Food is not only a means for energy, but it also provides the body with vital nutrients to carry out specific and important tasks, such as temperature regulation and bone maintenance. Nutrition is a key factor in creating a healthy and strong body; there are six essential nutrient categories to keep in mind when preparing a balanced diet.
Water is the most important nutrient for human beings; without it, the body cannot survive. While water does not produce energy, it provides essential hydration. Staying hydrated is vital since the human body is made up of 70 percent water; cells in the body are fluid-filled, and these cells needs hydration to carry out individual tasks such as temperature regulation, and transporting nutrition and oxygen. Sweat, urination and bowel movements all excrete water from the body, and that fluid has to be replaced to keep it hydrated. Most health care providers recommend drinking eight glasses of water a day to replenish lost fluids.
When people think of nutrition, they usually think of energy for the body. Carbohydrates, the body's primary source of energy, provide the necessary power to keep important organs such as the heart and brain running smoothly. There are two classes of carbohydrates -- simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are sugars such as table sugar and corn syrup. Complex carbohydrates are whole grains, rice, pasta and potatoes. Complex carbohydrates provide long-term energy, as opposed to simple carbohydrates, which tend to burn off quickly.
Proteins are the building blocks of life. Proteins make up every tissue and structure in the body. They are important for muscle repair and growth, providing energy and heat and transporting nutrients into the blood stream. Protein can be found in a variety of sources, but most notably in meat. Fish, poultry, eggs, beans and nuts are also excellent sources of protein.
This essential nutrient has gotten a bad reputation from the media and the fad diet crowd, but contrary to popular belief, it is an important element in a well-balanced diet. Fats are not only used for energy, but for temperature regulation. Fats should be consumed in moderation, since eating too much of them can lead to fat storage in the body. Fat can be saturated or unsaturated. Saturated fats are animal fats such a meat, butter and lard, and have been linked to certain types of cancers and heart disease. Unsaturated fats are in vegetable oils, and are healthier than saturated fats. Omega-3 fatty acids, in cold-water fish such as salmon, are considered not only healthy, but beneficial.
Vitamins can be taken as supplements, but if you maintain a balanced and healthy diet, supplements are rarely needed; vitamins are in most unprocessed foods. Vitamins are important for building the immune system, combating infections and regulating body functions. All fruits, vegetables and whole grains are full of vitamins such as vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E and vitamin K -- all important for maintaining body functions.
Minerals help the body work properly by helping build tissues and regulate bodily fluids. Many minerals are important in the human body, but a few of the most important are calcium, potassium, sodium, magnesium and iron. These are in meats, whole grains and milk.