Food categories FAQS
2020-12-03 10:23:21 ASSIST Team ASSIST Team

Food categories FAQS

Find out the answers to the most commonly asked questions about food categories

What are the main nutrients and where to find them?

Essential nutrients are compounds that the body can’t make or can’t make in sufficient quantity. According to the world health organization trusted source, these nutrients must come from food, and they’re vital for disease prevention, growth, and good health. While there are many essential nutrients, they can be broken into two categories: macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are eaten in large amounts and include the primary building blocks of your diet — protein, carbohydrates, and fat — which provide your body with energy. Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients, and small doses go a long way. There are five main groups of essential micronutrients and macronutrients:

  • Proteins
  • Carbohydrates
  • Fats
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals

 What is the role of proteins on the diet?

Proteins are complex molecules that help your body perform a wide variety of biological functions. Each protein type serves a specific function. Proteins are composed of building blocks known as amino acids. Protein provides the necessary elements for cell function and they are essentials for good health. Theyprovide the building blocks of the body, and not just for muscle. Every cell, from bone to skin to hair, contains protein.

A startling 16 percent of the average person’s body weight is from protein. Protein is used primarily for growth, health, and body maintenance.

All of your hormones, antibodies, and other important substances are composed of protein. Protein is not used to fuel the body unless necessary.

Proteins are made of up different amino acids. While the body can create some amino acids on its own, there are many essential amino acids that can only come from food. You need a variety of amino acids for your body to function properly.

The good news is that you don’t need to eat all of the amino acids at once. Your body can create complete proteins from the foods you eat throughout the day.

While meat, fish, and eggs are good sources of essential amino acids, you can also get protein from plant sources like beans, soy, nuts, and some grains. Exactly how much protein you need daily depends on a variety of factors including how active you are, and your age.

 How many and what types of proteins exist?

We have two types of proteins dependently of their origins:

  • Proteins of animal origin (animal proteins): meat, fish, dairy foods, eggs, poultry
  • Proteins of vegetable origin (vegetal proteins) whose sources are: beans, soy, beans, peas, nuts and seeds.

How much proteins our body needs?

We cannot forget that each person has different age, different physical characteristics, different metabolic requirement, different physical activities. According to w.h.o (world health organisation) the recommending dose according to the age is:


Phase of life


Female (gr/kg of weight)

Male (gr/kg of weight)


1 - 3



4 – 9




10 -12



12 -14



14 -16



16 -18





    0.8 to 1.3

0.8 to 1.3


What is the role of carbohydrates in the diet?

Almost half of the daily calories should be taken in the form of carbohydrates. But beware of the difference between simple and complex sugars.

Carbohydrates must be our main source of energy. International nutrition guidelines say that in a balanced diet, 45-60 percent of daily calories should come from carbohydrates, of which only 10-15 percent consist of simple carbohydrates or sugars.

 Which foods contain simple sugars?

Carbohydrates are sugars that come in 2 main forms – simple and complex. This is also referred to as simple sugars and starches.

The difference between a simple and complex sugar is in how quickly it is digested and absorbed – as well as its chemical structure.

Simple sugars: simple sugars, a type of carbohydrate, provide energy for the body, brain and nervous system. Once digested, simple sugars are broken down by enzymes into glucose, the form of sugar that your body can convert directly into energy. Simple sugars are quickly converted into blood glucose. This creates a sudden glut of blood sugar.

Which are the main sources of simple sugar

The main sources of simple sugars are:

  • Fruit contains a type of simple sugar called fructose, which is among the sweetest of the sugars. The simple sugar that comes in fruit is delivered along with fiber and nutrients such as vitamins and minerals that enhance your body’s functioning. The fiber slows digestion, which prolongs the release of sugar into your bloodstream. This makes energy available for a longer period of time, eliminates the sugar rush, and can reduce the occurrence of quick conversion of glucose into fat because the food is less calorie-dense than many other sugar-providing foods. Fruit juices, however, don’t contain the same amount of fiber as fruit and consequently release their sugars into the bloodstream quickly. Fructose has to be assumed as is, not synthetic not added. Added fructose in juice, for example, is different and not comparable to the natural one.
  • Dairy products contain a simple sugar called lactose. Less sweet than fructose, lactose nonetheless provides energy to the body. Just as the potential adverse effects of fructose are tempered by the fiber in fruit, some of the potential adverse effects of lactose are tempered by the high level of protein and other nutrients in milk. Protein slows digestion and prolongs the release of sugar into the blood. Some dairy products, such as yogurt, ice cream and chocolate milk, are sweetened with added sugars
  • Baked goods and sweets: candies, cookies, cake, highly sweetened cereal and other sweetened, processed-food products contain loads of simple sugars. Examine the labels of these foods, and you will find simple sugars like synthetic fructose, corn syrup, maltose, molasses and high-fructose corn syrup listed among the top ingredients. The cause of obesity is highly debated and multifactorial in nature, but excess intake of added sugars is thought to play a major part of such population problem.
  • Sugared beverages soda, artificially flavored juices and drinks, sweetened coffee and tea, flavored milk and alcoholic mixers all contain sucrose. Sugar is also used in the fermentation process for some alcohols, such as wine. As for goods and sweets, sweet beverages play a central role to the excess of population overweight and obesity. Do not substitute water with sweetened beverages.

