What Are Nutrients and Why Do You Need Them?
Maybe you often hear or see the word ‘nutrient’ when you read/learn about foods, diet, and weight loss. Have you ever thought what exactly are nutrients? Nutrients are something that comes from food, and they are vital for disease prevention, growth, and good health. There are six main groups of essential nutrients.
Grouping the Nutrients
However, those six nutrients are put into categories and are grouped by their chemical structure or by what they do in your body. They can be broken up into two categories: macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are eaten in large amounts and include the building blocks of your diet by providing the body with energy: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients, and small doses go a long way. Water, however, is in its own group.
Furthermore, Micronutrients can be classified by whether or not they’re soluble in fat. Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, and Vitamin K are fat-soluble, while the B-complex vitamins and vitamin C are water-soluble. Minerals are grouped as major minerals or trace minerals, depending upon how much of each mineral is necessary.
You can also group nutrients by whether they are organic or not, by which I mean organic chemistry, not organic farming or food production. Water and minerals are inorganic while all the rest are organic because they contain carbon atoms.
Why Nutrients Are Important
Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are nutrients that provide the energy your body needs to carry out all the biochemical reactions that happen during the day as well as night.
The energy is measured in calories (actually kilocalories, but we usually just call them ‘calories’). Gram for gram, fat has more calories than both carbohydrates or protein; one gram fat has 9 calories, and the other two possess several calories per gram.
Fats, proteins, and minerals are necessary for body structure. They are used like raw materials to build and maintain tissues, organs and other structures such as bones and teeth. Carbohydrates are not on this list, however, your body can take any extra carbohydrates and convert them into fat, which can be stored in adipose tissue.
All six essential nutrients are responsible for regulating different body functions like sweating, temperature, metabolism, blood pressure, thyroid function, and even many others. When all of the different functions are in balance, your body is said to be in homeostasis.
Not Quite Nutrients, But Still Important
You may have heard about phytonutrients, which usually are not included in the major classes. Phytonutrients aren’t essential for keeping you alive, unlike the vitamins and minerals that plant foods contain. But when you eat or drink phytonutrients, they may help prevent disease and keep your body working properly.
Fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods such as Whole Grains, Nuts, Beans, Tea contain phytonutrients. All of those foods are very nutritious, so it can be difficult to know how much of the health benefit is due to the regular nutrients or the phytonutrients. Some better-known phytonutrients include polyphenols and carotenoids.
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that your body can’t digest so it doesn’t provide energy or structure. Fiber is necessary for digestive system function because it adds bulk to stool, so it is easier to eliminate. It helps regulate the body’s use of sugars, helping to keep hunger and blood sugar in check. Fiber comes in two varieties: soluble fiber that dissolves in water and insoluble fiber that doesn’t dissolve.
Alcohol (the active ingredient in adult beverages) processes about 7 calories per gram – little more than carbs and protein, but a little less than fats. However, is not classified as a nutrient because it isn’t necessary for life.