What are the Essential Nutrients, and How Can We Get Enough of Them?
Are you getting the essential nutrients your body needs from your diet and supplements? Check out our helpful guide for ensuring optimal nutrient intake.
As women, we often demand a lot from our bodies. Whether we're climbing the corporate ladder or climbing the stairs with loads of laundry, we're almost always on the go. When we don't give our bodies enough of the right fuel to maintain this level of "busyness," we are bound to feel a little tired (or totally exhausted!)
The human body requires certain nutrients to keep going strong. When we push ourselves hard day in and day out, we need to make sure we're getting enough essential nutrients to support our energy and health needs. Otherwise, our bodies will run out of fuel just like a vehicle does. While you might be able to function on "fumes" for a while, you'll eventually deplete all of your energy unless you fuel up!
Here's what you should know about essential nutrients, why our bodies require them for energy, and how Hersmoothie can help ensure we get the nutrients we need to be strong, healthy, and unstoppable.
What Is a Nutrient?
Essential nutrients are substances found within the foods we eat. They cannot be made by our bodies. We need essential nutrients to perform basic body functions. The term "nutrient" encompasses a wide range of substances, including vitamins, minerals, lipids, carbohydrates, water, and proteins. All of these substances help the body maintain optimal overall health and function.
Not all nutrients are "essential." Non essential nutrients are nutrients that are made by the body. This means that if our bodies are functioning correctly, we don't have to get these nutrients from the foods we eat. Non-essential nutrients include:
- Vitamin D (which is synthesized by sunlight)
- Vitamin K (produced by intestinal bacteria)
- Certain amino acids
Even though these are considered non-essential nutrients, we may still need to supplement with them or get them from dietary sources if our body doesn't have enough of them. For example, some people don't get enough sunlight to stimulate sufficient production of vitamin D. Others may simply be unable to make enough vitamin D for their body's needs regardless of how much sunlight exposure they get.
Nutrients are considered conditionally essential nutrients if they are normally produced by the body in sufficient amounts but due to certain disorders, they are inadequately produced by some. As discussed, some people are unable to produce sufficient vitamin D for their needs. In their cases, vitamin D would be considered a conditionally essential nutrient.
In the remainder of this guide, we will focus primarily on essential nutrients and how to make sure you're getting enough of them. Essential nutrients can be divided into two main categories: macronutrients and micronutrients. Here's what you should know about each of these categories.
Macronutrients are those that our bodies need in large amounts. They include:
- Lipids (fats)
Macronutrients provide our bodies with cellular energy (in the form of calories). Water is also a macronutrient, but it doesn't provide any calories like the other macronutrients do.
Carbohydrates are composed of hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen. They can be classified as simple carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates, and simple sugars (depending on their chemical structure).
Major food sources of carbohydrates include grains, starchy vegetables (such as sweet potatoes or potatoes), fruits, and milk. Non-starchy vegetables contain some carbohydrates, but not as many as their starchy counterparts. Simple sugars include glucose (the type of sugar that's circulating through our bloodstream), and sucrose (also commonly known as table sugar).
Generally, complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, beans, and other starchy vegetables are healthier to eat because they are broken down slowly by the body. Simple carbohydrates such as white bread, cake, and sugary treats are broken down more quickly by the body.
Since all carbohydrates eventually turn into sugar, it's better to eat complex carbohydrates so your system isn't suddenly flooded with more glucose than it can handle. Fiber is a type of complex carbohydrate that is not fully broken down or completely digested by the body. But dietary fiber is still an important nutrient for good digestive system function because it helps add bulk to the stool and escorts other waste products out of the body.
Lipids (fats) are made up of hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen, but they differ from carbohydrates because they are not soluble in water. Triglycerides, sterols, and phospholipids are the three main types of lipids. When compared to carbohydrates, lipids provide more energy (calories) per gram (nine kilocalories per gram of fat compared to four kilocalories per gram of carbohydrates).
The primary duties of lipids are to help provide the body with energy and to store energy for future use. They also help protect organs (in fat-storing tissues), help make up the structure of cell membranes, and regulate other body functions. Lipids are found primarily in oils and fats, butter, nuts, dairy foods, seeds, meats, and processed foods. Some lipids are much better for us than others. While it may be more fun to get lipids from pastries and fatty steaks, those aren't the types of lipids your body needs. Instead, try to consume omega 3 fatty acids from healthier sources such as seeds, nuts, and fatty fish.
