While online at a local coffee shop this morning, I overheard a father say to his two children, “It’s important to have real food with real nutrients everyday.“ I’m not sure if they understood the concept of what a nutrient is, but it was heartwarming to hear. This dad is right and his kids are growing up learning to be conscious about the food they eat. There is a lot of “food” out there that isn’t nutritious, and some that isn’t technically food.

At a time in our country when gourmet home cooking has become a popular national past time, the food supply itself has become tainted with many hazards. There are many cooking shows on television, recipes galore on Pinterest and 40 different types of cheese in your average supermarket to facilitate making home cooked meals that are complex and beautiful. Many people are developing a sophisticated palate with an impressive ability to critically assess a food’s presentation. The paradox though is that this assessment is based on the sensual experience of food, meaning the food’s look, aroma and appearance rather than on its nutritional value or potential toxicity. The quality of the food is the big unknown and despite the increasing number and variety of recipes, people all around the country are getting sicker and sicker.

In general, people choose to eat foods that look and taste good. Knowing this tendency, the food industry has figured out ways to increase their product’s shelf life, as well as make their products look more appealing and taste more flavorful. Unfortunately, with few exceptions, each processing step has potential side effects of which most people are unaware. The processed food market is replete with chemicals that are designed to stimulate people’s taste buds. Do you think the creation of the sweet and salty blend in the flavor “salted caramel” is by accident? Whereas it used to be that only packaged foods were processed, now, most conventional fruits and vegetables have also been processed in some way. For example, are you aware that most conventional root vegetables such as potatoes are dipped or sprayed with chemicals that prevent them from sprouting so they will have a longer shelf life?

What nutrients do we need from food?

There are several important categories of nutrition we need from food, primarily sugars, fats and proteins. Chemical energy comes to the body from the enzymatic breakdown of starches and sugars. Each cell has the ability to digest sugar which the cell can then use to function. If you eat too much sugar, however, your cells will convert the excess sugar into storage molecules, including fat, for later use. If you aren’t physically active, and you continually eat too much sugar, you are setting yourself up for diseases such as obesity and diabetes.

Fats are a critical source of nutrition for the body. In fact, every cell in your body is surrounded by a membrane composed of molecules which contain fatty acids that are acquired through the digestion of fats. Although cholesterol has gotten a bad wrap for its association with plaques in the cardiovascular system, cholesterol is also a necessary constituent of every cell membrane in the body. Cholesterol helps give every cell membrane structure and allows the membrane to function properly. Cholesterol is also a building block from which your body is able to create many hormones which are crucial for communication between different organ systems and glands in the body.

Proteins too are an essential part of one’s diet. Through the digestion of protein, the body is supplied with amino acids which then travel through the bloodstream supplying the body’s cells with the building blocks needed to create their own proteins.

So during your next meal, give some thought as to what you are consuming. If you are eating a packaged, processed food, look at the ingredient panel, and take note as to whether or not you are ingesting proteins, fats and sugars, or, are you eating a chemical compound that is something else?