Which are the main sources of complex sugar

Complex sugars: complex sugars, also known as polysaccharides, are starches formed by longer saccharide chains, which means they take longer to break down in our body.

Chemically, they usually comprise of three or more linked sugars.

The term complex carbohydrate refers to any starches, including the highly refined starches found in white bread, cakes, pastries and many other elaborated food sources

Be aware that when dietitians and nutritionists advise having complex carbohydrates (or complex sugars), however, they are usually referring to whole grain foods and starchy vegetables which are more slowly absorbed than refined carbohydrate. These should be the preferred sources of sugar.

The main sources of simple sugars are:

  • Fruits and vegetables: they contain carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Choose fruits that you like and incorporate them into meals and snacks. Vegetables may be enjoyed raw or cooked. Good vegetable carbohydrate choices include potatoes, carrots, broccoli, salad greens, corn, peas, peppers
  • Whole grain foods: whole grain foods: whole grain include the wheat grain and kernel which provide the majority of fibre and nutrients to be found in starchy foods.

When it comes to picking starchy foods, such as rice, bread and any other products made from flour, it’s best to opt for whole grain versions of these products. Whole grain foods impact upon blood glucose levels more slowly than other forms of carbohydrate. Refined carbohydrates refer to carbohydrates that have been processed. In grain products, the bran and kernel are stripped out, leaving just the starch. With much of the fibre removed in this way, the carbohydrate is broken down by the body more quickly and can sometimes raise blood glucose levels as quickly as simple sugars.

 Why do fats also play an important role in a balanced diet?

Recent researches have shown that healthy fats are an important part of a healthy diet.

According to harvard medical school, fat supports many of your body’s functions such as vitamin and mineral absorption, blood clotting, building cells, and muscle movement.

Yes, fat is high in calories, but those calories are an important source of energy for your body.

The world health organization (who) suggests keeping it under 30 percent of your calories.

Including healthy fats in your diet can help you to balance your blood sugar, decrease your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and improve your brain function. They’re also powerful anti-inflammatories, and they may lower your risk of arthritis, cancer, and alzheimer’s disease.

The most famous unsaturated fats are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Unsaturated fats are important for your body as they provide essential fatty acids your body can’t make. You can find these healthy fats in nuts, seeds, fish, and vegetable oils (like olive, avocado, and flaxseed). Coconut oil provides plant-based fats in the form of medium-chain triglycerides which impart health benefits like faster utilization by organs as fuel and appetite control.

Tip: avoid trans fats and limit your intake of saturated animal-based fats like butter, cheese, red meat, and ice cream


  • Monounsaturated fats: olive oil, avocados, peanut oil and some nuts and seeds
  • Polyunsaturated fats: fatty fish, walnuts, corn oil, soybean oil, flaxseed oil and some seeds
  • Saturated fats: cheeses, butter, red meats
  • Trans fats: processed fats usually found in baked goods and fried foods. 

What is the role of vitamins in the balanced diet and in what foods are present?

Vitamins are vital for warding off disease and staying healthy. The body needs these micronutrients to support its functions. There are 13 essential vitamins that the body needs to function properly, including vitamins a, c, b6, and d.

Each vitamin plays an important role in the body, and not getting enough of them can cause health problems and disease.  Vitamins are essential for healthy vision, skin, and bones.

Vitamins may lower the risk of cancer and they’re powerful antioxidants. Vitamins like vitamin c boost the immune system and help the body heal.

If you eat a varied, well-balanced diet full of vegetables and fruits, and have a normal and healthy functioning digestive tract, you likely don’t need to take any vitamin supplement

Sources: vitamin a fortified cereals, juices, dairy, fruits, and vegetables;  beta-carotene vitamins c & vitamins e: citrus fruits or citrus juices, berries, green and red peppers, tomatoes, broccoli and spinach.

Folic acid vitamins b12 & vitamins b6: asparagus, legumes, dark green leafy vegetables, enriched breads, flour, cornmeal, pastas, rice and other grain product.

What is the role of minerals in the balanced diet?

Much like vitamins, minerals support the body. They’re essential for many body functions, including building strong bones and teeth, regulating your metabolism, and staying properly hydrated. Some of the most common minerals are calcium, iron, and zinc.

In addition to strengthening bones, calcium helps with nerve signal transmission, maintaining healthy blood pressure, and muscle contraction and relaxation. Iron supports your red blood cells and hormone creation, while zinc boosts your immune system and wound healing

Sources: calcium: dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables, soybeans, and fatty fish, like sardines, salmon and tuna.

How much vegetables/fruits should I eat? Are raw or cooked vegetables better?