Proteins are composed of amino acids, which are subunits made from carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. Proteins are very important in the fitness community because they are so important for building muscle and providing structure to the skin and bones. Protein can also provide the body with energy. It is one of the essential nutrients our bodies need to be strong and thrive.
Scientists estimate that the human body contains more than 100,000 different proteins! If we don't consume enough protein for our body's needs, we experience symptoms such as increased illness and infections, reduced muscle mass, slower wound healing times, and fatigue. Prolonged protein deficiencies can cause much more serious symptoms, such as fatty liver disease, stunted growth (in children), and a greater risk of bone fractures.
Good food sources of protein include meats, seafood, some plant-based foods, and dairy products. Proteins give us four kilocalories of energy per gram.
Water doesn't contain carbon and doesn't provide our bodies with energy in the form of kilocalories, but it is still an essential nutrient. We need large quantities of it to stay alive and to feel our best. Our bodies are composed of more than 60% water. Without adequate water, our organs would begin to shut down and our body temperature would fluctuate dangerously. Drinking sufficient water is extremely important to our overall health.
Now that we've gone over macronutrients, let's dive into micronutrients and why our bodies need them. Micronutrients can be divided into two categories: vitamins and minerals. Most of us are pretty familiar with each category of micronutrient, but we may not be as familiar with what vitamins and minerals do for us and why we need them.
Here's an overview of the various vitamins and minerals our bodies need to look and feel their best.
Essential vitamins include:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
- Thiamin (Vitamin B1)
- Niacin (Vitamin B3)
- Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6)
- Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)
- Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5)
- Biotin (Vitamin B7)
- Cobalamin (Vitamin B12)
- Folate (Vitamin B9)
Some of these vitamins are fat soluble vitamins (which means they are absorbed and transported in a way that is similar to that of fats and can be stored in the body). Others are water-soluble (meaning they dissolve in water and need to be replenished daily).
Minerals are inorganic, solid substances that are required in the body only in very small amounts. Here are the essential minerals our bodies need:
Some minerals help maintain fluid balance in the body while others transmit nerve impulses, build bone tissue, or perform other important functions in the body. To make sure you're getting adequate nutrient intake, it's important to refer to dietary guidelines and supplement your diet with essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats as needed.
We only need a few milligrams or less of trace minerals. Our bodies require larger amounts of macrominerals. The United States government has established a Recommended Dietary Allowance (or RDA) for the various essential nutrients required for good health. Manufactured food products and supplements are required to show the RDA percentage for each nutrient contained in the products on the label. This makes it easy for consumers to look at food and supplement labels to see how many essential nutrients they contain and the RDA percentage per serving.
What Are the Six Essential Nutrients?
Let's review the six essential nutrients:
These are all essential nutrients because our bodies can't make them but we need them to function and stay healthy. Protein (which is composed of various essential amino acids) is one of the major building blocks of the body. Though we often think of protein as primarily a muscle-building nutrient, it is also an important substance in antibodies, hormones, and other cells. Our bodies can create some amino acids on their own, but all essential amino acids must come from food.
Essential fatty acids are important for providing energy, supporting muscle movement and cell-building, and aiding in the absorption of vitamins and minerals. There are a lot of unhealthy sources of fat out there (think donuts and cookies, which are often loaded with damaging trans fats). It's best to avoid these types of foods and go for healthy fats (including unsaturated fat and some saturated fats from plant foods.
Carbohydrates provide our bodies with an instant source of energy. They also provide structure for the cells in our body.
Minerals are necessary for optimal cellular function. They also regulate body processes and help make up our various body tissues.
Vitamins are also necessary for the proper function of our cells. They comprise a portion of our body tissues and regulate our various body processes.
Finally, water transports the nutrients we consume to our different body parts. Water also plays an important role in body temperature maintenance and transports waste products out of our bodies.
How Do Nutrients Benefit Our Bodies?
There are so many ways nutrients benefit our bodies that we wouldn't dream of listing them all! But here are some of the top ways nutrients benefit us every day:
- Strengthening our teeth and bones
- Boosting our immune function
- Helping us maintain healthy skin
- Assisting with brain and nervous system function
- Aiding calcium absorption
- Helping prevent certain cancers
- Supporting healthy blood
- Assisting the body with metabolizing carbs and proteins
- Balancing water levels
- Ensuring proper development of hair, bones, skin, and muscles
- Serving as a fuel source for our bodies
- Maintaining nervous system function
- Optimizing digestive function
- Flushing out toxins
- Transporting nutrients
- Lubricating our joints
- Preventing constipation
- Keeping us hydrated
That's a pretty impressive list! No wonder we start to look and feel our best when we focus on eating healthy, nutrient-dense foods!
