This chapter introduces the importance of nutrition and gives a basic overview of how our body and metabolism works to produce energy for the entire biochemical system to function – all 35 billion or so of living cells that are coordinated to form a human being. Once you have read it, you will understand that millions of interrelated chemical reactions take place to ensure each cell absorbs its precise nutritional requirements. That our cells are miniature factories organizing, repairing, communicating and manufacturing for the single purpose of nurturing and maintaining a healthy body. you will appreciate that everything about our bodies and metabolism works synergistically and in balance. For example, among trace elements copper helps absorption and utilization of the macro-mineral iron. In similar vein, manganese needs iron and iodine needs selenium. All nutrients benefit from the presence of zinc for optimum utilization, albeit in minute quantities. Among the macro-minerals, sodium needs the presence of potassium and chlorine, and manganese needs that of calcium and phosphorous. Among vitamins, vitamin A is better absorbed when consumed with dietary fats, folic acid (B6) needs the presence of B1, B2 and B3, biotin needs B5, choline needs B3 and B6 and vitamin E needs other nutrients to be synthesized optimally. Thus the complex interdependency in nutrition is endless.
Underlining the need for nutritional balance, excess – as well as deficiency – of certain nutrients triggers a raft of health problems ranging in severity. Excess can equal toxicity. Some resulting problems of deficiency or excess are sufficiently severe to lead to a greatly reduced lifespan; yet in the developed world such deficiencies and excesses are completely avoidable. It is a question of education not means.
A lot of us know something about the importance of vitamins and certain minerals like calcium for bones and teeth, but we are generally less familiar with the importance of enzymes and the critical role they play in ensuring the nutritious food we eat gets converted and distributed where required, and that waste is efficiently eliminates. There are 3,000 plus enzymes falling into nine different categories, each responsible for converting / breaking down different kinds of nutrients. Lactase is needed to break down lactose in milk, protease to break down protein, amylase to break down carbohydrates, lipase to break down lipid fats and so forth. Our bodies can produce most of these but some must be introduced via diet and these are called “essential amino acids”. However, you will learn that junk-food or most cooked or processed food is largely enzyme-dead and therefore habitual consumption of these will lead to a lack of nutrients reaching where they are needed. Moreover, modern food production techniques are enzyme inhibiting because they contaminate food with pesticides, colourings, preservatives, etc. Other enzyme inhibitors include medications, chemotherapy, smoking, industrial and environmental pollutants, illness and aging to name a few. Such suboptimal enzyme efficiency leads to free radical formation, the precursor to aging and possibly cancer. Unless balanced out with the kind of wholesome enzyme-rich fresh food that our ancestors mostly enjoyed, the typical modern Western diet inevitably leads us to preventable diseases and robs us of 10 to 30 years of healthy active life.
The chapter also explains how our metabolism is both anabolic and catabolic. Anabolic activity builds up from the cellular level, catabolic activity breaks down food to the cellular level and beyond. 90% of our metabolism is concerned with catabolism. To achieve either activity requires energy. Energy is derived from four food sources: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and, to a lesser extent, alcohol. half our daily energy is spent on our “basal metabolism”, that is the energy to keep the cells functioning, blood transporting, the brain working, enzymes and hormones active and so forth. Spare energy is used in the synthesis of triglyceride fat molecules and stored as “adipose” tissue. Too much adipose tissue leads to obesity.