Nutrition Basics: Nutrition and Nutrients

This is the first of a series, exploring topics I’m studying for my course in Nutritional Therapy. Today begins Nutrition Basics.


What is [the science of] nutrition?

“Nutrition is the study of the interaction between living organisms and their food; specifically, the biological processes used by the body to break down, absorb, and utilize the nutrients in food.”

What are nutrients?

Nutrients themselves are “the chemical substances contained in food that are necessary to sustain life”. They “provide energy” (measured by calories), they “contribute to the body’s structure” and physical form, and they “regulate and assist in the body’s processes (as enzymes and hormones”, among many others).

Arguably, providing energy is the least important and least interesting of the actions of nutrients, although we tend to focus on that aspect the most.

Nutrition, as a science, developed around the time when we could measure the caloric content of food, and so that metric was seen as representative of the nutritive value of the foods. Even now, despite the advances we’ve seen in nutrition science, we still try to summarize the nutritive value of food by the number of calories it contains. Or, sometimes, by the macro-nutrient ratio.

We have a bias towards a ‘quantity’ focus in our culture. More is better. Except when less is more.

However, the fact that our nutrients are the basis for the body’s structure, and that they participate in the body’s processes, should suggest that the quality of our food is critical to our health and well-being also.

More important, really.

There is some evidence that eating poor food—that is, eating sufficient quantity but insufficient quality—can contribute to hunger and weight gain through the body’s attempts to obtain more of the apparently-scarce nutrients it needs.

We are over-fed, and yet under-nourished.

Eating nutrient-dense foods, then, prepared in a way to further enhance the nutrient content, is key to getting ‘enough’ to eat, on all levels of the body.