Although you may thrive on meat while others do better as vegans, experts agree there are six main nutrients your body needs in order to function properly: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and water.
Call on Carbohydrates
Contrary to what some low-carb fad diets would have you believe, carbohydrates are crucial for good health. In fact, carbohydrates, which are the body's preferred source of energy, should make up 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories. In addition to providing your body with energy, carbohydrates -- specifically fiber -- also play a role in intestinal health and proper elimination. Meet your carbohydrate needs through whole foods like beans, peas, lentils, oats, fruits, vegetables and brown rice.
Pick Your Proteins
Protein is the basic building block for all of your cells. The nutrient plays a role in immunity, allows chemical reactions to take place and helps transport substances, like oxygen, through your body. Protein can also act as a source of energy when carbohydrates and fats are not available. The average person needs 0.8 kilogram of protein per kilogram -- or 2.2 pounds -- of body weight. If you weigh 150 pounds, that translates to about 55 grams of protein per day. Sources of protein include beef, poultry, fish, dairy products, eggs, nuts, seeds, beans and peas.
Although the low-fat diet craze tried to outlaw the nutrient for good, fat has kept its place on the list of essential nutrients. Fat provides you with energy, allows you to absorb fat-soluble vitamins, provides protective cushion for your organs and helps maintain cell membranes. Approximately 20 to 35 percent of your calories should come from fat. Not all fats have the same nutritional value, however. Get your fat from foods like olive oil, nuts, seeds, fatty fish and avocados.
Vitality With Vitamins
Your body needs adequate amounts of each of a total of 13 vitamins to grow and develop normally. Vitamin D keeps your bones strong, while vitamin C supports your immune system. Vitamin A keeps your eyesight healthy, while the eight B vitamins allow you to metabolize proteins, carbohydrates and fat. Vitamin K helps your blood clot and vitamin E acts like an antioxidant to protect healthy cells from damage caused by free radicals. The specific amount of each vitamin you need depends on your age and sex.
Max Out Minerals
Like vitamins, minerals are used for many physiological jobs, including regulation of heartbeat, building of bones and creation of hormones. There are a total of 16 minerals and each has its own function. An example is potassium, which helps muscles contract. The best way to get all the minerals your body needs is to eat a variety of whole foods.
Wash It Down With Water
Because water is present in your blood, urine, digestive juices, sweat, muscle, fat and bones, it makes the list as one of the six essential nutrients you need for a healthy diet. You could survive for several weeks without food, but your body would shut down after a few days without water. The water in your body helps eliminate waste, aids in digestion, lubricates and cushions your joints, moisturizes your skin and carries nutrients and oxygen to your cells. For optimal health, experts recommend drinking an amount of water equivalent to half your body weight in ounces; so if you’re 150 pounds, you need 75 ounces of water per day.
- Boston University Sargent Choice Nutrition Center: The Basic Nutrients in Food
- The Dairy Council: Nutrients and Their Functions
- McKinley Health Center: Macronutrients: the Importance of Carbohydrate, Protein, and Fat
- MedlinePlus: Vitamins
- MedlinePlus: Minerals
- Better Health Channel: Water -- A Vital Nutrient
- U.S. News and World Report: The Truth About How Much Water You Should Really Drink
- Nutrition and You; Joan Salge Blake