You might view food as a collection of flavors, aromas and textures that satisfy your appetite and delight your taste buds, but your body sees it differently: Your body views food as a collection of nutrients used to meet specific needs like fueling your brain and repairing your muscles. In its own way, each of the six essential nutrients supplies your body with the energy to repair, improve and move you.
Awash in Water
Possibly the most important as well as the most overlooked nutrient, water accounts for over half of your weight. To put it into perspective, water makes up more than 80 percent of your blood, 75 percent of your brain and 96 percent of your liver. Water regulates your body temperature, transports nutrients to your cells, facilitates digestion and so much more. Though water itself does not produce energy, without water your cells could not receive energy from other nutrients.
Carbohydrates for Fuel
Despite their bad reputation, carbohydrates are your body's primary fuel and provide between 40 percent and 50 percent of the energy for light physical activity and exercise. Carbohydrates provide energy to your brain, heart and every other system in your body. The types of carbohydrates include simple, which are digested and absorbed quickly, and complex, which are digested and absorbed at a slower pace. Milk, honey, sugar and other sweets provide simple carbohydrates; grain products and starchy vegetables are the primary source of complex carbohydrates.
Protein for Structure
Proteins make up important structures of your muscles, bones, blood, cell membranes and hormones. Growth, tissue repair, water regulation and acid balance all depend on proteins as well. When you eat an excess of protein, your body converts the unused portions to fat so it can be used as energy later. Protein is not your body's preferred source of energy; however, it can be used if there are no carbohydrates or fats available. Eggs, milk, meat, poultry, fish, legumes and nuts are the primary sources of protein in most diets.
The Functions of Fat
Despite the plethora of fat-free and low-fat products, fats are essential for your body's basic functions, and some types even help prevent disease. Fat is primarily used for energy production, but it is also required to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in most fish, help protect your body from heart disease and some types of cancer. In contrast, saturated fat -- the primary reason fat has a bad rep -- can cause heart disease and cancer. Saturated fat primarily comes from animal sources like meat and lard. Unsaturated fats come from vegetable sources -- think olive oil -- and are much less harmful. Fats help regulate blood pressure, prevent blood clotting and reduce inflammation.
Vitamins for Vitality
Vitamins have numerous functions in your body ranging from regulating your metabolism to enzyme reactions. Your body relies on diet alone for most vitamins, as it is not capable of producing them. Fat-soluble vitamins require fat to be absorbed, while water-soluble vitamins require water for absorption. Vitamins themselves do not provide energy, but without them, your cells could not transfer energy to the rest of your body, and your brain could not function. For example, vitamins B-1 and B-2 help convert carbohydrates to energy, and vitamin B-3 aids the digestive system and improves blood flow.
Minerals for Backbone
Minerals are the building blocks for your bones and teeth, and though minerals alone do not produce energy, they allow your body to use it. For example, iron facilitates cellular energy production, is required for oxygen transportation and plays a vital role in energy metabolism. Manganese is another example, as it is required for the function of mitochondria -- energy-producing cell structures -- and manganese-activated enzymes aid the metabolism of carbohydrates and amino acids. Like vitamins, your body cannot produce sufficient amounts of minerals and is reliant on your diet for a steady supply.
- Bridgeport-Spaulding Schools: The Six Types of Nutrients
- Northern Michigan University: The Six Essential Nutrient Groups
- Colorado State University: Nutrition for the Athlete
- Purdue University: Productivity and Nutrition
- Northern Michigan University: The Six Classes of Essential Nutrients
- University of Maryland Health Center: Vitamins
- Linus Pauling Institute: Iron
- Linus Pauling Institute: Manganese
- Linus Pauling Institute: Glossary: Mitochondria