7 Types of Nutrients: What are They? Why do we Need Them?

Let us understand the 7 different types of nutrients essential to a healthy body, their importance and the main food sources that we get them from.

By Newsmeter Network  Published on  15 Dec 2021 5:25 AM GMT
7 Types of Nutrients: What are They? Why do we Need Them?

Do you remember studying about 'balanced diet' in your science class during school days? Let's brush up on the concept for you briefly! A balanced diet is a wholesome meal plan that comprises of a variety of foods that offer different types of nutrients to your body. But what are nutrients? They are compounds present in foods essential for the body to produce energy and help it perform different functions required for our survival.

In this article, we shall talk about the7 different types of nutrients, their functions and chief food sources to help you understand the importance of eating well-rounded diet.

7 Different types of Nutrients, Functions and Sources:

Before we talk of types of nutrients, we must first understand the classification of nutrients to make matters easy. Nutrients are classified into two main types – Macronutrients and Micronutrients.

Macronutrients: These are nutrients which are required by body in huge amounts to perform different functions. Examples are carbohydrates, proteins, lipids or fats and water
Micronutrients: These nutrients are required by the body in smaller amounts to perform critical body functions and typically comprise of 16 essential minerals and 13 essential vitamins.
Let us now study about each of them in detail!

1. Carbohydrates:

Carbohydrates are macronutrients necessary for providing energy to the body. Carbs are basically sugar molecules which the body breaks down to convert into glucose or blood sugar. This glucose acts as a main energy source for your cells, tissues, organs and muscles, helping you to stay active. The excess glucose then gets stored in the liver or muscles for future use and gets converted into fats. Carbs are also required to strengthen the immune system, promote better digestion and improve brain performance by fueling the respective organs.

Carbohydrates are again divided into two main categories – Simple and Complex. Simple sugars are those which come from sources like candies, fruits, desserts etc. and present in their most simple form. Complex carbs are of three types – Starches, fiber and glycogen, which your body needs to break down before using them for energy. It's always recommended to eat foods of complex carbs such as whole grains and fibrous foods which can help with weight issues and also regulate blood sugar levels

The recommended daily value of carbs is 275gms from a 2000 calorie diet and exceeding this limit may lead to overweight or obesity issues.The key sources of carbohydrates are:

Simple: Sugars, cakes, desserts, white-flour foods like pizzas, baked goods etc.
Complex: Potatoes, Whole grains, Fruits, Vegetables, Nuts, Legumes etc.

2. Proteins:

The word "Protein" is derived from the Greek word prōtos, which means primary or first. This makes it easy for us to understand the importance of proteins to our body. Proteins are building blocks to our body which look like large, complex molecules. Each protein molecule is made of thousands of smaller units called amino acids which bind together in the form of a long chain. The sequence of arrangement of amino acids and their types determines the protein's structure and how it functions in the body. Protein is an essential nutrient that builds and repairs bones, skin, hair etc. along with oxygenating the organs in the body.

Proteins are divided into three main types – Structural Proteins, Storage Proteins and Globular Proteins. Structural proteins are found in the fibers of soft muscles and tissues of which collagen is one main examples. Storage proteins like Casein are stored in cells for future use, while Globular proteins are created within the body to perform many functions which includes antibodies, hormones etc.

The recommended dietary allowance for protein is 0.8gms per kilo of body weight. The values may change with age, gender, health etc. The important sources of proteins are eggs, soy foods, lentils, chicken, dairy, legumes etc.

3. Fats:

Most people don't know that fats are also nutrients required by the body to perform many functions. This is because fats are put into the 'bad' category which one must avoid in order to stay healthy. The fact is that fats, in recommended quantities are essential for maintaining a healthy body. Fats are also called lipids or fatty acids and occur in a three-molecule shape called the triglyceride. Depending on their benefits or hazards to the body, fats are labelled as "healthy" and "unhealthy". Healthy fats are those which lower the blood pressure, fight heart diseases and help in absorbing micronutrients like vitamins and minerals.

Our body can make certain types of fats while other types must come from the food we eat or supplements. The fats coming from external sources are called essential fats which are again divided into three categories –

Unsaturated Fats– Plant foods like nuts, seeds, plant oils like olive, almond etc.
Saturated Fats– Animal-based foods like meat, dairy
Trans fats– Commercial products like processed foods, deep-fried foods, chips etc.

