We know that we must eat, not only for enjoyment, but to obtain the essential nutrients which our bodies need.  However, understanding the basic categories of food nutrients is necessary to be able to balance the diet for optimal health.

Many people would defer to the U.S Department of Agriculture as a source for information about basic foods and dietary needs.  The food pyramid was first published by the USDA in the 1960s, and then updated in 2005, promoting basic food groups to be included in the American diet.  The groups included were vegetables, grains, oils and sweets, meat and beans, and dairy products.  There was much controversy among health advocates that the food pyramid did not reflect the latest scientific research about dietetics.  In 2011, the USDA replaced the food pyramid altogether and published the “My Plate” diagram, indicating that the food groups now recommended are fruits, grains, proteins, vegetables, and dairy products.  This is misleading, because it implies that fats are not necessary, and that dairy products are an essential component of a healthy diet.  Both of these assumptions are incorrect, and are not supported by current scientific research.

In order to understand what our bodies need, we must know that the body utilizes three basic categories of nutrient molecules, regardless of their food group sources.  These categories are the building blocks of all the body’s processes.  They are fats, proteins, and sugars, all of which can be obtained from whole, unprocessed foods.  Fats and proteins are derived from both plant and animal sources.   The fats are further divided into unsaturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats.  Sugars are derived from plant sources, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains.  The sugars are further divided into eight essential monosaccharides.

The eight essential sugars which your body needs are glucose, galactose, mannose, fucose, N-acetyl glucosamine, N-acetyl neuranamic acid, N-acetyl galactosamine, and xylose.  These essential monosaccharides are all found in various plant sources.  Each monosaccharide is essential for different reasons, and must be included in the diet for optimal body functioning.  They are used by your body to build glycoproteins and glycolipids.  These saccharide structures optimize individual cell to cell communication and thus, healthy organ function.   In upcoming articles, we will discuss these essential sugars in detail and how to include them in the diet.  But for now, let’s begin to improve our health by including a healthy bowl of salad every day!

–by Sarah Benson, BSN




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