The Six Essential Nutrients You Need in Your Diet
Our bodies can produce many different molecules, but we rely on dietary sources for certain nutrients, which is why they’re essential. Here are six essential nutrients you need to obtain from your diet for optimal health.
Carbohydrates are one of the three essential macronutrients. They are the body’s main source of energy, in the form of sugars and starches. There are two types of carbohydrates – simple and complex. Complex carbohydrates, such as oats, whole grains, and quinoa, contain more nutrients and help stabilize blood sugar levels, whereas simple carbohydrates do the opposite.
There’s a common myth that fats are bad, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Unsaturated fats, found in fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel, avocado, olive oil, nuts, and seeds, also serve as an energy source. More importantly, they help build and regulate hormones and are essential for the absorption of some micronutrients, along with many other functions.
Proteins break down into amino acids, which are the body’s building blocks. These amino acids build most molecules, from antibodies and hormones to cells and their components. They play a role in muscle, skin, nail, hair, and bone growth and can be used as an energy source when necessary (usually in times of starvation).
Vitamins are a micronutrient, which means the body only needs them in small quantities. Essential vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, K, C, and B-complex vitamins. Some of the functions of vitamins include helping to regulate hormones, supporting the immune system, and helping to keep the body and its organ systems functioning, to name a few.
Minerals –also a micronutrient– are essential for bone strength and health, oxygen transportation in the blood, immune functioning, and maintaining homeostasis, or balance, in the body. Some of the more well-known essential minerals include iron, potassium, sodium, phosphorus, calcium, zinc, and copper.
Our bodies are made up of approximately 60% water, so it’s no surprise that we need it to survive! Whether you drink it from a glass or eat it from fruits and veggies high in water content, it’s important to stay hydrated. You should drink approximately eight cups of water a day, depending on your exercise levels and how much you sweat.
While this sounds like a lot of information, remembering all six essential nutrients you need in your diet becomes easier once you can identify which foods contain what. Try to incorporate at least one portion of complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, protein, and micronutrient-rich fruits and/or veggies in each meal. Remember to have a glass of water with your food and throughout the day to stay hydrated. Eating a balanced diet ensures you get all the essential nutrients your body needs to feel its best.