The 6 Essential Nutrients
What is an Essential Nutrient?
An essential nutrient is required for normal body functioning. A nutrient that can not be synthesized by the body is called essential nutrient. This means that you must include this essential nutrient in your diet (or as a supplement) in order to supply your need for the nutrient so your body can function properly.
Your body needs 6 Essential Nutrients
The body needs a healthy balance of the six essential nutrients in order to grow and develop properly. However, people tend to lack of at least one of the essential nutrients.
The 6 essential nutrients that your body needs on a daily basis are:
These six essential nutrients can be divided into two categories: macronutrients and micronutrients.
Macronutrients include carbohydrates, fats, proteins and water. Micronutrients are comprised of vitamins and minerals and are different from macronutrients because they are needed in only small amounts. Nevertheless, micronutrients are essential for normal metabolism, growth and physical well-being.
Macronutrients supply your body with energy. Carbohydrates, fats, proteins and water are called macronutrients as they make a large portion of the food we eat. Energy is measured in calories and is essential for the body to grow, repair and develop new tissues, conduct nerve impulses and regulate life process.
- Carbohydrates are available as starch, fiber and various sugars. Sugar provides energy, but contains no essential nutrients. Good sources of carbohydrates are whole grain breads, muesli, cereals, potatoes, brown pasta, brown rice, root vegetables, fruits and vegetables. 50-60% of the total calories should come from carbohydrates. For more information, check out the section on Carbohydrates.
- Fats (Fatty Acids) is twice as energy-rich than protein and carbohydrate. Fat is needed for energy and for the body to be able to take up fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E and K). Fat is made up of saturated, unsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Good fat sources are oily fish, rapeseed oil, liquid margarine, low fat margarine and light products of milk, yogurt and cheese. 30% of the total calories should come from fats. Notice that maximum 10% of the total fat should come from saturated fat and at least 20% of the total fat should come from unsaturated fat. Visit the section about Fats for more information.
- Proteins are the body’s building materials and are needed for all cells, tissues and hormone productions. The main protein sources are meat, fish, eggs, legumes and dairy products. 10-20% of the total calories should come from proteins. Read more in the section about Proteins.
- Water is needed for all body functions. Water is found in the body’s cells and transports nutrients to cells and removes toxins from our body. Water regulates the body temperature by our sweat. We get about 50% of the water we need from our food. Foods like fruits and vegetables contain a lot of water, about 75-95%. To make sure you get enough water, eat a lot of vegetables and fruits. Also, drink water with all meals and drink water between meals if you are thirsty. Remember that water contains no calories. You should drink about 8 glasses of water every day. The water intake depends on the activity you take part in, as well as your height and body weight. For more information, visit the section about Water.
Micronutrients release the energy in your body. Vitamins and minerals are called micronutrients as they only make a tiny portion of the food we eat, but they are just as important for the body as macronutrients. Together with water, the micro nutrients are necessary for the release of the energy, as well as other aspects of chemical changes in your body. They don’t have any calories and don’t supply your body with energy.
- Vitamins are essential for normal metabolism, growth and development, and regulation of cell function. They work together with enzymes and other substances that are necessary for a healthy life. Vitamins are needed to prevent infections, they are important for our night vision and enable the body to clot blood. There are two types of vitamins: Fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E and K) which can be stored in the body and Water-soluble vitamins (multiple vitamin B and vitamin C) that should be replenished every day. Find out more in the section about Vitamins.
- Minerals are not organic substances formed by plants or animals (unlike vitamins). Minerals are inorganic elements from the soil. Plants absorb minerals directly from the soil, after which they pass through the food chain. Therefore, minerals can be found in water and soil and in root plants and animals. The minerals are classified as major minerals (body requires more than 100 mg/day) and trace minerals (body requires less than 100 mg/day). Minerals are needed for bones, teeth, blood, normal heart rhythm, cellular metabolism and muscle reflexes. Approximately 4% of the body’s mass consists of minerals. Learn more in the section about Minerals.
You probably get a sufficient quantity of most micro nutrients, but pay extra attention to vitamin C and D, Folic Acid, Iron, Zinc and Calcium.