Coming to the daily allowance, the recommended limit of fat is about 44-77 gms per day from a 2000 calorie diet. The consumption of saturated fats must be limited to less than 10% of total daily calories to avoid health problems like heart diseases.

4. Water:

Water is a macronutrient that your body requires in large amounts to keep it healthy. It falls under the 'essential' nutrients category since the body cannot make water on its own and must come from external sources. Apart from quenching our thirst, water performs a number of body functions like absorption of nutrients, digestion, elimination of water products, regulation of body temperature etc. Also, water is required for forming the structures of large molecules in the body by filling the gap in between the cells.

Interestingly, more than 60% of human weight is water without which none of the chemical reactions would occur in the body. Lack of sufficient water can lead to fatigue, dehydration, declining kidney function and in extreme cases, even death. Drinking water usually contains different types of micronutrients like minerals which get absorbed better than those coming from food. The required water quantity per day varies with gender, age and health conditions. The standard measurements usually are 3.4 L per day for adults and 1.4L to 2.2L per day for children

5. Vitamins:

Vitamins are micronutrients, which play a key role in maintaining a healthy body, although required in small amounts. There are 13 essential vitamins which the body cannot make on its own and must come from external sources. Examples of these vitamins are, Vitamin A, C, D, E, K, B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, Pantothenic acid or B5, Biotin or B7 and Folate or B9. Each of these vitamins perform different functions in the body. For instance, Vitamin C promotes wound healing and helps absorb iron while Vitamin E helps in formation of red blood cells and so on. Deficiency of one or many vitamins can impair the functionality and cause many health problems.

Among these Vitamins, Vitamin D is quite an interesting one, as it is called the "sunshine vitamin". This nutrient is made the body after absorbing sunrays. In turn, Vit D helps in producing Calcium, a mineral required for strong bones and teeth. The daily allowance levels of Vitamins depend on the type, age and gender. Main sources of vitamins are fruits, vegetables, fortified foods, dairy, whole grains etc. Vitamin supplements prove helpful to those who have deficiencies or issues related to nutrition absorption.

6. Minerals:

Minerals are substances that are naturally found in the earth and many foods that we eat. Different types of minerals perform different functions in the body, which includes strengthening bones to enabling nerve transmissions and improve muscle performance. There are two basic types of minerals - Macrominerals and trace minerals. Macrominerals are those which are required by the body in large quantities. Examples are Calcium, Chloride, Sodium, Magnesium, Potassium etc. Microminerals or trace minerals are essential too, but in small quantities. Examples are iron, iodine, cobalt, zinc etc.
Minerals come from a variety of food sources like diary, fruits, vegetables, seafood, meat, table salt etc. The daily recommended values also vary with the type of mineral are dealing with. Mineral deficiencies can lead to many health problems like muscle cramping, loss of appetite, decreased immune system and neurological issues.

7. Dietary Fiber:

Although fiber is a type of carbohydrate, it is put into the list of main nutrients required by the body, for the kind of role it plays. Fiber is essentially the undigestible part of the food we eat which is also called 'roughage'. The compounds in fiber will be broken down by the gut bacteria present in our stomach through partial or complete fermentation. Dietary fiber is an essential part of our diet which keeps our gut healthy and reduces the risk of many chronic diseases.

Fiber is derived mostly from plant sources like fruits, vegetables, stems, greens, legumes, nuts etc. There are two types of fibers – Soluble and Insoluble. Soluble fiber mixes with water to form a gel like substances that slows down digestion and regulates blood sugar levels. It is mostly found in barley, nuts, seeds, peas, lentils etc. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to the stools and allows the food to pass smoothly through the stomach, along with aiding in easy bowel movements. This fiber type is found in vegetables, whole grains etc. Currently, the recommended daily allowance of fiber is 25 to 30 grams per day for adults.

We hope you understood the importance of different types of nutrients which are of utmost importance to maintaining a healthy body. While planning for a meal, you must make sure that all these nutrients are covered in the right proportions to offer complete nutrition that your body deserves.

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