest concentration and greatest diversity of micronutrients, and diets that rely heavily on their consumption have been shown to promote overall well-being, and limit the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Learn More About Macronutrients, Micronutrients and Phytonutrients Beneficial to Diabetes Prevention and Management
Resources and Further Reading
A categorized resource from the USDA about macronutrients, including latest research and recommendations: https://www.nutrition.gov/subject/whats-in-food/carbohydrates-proteins-fats-fiber
A detailed review of macronutrients and their role in diabetes management, with little conclusiveness as to what levels of specific macronutrients are most beneficial to diabetics: http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/35/2/434
For a basic overview of important micronutrients: https://mynutrition.wsu.edu/nutrition-basics/
Another helpful chart describing vitamins and minerals, and the natural sources they come from: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/sites/lpi.oregonstate.edu/files/pdf/mic/micronutrients_for_health.pdf
A study about the benefits of a plant-based diet in the prevention of type 2 diabetes: http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1002039
A study showing the benefits of magnesium consumed from whole grains and how it increases insulin sensitivity and helps prevent and control type 2 diabetes: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4549665/
SMALL STEP, BIG IMPACT
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