Food nutrients are the elements that are needed for the proper functioning of the human body. We get these nutrients from the food that we eat each day. Despite all the supplements on the market, there are basically only six categories of food nutrients: proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins and water. All the other terms that you hear bandied about these days like antioxidants or fatty acids are actually subsets of the basic six nutrient categories known as micro-nutrients. If you are eating a proper balance of foods from the six major groups, you should have all the micro-nutrients covered within your diet.
Protein is the nutrient that all tissues are made from. It is a very complex substance chemically and contains nitrogen, carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. During digestion, proteins are broken down into amino acids which are then rebuilt by the body into usable proteins for building new cells. Science has still not identified all of the amino acids nor all of the functions of each one, however there are a number that are known to be vital to our health. We derive protein from both animal sources and vegetable sources but the animal proteins are the only ones that are complete by themselves – in other words, containing all essential amino acids in one food. Plant proteins must be combined properly in order to derive a complete protein source.
Fats, despite what you may think, are actually very necessary to proper health. They produce energy, increase flavor and help us to feel satisfied. Fats also provide certain micro-nutrients, called fatty acids, and help the body transport certain vitamins and make it possible for the body to use those vitamins. When trying to maintain optimal weight or trying to lose weight, many people first try to get rid of fats from their diet. This is a big mistake and can lead to loss of energy as well as other health issues. There are different kinds of fats and some are more beneficial than others. Rather than trying to avoid fats altogether, a better plan is to learn which of the fats are the best for health and which are not needed. That way you can learn how to avoid the bad fats while still getting enough of the good fats in your daily diet.
Carbohydrates are another of the six categories of food nutrients. These are usually low in calories but high in fiber. There are simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates and it’s recommended to get most of this nutrient from the complex types. Carbohydrates are basically the fuel the body needs. Stored in the muscles as glycogen, the energy is released slowly throughout the day. Not only are the carbohydrates necessary for an energy source, the fiber found in most sources of carbohydrates is also important in many ways. For optimal health and energy, we should be getting more than half of our daily calories from carbohydrate sources.
Minerals are substances that are naturally occurring within the earth. All rock formations are is hardened mineral salts of some kind. As rocks get broken down into sediment, this becomes the basis of soil which is full of these mineral salts. Growing plants absorb these minerals and then in turn are either eaten by animals which are then eaten by humans or we eat the plants directly. Minerals are very important food nutrients in that they enable the body to do what it needs to do but they also act synergistically with vitamins. Without minerals, the vitamins actually lose much of their usefulness.
Vitamins are another one of the categories of food nutrients and as stated above, need minerals in order to be fully utilized by the body. There are 13 identified vitamins that are absolutely necessary for optimal health. Four dissolve in fat within the body and so are called fat-soluble vitamins – vitamins A, D, E and K. These are stored in the fatty tissues within the body for later use. The other 9 identifiable vitamins are water soluble instead. That means that any excess is flushed from the body each day so they must be consumed each and every day. The water soluble vitamins include all eight of the B vitamins and vitamin C.
Water is often referred to by nutrition experts as the forgotten nutrient. While we don’t think of it as a nutrient, without water we would not be able to live. The water within our bodies regulates body temperature, removes wastes and transports nutrients throughout the body. The lungs alone need about 16 oz. of water just to function every day and that’s just one of the body’s systems that is dependent on water.
Each of the six categories of food nutrients is absolutely vital to our health. Our diet should be comprised of foods that will provide all our nutrient needs on a daily basis for optimal health.
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