Vegetables, fruits, legumes, pulses and berries make up the base of the food triangle and half of the food in the plate model. You should aim to consume 500 grams of vegetables, pulses, fruits, berries and mushrooms per day or about 5-6 portions. One portion is equivalent to one average fruit, 1dl of berries or 1,5dl of salad. It is good to consume some of the fruit and vegetables raw and without added sugar or salt.

What are good/bad fats? What is saturated/unsaturated/trans-fats?

There are different types of fats: saturated (solid in room temperature) or unsaturated fats (often liquid in room temperature). Consumption of polyunsaturated fats, especially omega-3, can protect from chronic diseases. Good sources of polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 are rapeseed oil, fatty fish (for example salmon, mackerel, herring), and nuts and seeds. Butter, cheese and red meat are rich in saturated fats, which raises blood cholesterol levels and intake should thus be limited. Trans-fats are especially bad for the health and should be avoided. They are often found in whipped cream spray, cookies/biscuits, microwave popcorns and certain pastries.

Which spread should I use on bread? / Should I use margarine or butter?

It is recommended to use non-hydrogenated plant oil based margarine with a fat content of at least 60%. This is because it contains unsaturated fatty acids and vitamin e and most are also fortified with vitamin a and d. Swapping foods containing saturated fatty acids, for example, butter to foods containing unsaturated fatty acids, for example, margarine has been associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Which fat should I use in food preparation/cooking? / Which oils are best for you?

It is recommended to use plant-based oils or non-hydrogenated plant oil based margarine with a fat content of at least 60% for cooking. Salad dressings should be plant oil based as well. Rapeseed oil contains omega-3 fatty acids that are especially beneficial. However, olive, avocado and sunflower oils rich in monounsaturated fatty acids can also be used alongside rapeseed oil. Though they are plant-based oils, coconut and palm oil are not recommended, as they are rich in saturated fats.

What are superfoods?

Superfood is a buzzword that has recently come into use to refer to a nutrient-rich food considered especially beneficial for health. However, there is no official, legal or scientific definition of a superfood. A diet based on a variety of nutritious foods, including plenty of fruits, vegetables and berries, remains the best way to ensure a balanced nutrient intake for optimal health.

Are carbohydrates health/unhealthy? Should I limit carbohydrate intake?

Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for our bodies. Carbohydrates come in three different forms: sugar, starch and fibre. Starch is found in foods such as bread, rice, potatoes and pasta. The starch found in fibre-rich products such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits and pulses provides a slow and steady release of energy throughout the day helping to regulate blood sugar levels as opposed to refined carbohydrates found in, for example, white bread and white rice. Fibre is also good for gut health. Sugar, the simple form of carbohydrates, is digested quickly thus causing blood sugar spikes. Hence, foods containing a lot of added sugar should be avoided.

Is sugar bad for you? Should I limit sugar intake?

Sugar is the simple form of carbohydrates that is digested quickly and causes spikes in blood sugar and, therefore, does not keep hunger away. Sugar can either be added to foods (e.g. Biscuits, chocolate, candies, flavoured yoghurts, breakfast cereals and fizzy drinks), or can occur naturally in e.g. In honey, syrups, unsweetened fruit juices, fruits and berries. Added sugar in foods constitutes 80% of daily sugar intake and thus foods with added sugar should especially be limited. Naturally occurring sugars are not automatically better than added sugar as it also depends on the food item as a whole, for example sugar in honey, syrups, and juices are not particularly good even though they are natural. However, for example, fruits and berries contain a lot of fibre, vitamins and minerals and thus intake does not need to be limited.

Why is fibre important/good for you? / Why do I need fibre?

Fibres are dietary compounds that are not digested in the gut. There is evidence that eating plenty of fibre is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and bowel cancer. Eating foods with fibre will also help to make you feel fuller and can help with weight maintenance and digestion thus also helping in weight maintenance. The recommended fibre intake per day is 25-30 grams. (here is an example of how that can be achieved: oatmeal porridge with berries for breakfast; an apple as a mid-morning snack; whole grain rice with chili con/sin carne for lunch with a mixed salad and a slice of whole grain bread; an orange and nuts for a snack; then whole grain pasta with a sauce for dinner with a grated carrot salad; and yoghurt with unsweetened muesli and berries for desert or as an evening snack.)

Where do we get fibre from? /how much fibre should I get?

Fibre is found in the cell walls of foods that come from plants. Good sources of fibre include fruits, vegetables, wholegrain bread, whole grain pasta and pulses (beans and lentils). For breakfast, choose a high-fibre cereal or oatmeal porridge. The recommended fibre intake per day is 25-30 grams.

Are dairy products good/bad for you? /Which dairy products should I choose?

Dairy products like milk, yoghurt, quark and cheese are good sources of calcium and protein and are also supplemented with vitamin d in some countries. These help to maintain bone density and reduce risk of fractures. The recommendation is to select a low-fat alternative as dairy products contain mainly saturated fats. In addition, there is evidence that some fermented dairy products e.g. Yoghurt or sour milk have health benefits.

2020-12-03 10:23:21 ASSIST Team ASSIST Team