Essential nutrients are compounds that the body can’t make or can’t produce in sufficient quantity. They are crucial in disease prevention, growth, and overall health.
Essential nutrients can come from food or any dietary sources to maintain optimal health, says HealthCanal. While there are many essential nutrients, they are divided into two categories: macronutrients (nutrients needed in large quantities) and micronutrients (nutrients needed in small doses).
So, the next time you are asked what the six essential nutrients are. You know that the six essential nutrients include vitamins, minerals, protein, fats, water, and carbohydrates. Keep reading below to know more about these nutrients.
6 Essential Nutrients: What Are They & Why You Need Them?
Since there are two categories of essential nutrients, let’s start with the essential micronutrients first, which include vitamins and minerals.
Vitamins are vital for keeping the immune system healthy. The body needs vitamins to support its functions. There are 13 essential vitamins that wellness professionals divide into two groups:
- Fat-soluble vitamins: Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, and Vitamin K
- Water soluble vitamins: Vitamin B1 (thiamin), Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), Vitamin B3 (niacin), Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), Vitamin B7 (biotin), Vitamin B9 (folate), Vitamin B12 (cobalamin), and Vitamin C.
Vitamins offer a wide range of health benefits, such as:
- Boosting the immune system
- Strengthening bones and teeth
- Maintaining healthy skin
- Supporting healthy blood pressure
- Aiding nervous system functions
Generally, you can get all the vitamins when you eat a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, veggies, and lean protein. So, if you consume fewer fruits and veggies, you may need to take some vitamin supplements to avoid deficiency.
Minerals are the second type of micronutrients, and there are two groups: major and trace minerals. The body needs a balance of minerals from both groups to achieve good health.
Major minerals include:
Major minerals help in maintaining healthy skin, hair, and nails and help in muscle contraction. They also aid in proper fluid balance, nerve transmission, and blood pressure regulation.
Meanwhile, here are the trace minerals:
These minerals help red blood cells to carry nutrients and oxygen to different vital organs, strengthen bones, prevent tooth decay, and support the immune system to function properly.
A person can ensure that they have enough minerals by including these foods in their diet:
- Leafy greens
- Nuts and seeds
- Milk and other dairy products
- Egg yolks
- Whole grains
- Beans and legumes
- Red meats
However, it’s best to understand clearly that not everyone has access to fresh produce. Therefore, you can get it from dietary supplements to get enough minerals.
Protein is an essential nutrient that every cell in the body needs to function properly. It is made up of different essential amino acids that can only come from food. However, you don’t need to eat all the amino acids at once since your body can create complete proteins from different protein foods groups like red meat, poultry, fish, beans & legumes, and dairy products
If you can’t get access to protein or you follow vegan diets, protein sources from processed foods should not be your last resort. You can get it from protein supplements like protein powder instead or from other plant foods.
Protein is responsible primarily for growth, health, and body functions, such as the development of bones, hair, skin, antibodies, hormones, cells, and tissues. It also helps in strengthening teeth.
Fat is always associated with bad health. However, a person needs healthy fats to maintain good health. Yes, fat is high in calories, but calories are an important energy source for the body.
Take note that it’s only essential to consume healthy fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Thus, limit consumption of saturated and trans fats.
Healthy fats in your diet can help balance blood sugar, decrease the risk of heart disease, and improve brain function. They are responsible for wound healing and blood clotting.
The most famous unsaturated fats are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which should be included in a healthy diet. Unsaturated fats are essential for the body since they provide essential fatty acids that your body can’t make.
You can find these healthy fats in nuts, seeds, fish, and vegetable oils like avocado, olive, and flaxseed.
Carbohydrates are essential to the body because they are sugars or starches that provide energy for the body tissue and cell.
There are two different types of carbohydrates: simple and complex carbohydrates. People should limit their consumption of simple carbohydrates like pasta, white bread, and rice as they can increase body weight.
Meanwhile, the body needs complex carbohydrates to support the digestive function, nervous system, brain function, and immune system. You can find complex carbohydrates in brown rice, quinoa, vegetables, fruits, or barley.
People who want to lose weight should avoid starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn, and peas. They cause weight gain because they contain lots of sugars that can spike glucose.
Water is probably the most important nutrient a person needs. A person can only survive for a few days without drinking water. Slight dehydration can cause headaches, thus affecting physical and mental functioning.
The human body is mostly made up of water because every cell requires water to function. Water helps in different body functions, such as transporting nutrients, regulating the fluid balance and body temperature, preventing constipation, and hydration.
The best source of water to drink is unsweetened water from tap or bottled sources. For people who don’t like the taste of plain water, they can add a squeeze of lemon or any citrus fruits.
Nutrients Intake Recommendations
When taking these nutrients, it’s best to consume just the right amount because a little or too much of anything can be dangerous. Hence, here are the dietary guidelines to follow for every nutrient intake.
Vitamins & Minerals
Here’s the recommended dietary allowance of some important vitamins and minerals for adults ages 19 or older:
- Calcium: 1000 mg/day
- Chloride: 2,300 mg/day
- Vitamin B complex: 425 to 550 mg/day
- Copper: 900 micrograms/day
- Fluoride: 3-4 mg/day
- Folic acid: 400 micrograms/day
- Iodine: 150 micrograms/day
- Iron: 8-18 mg/day
- Magnesium: 300-400 mg/day
- Manganese: 1.8-2.3 mg/day
- Phosphorus: 700 mg/day
- Selenium: 55 micrograms/day
- Sodium: 1500 mg/day
- Zinc: 8-11 mg/day
- Vitamin A: 700-900 micrograms/day
- Vitamin B3: 14-16 mg/day
- Vitamin B6: 1.3-1.7 mg/day
- Vitamin C: 75-90 mg/day
- Vitamin D: 600-800 IU/day
- Vitamin E: 22.4 IU/day
If you’re a healthy weight, aim for 0.36 to 0.6 grams per pound (0.8 to 1.3 grams per kg). This amounts to 56 to 91 grams per day for the average male and 46 to 75 grams for the average female.
The dietary reference intake for fat in adults is 20 to 35% of total calories from fat. That’s about 44 to 77 grams of fat per day if you eat 2000 calories daily.
The dietary guidelines for carbohydrates make up 45 to 65% of total daily calories. So, if you get 2000 calories a day, the carbohydrate intake should be around 900 to 1300 calories. This means 225 to 325 grams of carbohydrates a day.
For optimal health, a person should consume all six types of essential nutrients. These nutrients support different body functions, including growth, disease prevention, and immune functions.
In general, proteins, carbohydrates, and fats are the body’s fuel source. Meanwhile, vitamins, minerals, and water are essential for metabolism and proper utilization of these nutrients.
Since there are a variety of nutrients the body needs, people with digestive issues who take certain medications or have other conditions may require special support to help them get the body’s essential nutrients.
But before you do that, you may want to see a dietitian discuss their nutritional intake before taking any supplements.