1. WATER – Everyones knows that clean water is important to health on all levels. Our bodies weight is composed of about two/thirds water and the average person in an ideal environment needs a minimum of 2 quarts of water per day. Dehydration is a common cause of many chronic ailments.
2. PROTEIN – Protein is made up of amino acids and 22 of these amino acids are crucial to human health. The body can produce 13 of these acids by itself but the other 9 need to supplemented through protein rich foods. The body uses protein to maintain, build and replace tissues in muscles, bones, blood and organs. In fact our immune system is made up of proteins. Without protein, cuts and abrasions will not heal quickly, muscles will not grow and the blood will not clot correctly.
High protein foods include meats, fish, milk and dairy products, eggs and beans. Nuts and seeds are also a great source of protein.
3. FAT – Fats are essential for fuel and storing energy so they are an important part of the definition of nutrients. Yet be aware that there are good fats and bad fats. Here’s a break down of the different types of fats.
HEALTHY FATS – Healthy fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and omega 3 fatty acids. Eating healthy fats can lower your blood pressure, lower your cholesterol and decrease your chance of heart disease.
Monounsaturated fat sources - Avocados, peanut oil, canola oil, olive oil, nuts and seeds.
Polyunsaturated fat sources – Vegetable oils such as safflower, corn, sunflower, soy and cottonseed oils, nuts and seeds.
Omega-3 fatty acid sources – Cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring, flax seeds, flax oil and walnuts.
UNHEALTHY FATS – Unhealthy fats include saturated fats and trans fats. They do just of opposite of the healthy ones. They raise your bad cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease. Do what you can to avoid these fats especially if you already have heart troubles!
Saturated fat sources – Animal products such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and dairy products.
Trans fat sources – Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, commercial baked goods such as crackers, cookies and cakes, fried foods such as doghnuts and french fries, shortening and margarine.
4. CARBOHYDRATES – There is a lot of talk about carbs but they too are important in the definition of nutrients! Carbohydrates include sugars, starches, cellulose’s and gums. They serve as a major energy source in the diet and are needed to produce a hormone called insulin. Insulin is needed to move sugar from the blood to the cells where it produces energy. There are two main types of carbohydrates, simple and complex.
SIMPLE CARBOHYDRATES – Simple carbohydrates are simply sugars. Refined sugar in your sugar bowl is a simple carbohydrate though much healthier sources are found in fruits and milk. Refined foods lack the other nutrients your body needs such as vitamins and minerals.
COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES – Complex carbohydrates are starches. They are found in grain products, rice, crackers, pasta, vegetables and bread. Remember that a lot of these foods are refined and lack any other nutritional value so chose healthier carbs such as oatmeal, vegetables and whole grain bread or crackers.
5. VITAMINS - Vitamins are important when trying to understand the definition of nutrients. They help regulate body functions and also help break down your food. Many vitamins contain antioxidants which are substances that protect cells from damage and also prevent many degenerative diseases.
Your body cannot produce vitamins (with the exception of vitamin D and vitamin K) so they must be obtained through natural, healthy foods or nutritional supplements.
6. MINERALS – Last but not least in the definition of nutrients is minerals. There are at least 60 minerals in the body and it is said that at least 22 are essential to good health. Minerals make up 4% of our body weight and are crucial to many body processes such as digestion, heart function and bone formation. Minerals are broken down into two catagories as follows:
MACROMINERALS or MAJOR MINERALS – There are seven major minerals that include calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and sulfur.
TRACE MINERALS - Trace minerals are found throughout the body in much smaller amounts than macrominerals but are still extremely important to optimum health. As an example, deficiencies of certain trace minerals such as copper and manganese have been connected to lower bone density and weaker bones. Just a few of the other trace minerals include boron, iron, zinc, manganese, selenium, silica and iodine.
Like vitamins, minerals need to be obtained through whole foods or high quality supplements.