How Can I Make Sure I'm Getting Enough Nutrients?
Anytime we have a nutrient deficiency, our bodies often respond with unpleasant symptoms. Think of these symptoms as the body's way of saying, "Hey! You're not getting me the right nutrients and I don't feel good!" If you're not sure whether you're getting enough vitamins, watch out for these common symptoms of nutrient deficiencies:
- Loss of taste (zinc deficiency)
- Hoarse voice (iron deficiency)
- Bright red or purple tongue (deficiency of certain B vitamins)
- Loose teeth or spongy gums (vitamin C deficiency)
- Tingling lips (vitamin D or calcium deficiency)
- Light sensitivity (vitamin B2 deficiency)
- Eye twitches (magnesium or calcium deficiency)
- Visible blood vessels around cheeks and nose (hydrochloric acid deficiency)
- Cracked, dry lips (deficiency of B vitamins)
- Swollen thyroid or goiter (iodine deficiency)
- Dry, thin hair (essential fatty acid deficiency)
- Noise sensitivity (magnesium deficiency)
- Hair loss (Zinc deficiency)
- Excess earwax (fat deficiency)
- Dandruff (essential fatty acid and zinc deficiency)
- White specks in nails (zinc deficiency)
- Frequent muscle cramps (calcium, potassium, or magnesium deficiency)
- Brittle nails (sulfur or zinc deficiency)
- Red palms (deficiency of B vitamins)
- Tingling in hands (vitamin B6 deficiency)
- Easy bruising (vitamin C, vitamin K, or iron deficiency)
- Longitudinal ridges in nails (hydrochloric acid deficiency)
- Pale skin (iron deficiency anemia)
If you have any of these symptoms, it's time to focus on your diet, girl! You can kick those symptoms to the curb by consuming more foods containing the nutrients your body needs. You may also want to take a multivitamin or a supplement containing healthy organic ingredients that offer a variety of health benefits.
What Are the Best Whole Foods to Eat?
When it comes to treating your body right so it treats you right in return, it's best to stick to a whole food diet as much as possible and get all these nutrients in with a whole food source. Some of the best whole foods to eat include those that are chock-full of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids. It's also OK to eat foods with omega-6 fatty acids as long as they contain more omega-3s than omega-6s.
To give you some dietary inspiration, here is a list of some of the best whole foods you can choose to eat:
- Whole grains (such as whole-grain pasta, brown rice, quinoa, barley, and oatmeal)
- Vegetables (such as broccoli, peas, salad greens, celery, and colorful vegetables)
- Fruits (such as berries, apples, pears, bananas, and kiwis)
- Healthy proteins (such as salmon, tuna, poultry, and occasional lean red meats)
- Nuts and seeds (such as almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and cashews)
- Healthy dairy products (such as yogurt with probiotics, kefir, and milk)
There's no need to feel deprived when you can indulge in all of the delicious, nutritious foods listed above! To limit your consumption of foods that are basically dead when it comes to their nutrient content, stay away from sugary treats and drinks, heavily processed foods, and foods made with white flour. It will probably be hard at first, but don't worry! The longer you go without these types of foods, the easier it will be to stay away from them.
When Do I Need To Take a Dietary Supplement?
If you are experiencing any signs of a nutrient deficiency, it's important to boost your nutrient intake with dietary supplements. But even if you don't necessarily think you have a deficiency, you may still benefit from supplementing your diet with products containing nutrient-rich foods. Many people find that dietary supplements help boost their energy, mental focus, and overall health.
How Can Hersmoothie Help Me Receive the Right Nutrients and Minerals?
Hersmoothie is a supplement designed to help us ladies look and feel our very best. It contains a beautiful blend of fruits and vegetables (including broccoli, kale, cauliflower, carrot, apple, and blueberry powders) that can provide our bodies with essential nutrients. This delicious and nutritious product also contains a probiotic to help support optimal digestive health. When our digestive systems are healthy, they can absorb nutrients from the food we eat more effectively.
For more information about Hersmoothie and other Mixhers products that can boost our health and vitality as women, check out Mixhers resources. We're here to make life easier and more rewarding for women of all ages.
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