Food is the sustaining element of life. Food is broken by the body to produce energy which helps the body sustain itself, work to find more food and reproduce. Only plants synthesize their own food, the rest of the animal kingdom is dependent on plants and animal sources of food to derive energy. Food provides elements called nutrients to the body, which enables the body to nourish maintain and repair itself. These are what we refer to as food components. There are around 40 nutrients. The most important nutrient groups are carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, roughage, and water. A diet that does not have any of these or has them less than the optimum quantity of these nutrients is likely to cause problems in the normal functioning of the body also known as deficiency diseases. Let us look at the various food components that are important for maintaining good health.
These food components are the main sources of energy for the human body. Composed of various combinations of carbon hydrogen and oxygen, carbohydrates are of generally three types:
- Sugars – Sweet tasting carbohydrates are known as sugars. Examples- Glucose, sucrose etc.
- Starch – Starch has a complex structure and is colourless or white as well as tasteless. Rice, potato, wheat etc contain starch.
- Cellulose – This makes up the cell wall of plant cells. Undigestible for humans, cellulose is complex carbohydrate.
While Carbohydrates are fuel, proteins are the building blocks of the body. They help in the growth of the body and tissue repair as well. The building block of protein is the amino acid. Growing bodies, for example, those of children, pregnant women as well as those undergoing lots of wear and tear for example athletes require more protein. Protein is obtained from milk eggs, chicken, fish, mushroom etc.
Fats are stored forms of energy. During energy requirement, fats are broken to meet energy needs. They also serve other functions like helping in nerve impulse conduction or absorption of vitamins. Fats too are composed of carbon hydrogen and oxygen. Fat is an important insulator of heat for the body. The daily requirement of fats in our body is around 35 grams.
Vitamins are necessary for the normal functioning of the bodily organs. They are complex compounds as well. Vitamins A,C,D, E, K and B complex are required by the body. The body can produce only Vitamin D and K, rest must be sourced from the food.
Minerals are inorganic compounds, which again are required for the normal functioning of the body. The quantities for daily absorption are very small though. Important minerals are Calcium, sodium, phosphorus, zinc, iron, and iodine. Minerals form a part of various complexes and enzymes in the body and are thus invaluable. Generally obtained from different plant and animal sources.
This forms the bulk of the food. The fibre content of food forms roughage. It also helps in proper functioning of the digestive system and ensures that the water retention happens in the body. Fruits and vegetables supply roughage to the body.
Thus food components can be divided into
- Energy giving – Carbohydrates and Fats
- Bodybuilding – Proteins
- Protective – Minerals and Vitamins
When any of the food components are not present in enough quantities in the diet, this absence affects the normal functioning of the body. This is known as a deficiency. Certain well-known deficiency conditions are:-
This happens when there is not enough protein in the diet or more carbohydrate than protein is being ingested. Two conditions may arise
- Kwashiorkor – Quite common among the poor, the belly protrudes out and the skin and hair become dull and lusterless due to the deficiency. Children are weak and growth is stunted.
- Marasmus – In infants less than one year of age, the child suffers from diarrhea and digestive problems. Mental retardation along with deficient physical growth is seen.
- Night blindness is caused due to deficiency of vitamin A.
- Beriberi, associated with swelling in the legs, loss of appetite and inability to breathe, and generalized weakness is seen in patients with beriberi. Caused due to deficiency of vitamin B1 or thiamine.
- Scurvy is caused by the deficiency of vitamin C. It manifests as bleeding gums and delay in healing of wounds, as well as pain in joints, anemia, reduction of weight etc.
- Rickets and osteomalacia – Caused by deficiency of calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorus. Rickets affects children, osteomalacia affects adults. Soft bones lead to bow-shaped limbs which cannot support the weight. Pigeon shaped chest may occur, along with tooth loss. Bones become brittle in osteomalacia and are prone to fracturing easily.
- Anaemia – A condition commonly caused by lack of iron in the diet. This affects the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood, leading to pale features and person getting easily fatigued.
- Goitre – This is caused by lack of iodine in the diet. Generally causes a swelling of the thyroid gland leading to a visible swelling in the neck area, weakness, growth problems, mental retardation etc. Iodine helps in the normal production of thyroxine which gets impaired in absence of iodine.
All these conditions can be treated by increasing the intake of the element causing the deficiency. However, some of the effects may be reversible while others may not be reversible.
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