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Nutrition For The Whole Family

Eating well and correctly is crucial. Here's a guide on planning good nutrition for yourself and your family. Food is needed for survival as it provides us with the energy and materials for sustenance. But we don't eat merely to stay alive. Food is especially needed to fuel growth in children.

Also, many substances that the body requires in order to stay healthy and strong can only be obtained from food. When we have a proper diet, our bodies will be able to get all its nutritional needs for good health, from food, say nutritionists time and time again. Supplements only make sense when we are eating badly.

The Essential Nutrients

Broadly speaking, our body needs the following essential nutrients from the foods we eat:


The main energy source of the body, carbohydrates can be found in foods like bread, potatoes, rice, noodles, pasta and cereals.


Protein, which is made of amino acids, is the main structural component of tissues and organs. It is needed for growth and repair, as well as to make enzymes, hormones and antibodies. Good dietary sources of protein are meat, fish and dairy products such as cheese, eggs and milk. Plant-based protein sources include beans. legumes and tofu.


Despite the bad press they get, fats have important functions in the body. They are energy sources, and are required to form healthy cells and to build brains. Dietary fats can be classified into three types: saturated fats which tend to increase the amounts of unwanted types of cholesterol in the blood, polysaturated fats and monosaturated fats which have the opposite effect. Sources of fats include butter, margarine and cooking oil.


Vitamins are regulators of metabolism. They are needed in small amounts and have specific roles in ensuring that the body functions properly. Vitamins are divided into water-soluble ones which are not accumulated in the body but readily excreted, and fat-soluble ones. The B-complex vitamins and Vitamin C are water-soluble. Vitamin C, which is needed for good immunity and for bones, cartilage and muscle structures, can be found in citrus fruits, tomatoes and leafy vegetables.

Vitamin B which has a host of metabolic functions, can be obtained from liver, enriched cereals, wheat germ and whole grains. Vitamins A, D, E and K are the fat-soluble vitamins. They can be stored in the body, so an excessive intake is toxic. Vitamin A, needed for vision and cell development, is found in foods such as liver, eggs, dairy products and colored fruits (eg. mangoes) and vegetables (eg. carrots). Vitamin D, which promotes absorption of calcium for strong bones, is made by the skin upon exposure to sunlight.

However, it can also be obtained from cod liver oil, oily fish like sardine and salmon, as well as egg yolk. Good sources of vitamin E, an antioxidant, are leafy vegetables, nuts, egg yolk and wheat germ. Vitamin K, a vital substance in the blood-clotting mechanism, is found in foods like leafy green vegetables, liver, egg yolk and cheese.


A large number of minerals are present in our body. One prominent mineral is calcium, which is needed to form bones and teeth. Iron is another important mineral necessary for making oxygen carrying red blood cells. A group of minerals called trace elements, such as zinc, copper and selenium, are needed in minute quantities. They are vital to numerous chemical processes in the body, such as acting as catalytic agents. The tiny amounts needed means that a balanced diet would provide enough quantities in most people.

Important Non-Nutrients

Fibre and water are also needed from the diet. Strictly speaking, both are not nutrients but are critical for the healthy functioning of the body. Water makes up about 60 percent of the body. Its key functions include maintaining metabolism and determining the volume of blood in the circulation. Fibre, which is often called roughage, is the indigestible structural material found in plant sources like fruits and vegetables. It is needed for healthy bowels, and to prevent disorders like diverticular and heart diseases.

Eating Right: A Basic Plan

Use the Healthy Diet Pyramid as a starting point for your nutrition plan. The pyramid is designed to cover the dietary requirements, as well as the proportions which a normal healthy person needs. The base of the pyramid indicates food you should consume most carbohydrates. The next biggest group is fruits and vegetables which provide the fibre. and vitamins needed. 

This is followed by protein. At the top of the pyramid - foods that you should consume the least - are fats, sugar and salt. Include all the four major food groups in your diet, for no single group is able to provide what the body requires. Observe the serving sizes recommended so that you will consume the nutrients you need without too many calories. For very young kids between two and six years' old, scale the serving size down to about one-fourth of the size of the adult portion.

Make Sensible Choices

The pyramid provides a framework for your diet. Nutritionists further recommend that you include a wide variety of foods within each group, and choose your foods wisely. Always select high-quality foods that are rich in nutrients. For example, in the carbohydrate group, ditch white bread for multi-grain or whole-wheat bread which packs in lots of fibre and vitamin B.

When consuming fats, pick those from plant origin as they contain more essential fatty acids and unsaturated fats than animal sources. Some health professionals recommend using colours to guide your choices. "Think brown," says Dr William Sears, co-author of The Family Nutrition Book. For example, pick brown rice over white rice as the nutrients found in the outer brown layer of rice are not removed by processing.

Dr Sears also advises choosing deeply or brightly coloured foods over less coloured ones. Select red grapes over green, and dark leafy vegetables over paler ones. The colour-rich foods contain lots of phytonutrients which are helpful to the body, he explains.

Bump It Up

There are times when your body will have special needs, such as when you are pregnant or planning for a baby. Continue to use the mentioned healthy eating guidelines, but up your intake of the following:


The developing baby needs calcium to form bones and teeth, and develop healthily. Breastfeeding mothers should also increase their calcium intake. Calcium can be obtained from milk, cheese, yoghurt, dark green vegetables and canned fish with soft edible bones like sardines.

Folic Acid

Also referred to as folate, it is needed to prevent neural tubes defects in the growing foetus. Obstetricians commonly recommend increasing folic acid intake if you are planning a pregnancy and at least up to the twelfth week of pregnancy. It is found in dark green vegetables, fruits like orange and banana, beans, yeast or malt extracts and yoghurt.


A critical component of blood cells, the amount of iron a pregnant woman needs is twice what a nonexpectant mum needs. Foods rich in iron include green leafy vegetables such as spinach and curly kale, lean red meat and liver. Take adequate vitamin C along with iron-rich foods as it is needed for the absorption of iron into the body.


Increase your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables to help prevent constipation as the pregnancy hormones make the bowels more sluggish.

Meeting The Children's Needs

Childhood also has its particular needs. Calcium, for example, is a vital nutrient needed for strong bones and teeth in growing children. Kids who drink enough milk should be getting enough calcium. Otherwise, serve alternatives like cheese which is often popular with kids, or beverages such as soy bean milk

Kids have high iron requirements, too. Iron deficiency is common in older infants and children. Newborns are actually born with iron stores for growth. However, they may have depleted their reserves by six to nine months. Serve baby an iron-fortified baby cereal or formula. For older kids who eat little or no meat and green vegetables, try high-iron foods like fortified cereals and eggs.

Another important mineral for children is zinc. A deficiency in zinc results in growth failure and poor appetite. The best sources of zinc are meat and seafood. With children, it may take a little more effort to look for alternative foods that they are more accepting of. However, as with adults, a little planning and consciously making healthier choices will ensure that the family is getting the best out of your food.


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