Essential Nutrients

Nutrients are important for our bodies to function correctly. They’re substances that provide nourishment necessary for growth, metabolism, repair, and the maintenance of life. However, the human body can’t make all of its nutrients. 

Thus, we must get them from the food we eat and the drinks we drink. Otherwise, we would become deficient in specific nutrients, leading to health problems like anemia, scurvy, and Rickets.

While our bodies need plenty of nutrients, a few specific nutrients are essential to incorporate into your day. Below are six essential nutrients essential to our health and why they’re so important.

Vitamins

Vitamins are micronutrients that offer a variety of health benefits, such as:

  • aiding nervous system and brain functioning
  • helping the body metabolize carbohydrates and proteins
  • supporting healthy blood
  • maintaining healthy skin
  • strengthening bones and teeth
  • boosting the immune system
  • aiding calcium absorption
  • helping delay or prevent certain cancers

Essentially, thirteen vitamins are essential to human health. Nutritionists classify them into two groups: water-soluble and fat-soluble.

Water-soluble Vitamins

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin B-7 (biotin)
  • Vitamin B-1 (thiamine)
  • Vitamin B-9 (folic acid, folate)
  • Vitamin B-12 (cyanocobalamin)
  • Vitamin B-3 (niacin)
  • Vitamin B-6
  • Vitamin B-5 (pantothenic acid)
  • Vitamin B-2 (riboflavin)

Fat-soluble Vitamins

  • Vitamin K
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin A

Generally, a person who eats a varied and well-balanced diet can get all the vitamins they need in their diet. But those who eat fewer vegetables and fruit, or those with digestive or absorption problems, might not be getting enough specific vitamins. 

As a result, they may need to take a supplement to avoid or reduce a deficiency. 

Protein

Protein is another essential nutrient that every cell in the body needs to function correctly. It’s made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of all cells. This macronutrient carries out many different functions, such as:

  • forming hormones, antibodies, and other vital substances
  • ensuring the growth and development of skin, hair, bones, and muscles
  • serving as a fuel source for tissues and cells when needed

People can take in proteins through their diet by eating foods such as:

  • nuts
  • soy
  • dairy products
  • grains
  • eggs
  • legumes and beans
  • seafood
  • poultry
  • red meats

While fish and meats tend to have the highest protein levels, vegetarians and vegans can still get enough protein from plant-based sources. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that adults consume 50g of protein a day per 2,000 calorie diet. But it could be lower or higher depending on the calorie intake.

The best way to meet your daily protein needs is to eat various protein foods throughout the day. Why? Because different protein foods provide different types of amino acids. And your body needs all 20 to function correctly. 

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are integral to the function of your body, despite being referred to as “fattening” or “unhealthy.” That’s because carbohydrates provide energy for all the tissues and cells in the body.

In general, there are two types of carbohydrates: complex and simple. A person should limit the number of simple carbohydrates they intake like rice, pasta, and white bread because these foods are quickly absorbed and digested, resulting in a spike in blood sugar levels. 

On the other hand, complex carbohydrates like legumes, sweet potatoes, and whole grains are slowly absorbed and digested, providing a steadier stream of energy. Complex carbohydrates support the following:

  • digestive function
  • the nervous system
  • the immune system
  • energy to perform tasks
  • brain function

A person should consume about 45%-65% of their daily caloric intake from complex carbohydrates. And you can get your complex carbs from a variety of food groups, including:

  • legumes – kidney beans, lentils, black-eyed peas, chickpeas
  • vegetables – broccoli, carrots, spinach
  • whole grains – oats, barley, quinoa
  • fruit – apples, bananas, berries
  • dairy – milk, yogurt, cheese

A healthy diet must include more nutritious complex carbohydrates than simple carbohydrates to support optimal bodily function. For example, instead of drinking cola or eating white bread, opt for a banana or whole-grain toast with peanut butter to get the energy you need without the blood sugar crash.

Fats

Like carbohydrates, fats are often linked with bad health. But people require certain fats to maintain good health. That’s because fats provide the body with essential fatty acids, help the body absorb vitamins, and are a source of energy.

However, it’s crucial to consume the right kinds of fats. Unsaturated fats, found in fish, nuts, and vegetable oils, are generally considered good for you. Trans and saturated fats should be limited as they can raise cholesterol levels and contribute to heart disease.

Healthful fats help the following body functions:

  • immune function
  • cell growth
  • hormone production
  • blood clotting
  • vitamin and mineral absorption
  • building new cells
  • brain functioning
  • reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease
  • balance blood sugar
  • muscle movement

You can find healthful fats in:

  • avocados
  • oils (such as olive, canola, and peanut)
  • nuts (such as almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans)
  • seeds (such as pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame)
  •  fish (such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, and herring)

Minerals

Another must-have micronutrient that a person needs is minerals. Generally, there are two groups of minerals: trace and major minerals. The human body needs a balance between both groups for optimal functioning. 

Trace Minerals

  • molybdenum
  • iron
  • fluoride
  • selenium
  • iodine
  • zinc
  • copper
  • chromium
  • manganese

These minerals help support healthy blood pressure and the immune system, carry oxygen, aid in blood clotting, prevent tooth decay, and strengthen bones.

Major Minerals

  • chloride
  • magnesium
  • potassium
  • calcium
  • sodium
  • sulfur
  • phosphorus

These minerals help improve bone health, maintain healthy nails, skin, and hair, and balance water levels in the body. The following foods should be included in a person’s diet to ensure they can take in enough minerals:

  • legumes and beans
  • whole grains
  • egg yolks
  • cereals and fortified bread
  • poultry
  • fruits
  • leafy greens
  • vegetables
  • seeds and nuts
  • milk
  • iodized table salt
  • seafood
  • red meats

Water

A person can only get through a few days without drinking water. In fact, even slight dehydration can cause fatigue, headaches, and other problems. That’s why water is the most important essential nutrient people need.

Water helps with a couple of body functions such as:

  • preventing constipation,
  • regulating body temperature,
  • lubricating and cushioning joints,
  • and protecting organs and tissues.

The best water source is to consume unsweetened, all-natural water from the tap, spring, or bottle. For those who don’t like the taste of plain water, adding a slice of lemon or lime can do the trick.

Another water source is watery fruits like watermelons, strawberries, and grapes. They are a great way to stay hydrated and are low in calories. Vegetables like cucumbers, celery, and tomatoes are also good water sources.

Final Thoughts

People need to consume all six essential nutrients for optimal health: carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and water. These nutrients support vital functions, including preventing disease, cell growth, hormone production, and energy metabolism. Lacking even one of these nutrients can lead to certain illnesses.
The best way to get all six nutrients is through a healthy diet that includes a variety of foods from each food group. However, some people may need to take supplements like greens powder to ensure they’re getting enough of certain nutrients. See a nutritionist or doctor if you’re unsure whether you need to supplement your diet.

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