Your body needs a variety of substances to sustain life and function properly. Essential nutrients are compounds that the body needs to function, but can’t make on its own. These nutrients must come from food, and they are vital to the body’s ability to prevent disease, grow and remain healthy. These essential nutrients can be broken down into two categories: macronutrients and micronutrients.
Macronutrients make up the largest parts of your diet — protein, carbohydrates, and fat — and provide your body with energy.
Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals, which are still necessary for your body, can be consumed in smaller quantities.
There are six main groups of essential micronutrients and macronutrients:
Protein provides the building blocks of the body. Every cell from muscle to bone to hair contains protein. Protein is made up of different amino acids. The body can make some of these amino acids on its own, but many essential amino acids need to come from the food we eat. Meat fish and eggs are good sources of protein, but you can also get the protein you need from plant sources like beans, soy, nuts and some grains. Your protein needs depend on a variety of factors including your age and activity level.
Even with all the low-carb diets out there, your body still needs carbohydrates to function. Carbs fuel your body, especially your central nervous system and brain. Carbohydrates should make up 45 to 65 percent of your total daily calories. The type of carbs you eat does matter, however. Some carbs are better for you than others. Reach for whole grains, beans and fiber-rich vegetables and fruits instead of refined grains and sugars.
Healthy fats are a vital component of a healthy diet. Fats support many of the body’s functions such as vitamin and mineral absorption, blood clotting and building cells and moving muscles. Choosing unsaturated fats such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids found in nuts, seeds, fish, and vegetable oils can help your body absorb the fats it needs without taking on too many calories.
There are 13 essential vitamins that the body needs to stay healthy. Each of these vitamins plays a unique role and they may lower the risk of lung and prostate cancer. Vitamins are powerful antioxidants and can be found in foods such as vegetables and fruits.
Similar to vitamins, minerals help support the body’s natural functions. Calcium, iron and zinc are the most common minerals and help with nerve signal transmission, maintaining healthy blood pressure, supporting red blood cells and hormone creation and boosting the immune system.
Water is crucial for every system in your body. About 62 percent of your body weight is water. Water acts as a shock absorber and a lubricant in the body. It helps to flush out toxins, carry nutrients to the cells, hydrate the body and prevent constipation. Although you should drink plain water throughout the day, you can also find water in the fruits and vegetables you eat at meal times.
This month, focus on making healthy food choices to support your body’s natural functions! Take small steps toward better nutrition today!