Food can be divided into four general categories as follows:
1. Carbohydrates and fats provide our body with its energy requirements. The greatest amount of energy consumed goes into maintaining the correct body temperature. In fact, about seventy five percent of the energy in the body is required for this purpose, depending on the climate. The remaining energy is utilized by the muscles throughout the body, whether for the internal organs such as the heart, lungs, etc., or for the outer limbs such as the arms or legs. Fats also form protective layers which shield the delicate body organs from injury and allow storage of energy for future use. However, over-consumption of these foods leads to overweight. Butter and oils are almost pure fat, while refined sugar is practically one hundred percent carbohydrate. This latter category also includes food such as potatoes, rice and bread, which are predominantly carbohydrate, containing very little fat.
2. Proteins are the remarkable materials from which new cell tissues are built. Proteins are needed to repair worn-out tissues, as well as being essential to growth and muscular development. They are also necessary for the production of special substances that build up the body's immunity. There are large numbers of different proteins, all of which perform a definite role. Proteins are needed by everyone, but are required in greater quantities during childhood, adolescence, pregnancy and lactation, or any time the body is constantly expending a lot of energy.
Proteins are an essential part of our diet and are abundantly present in such foods as milk, cheese, meat, fish, eggs, grains, beans, lentils, nuts, etc.
3. Mineral salts are yet another category of the essential elements required by the body. They are present in minute quantities but are nevertheless vital in the maintenance of correct body functioning. The kinds of mineral salts present in the body are numerous and varied, with each carrying out diversified functions. Some, such as phosphorus and calcium, are necessary for the building of strong teeth and bones. Phosphorus is also essential in the functioning of the brain cells. These two minerals are found in green vegetables, cheese, soya beans, potatoes and fish.
Iron, which is needed in greater quantities by women than men, is important in the production of haemoglobin, a protein in the blood cells. Without iron the blood is unable to transport oxygen throughout the body and so unable to perform its duties. The best sources of iron are meat, eggs, raisins, spinach, whole grain cereals, liver, apricots and potatoes.
In the body there are only a few grains of iodine, yet it is one of the most important minerals. The majority of iodine absorbed by the body is utilized by the thyroid glands in the production of thyroxine, which is essential in regulating the body metabolism. It also directly controls the growth rate of the body and as such is especially needed during pregnancy, childhood and adolescence. Iodine is found in iodized salt, seafood and vegetables.
Salt in the form of sodium chloride is also essential for the maintenance of the normal acid-base balance in the body. Without it we could not live. Remember, however, that too much salt tends to raise the blood pressure and causes swelling in the legs. So a moderate amount of salt is recommended, although during warm weather the intake should be raised.
4. Vitamins are the fourth and last category in our list, but far from the least important. At the same time, a great deal of uncertainty of the function of vitamins is held by scientists and laymen alike. The specific way in which vitamins work is not positively known but it is widely believed that they act as a catalyst for numerous chemical reactions within the body. We will briefly discuss the role of the different vitamins.
Vitamin A is needed by all important organs of the body. It is essential for the health of the respiratory, digestive and urinary tracts. It keeps the mucous membranes of the nose, throat and windpipe strong and healthy, helping to prevent colds and other infections of this region.
Vitamin A is also concerned with the growth and development of the body and aids in reproduction and lactation. It keeps the skin smooth and clear and is essential for keenness of vision. When this vitamin is absent all tissues suffer. The skin becomes thick and rough, the eyes become dull and lustreless, and infections commonly occur over the entire body. The best sources of vitamin A are cream, butter, whole milk, egg yolk and carrots, together with numerous other fruits and vegetables.
Vitamin B complex consists of more than a dozen different vitamins. Some are required for the transference of energy in the cells, while others are used in the formation of red blood cells. One of the most important is thiamine (vitamin B1), which is concerned with the nerves and muscles. Neither can work properly if there is a deficiency of thiamine. Without sufficient quantities of thiamine the body would be in a perpetual state of aches and pains. It is most prevalent in liver, brewer's yeast, peanuts, whole grain cereals, meat and eggs.
Riboflavin is another important member of the vitamin B complex. It is necessary for the maintenance of healthy skin and eyes, but possibly its most important function is in the production ofenzymes that help to digest food. Niacin, another member of this group, is also important to the digestive system. These elements of vitamin B complex are found in liver, eggs, milk, cheese and whole grain cereals.
Vitamin C is the great healing vitamin of the body. It is essential for building bones, maintenance of the walls of the smaller blood vessels, strengthening the teeth and gums, and in aiding the absorption of iron from the digestive tract. Vitamin C is also required by the body in large quantities during disease. It is found abundantly in fresh fruits, leafy vegetables, potatoes and tomatoes.
Vitamin D is necessary for the development of strong healthy bones. Its chief function is to maintain the correct balance between calcium and phosphorus in the body. Its deficiency causes a disease called rickets, during which the bones become soft and pliable. It can be obtained from milk and eggs, but is unique in that the body produces its own supply by the interaction of the sun and the natural skin oils. The body therefore produces much of its own vitamin D and does not depend on food to supply its requirements.
Vitamin E is still a mystery to modern scientists, but it is believed to influence the reproductive functions and muscular activities of the body. It is contained in whole grain cereals, green vegetables, coconut oil and other vegetable oils.
Vitamin K is necessary for the process of blood clotting and is found in green vegetables, soya beans, tomatoes and eggs.
There are over twenty known vitamins and the ones we have mentioned are the most important. You will notice that these vitamins are present in a great variety of foods; therefore it is not necessary to worry about your vitamin intake. If you eat a sensible mixed diet it is a certainty that you will never be deficient in vitamins. The same is true for all essential requirements in the body, for a healthy body has the ability to transform one type of foodstuff into another as required. Many yogic practices, especially surya namas-kara and pranayama, increase the efficiency of this transformation process. A person who is able to gain control of his system can live on a simple diet and transform it internally to other substances as his body requires.
Remember fats and carbohydrates give energy; proteins are mainly for growth and maintenance; minerals and vitamins are for protection, control and regulation of biological processes.
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