Food contains nutrients that are made from proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, water and other substances. A deficiency of any one of these nutrients can increase your risk of diseases, disorders and other medical conditions. A balanced diet of foods and nutrients may enhance your health and prevent disease. Consult your doctor or nutritionist to determine your nutritional needs and plan a diet and supplement program that is right for you.
Carbohydrates and Fats
Nutrients can be divided into two groups. You need macronutrients, such as carbohydrates, fats and proteins, in large amounts and micronutrients, such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, in small amounts. A balanced diet provides 45 to 65 percent of calories from carbohydrates, 20 to 35 percent from fats and the remainder of calories from proteins. Carbohydrates, such as starches and sugars from grains, legumes and fruit, provide energy to your cells and tissues. Fats, such as polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, omega-3 and saturated fatty acids, from vegetable oils, olive oil, fish and animal products, respectively, are a concentrated form of energy that help you body absorb certain vitamins and maintain the structure and function of cell membranes and produce hormones and other substances. Unhealthy fats, such as saturated and trans fats, can increase your risk of heart disease.
Vitamins are essential nutrients that regulate metabolic functions throughout your body. Vitamin A stimulates vision and growth of cells. The B vitamins assist enzymes throughout your body. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that stimulates your immune system and protects your cells from environmental toxins. Vitamin D is essential for bone growth. Vitamin E slows down your aging process and protects cellular membranes from degradation. Vitamin K stimulates blood clotting. Vitamins are found in all food groups and are highly concentrated in fruits and vegetables. The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you consume between 1 ½ to 2 ½ cups of fruit and 2 ½ to 4 cups of vegetables daily, depending on your age.
Minerals are chemical elements found in food that have various functions in your body. Calcium and magnesium are vital for building and maintaining healthy bones and teeth. Iron is a vital part of hemoglobin, the molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to cells throughout your body. Phosphorous is essential for cellular energy metabolism. Zinc, copper, manganese and selenium are trace minerals that you need in tiny amounts. Zinc is involved in tissue growth and repair. Copper and manganese work with enzymes in many types of chemical reactions. Selenium is an antioxidant that protects your cells from toxins and harmful chemicals.
Proteins are essential for the growth, development, structure and function of cells, tissues and organs, antibodies, enzymes and nucleic acids. Protein is also part of some hormones. Amino acids are the building blocks for proteins and are found in foods, particularly animal products, such as meat and dairy, fish, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains.