A Guide to Essential Nutrients: Why Our Body Needs them to Thrive

Takeaway: Essential nutrients are compounds that the body either can’t make or can’t make enough of by itself. There are two different types of essential nutrients to look out for: macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are protein, carbs, and fats while micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. Follow this list of essential amino acids, fatty acids, and essential vitamins.

The body needs a variety of essential nutrients in order to function properly. Over 90 essential nutrients are responsible for functions from ensuring healthy muscle growth and strong bones to maintaining a better mood and decreasing depression. If you find yourself asking “what are essential nutrients?”, then please read on to find out what types of essential amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals are needed to survive.

What is an Essential Nutrient?

Essential nutrients are compounds that the body either can’t make itself or can’t make enough of by itself. For this reason, these nutrients have to come from the food that we eat. These vital nutrients are needed for disease prevention, maintaining growth, and overall good health.

There are two different types of essential nutrients to look out for: macronutrients and micronutrients. The former are eaten in larger amounts mainly and are the building blocks of your diet (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) that provide you with energy. The latter includes vitamins and minerals that are taken in much smaller doses although their role is just as important in the body.

What are Conditionally Essential Nutrients?

The body produces conditionally essential nutrients under normal circumstances. However, some disorders, like sickle cell anemia, lead to the body not being able to synthesize those nutrients as they should. Because of this, individuals with certain disorders must take extra supplements to make up for their body’s deficiency.

food items that make up a balanced diet and have essential nutrients

The 6 Essential Nutrients

Although there are many types of essential nutrients, they all fall into six main categories. These nutrients are needed by the body to have the energy it needs to function and can be found in a variety of food sources.

Protein

Every cell contains protein making this nutrient essential to your body’s overall health. Protein is used for the body’s growth and maintenance comprising hormones and antibodies to keep yourself healthy and balanced. An astounding 16% of an average human body’s weight is protein showing its importance as a building block of the body.

Protein is made up of different amino acids, many of which can only come from food. Healthy sources of protein include meat, fish, eggs, beans, soy, nuts, and grains.

Carbohydrates

Carbs are necessary for a healthy body especially the central nervous system and the brain because they give it the energy it needs to function. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, carbs should make up 45%- 65% of your total daily calories. Some carbs are healthier than others, so you try to focus on grains, beans, fiber-rich vegetables, and fruits instead of refined grains and products with added sugar.

Fats

Although it may have a bad reputation, research shows that fat supports many of your body’s functions such as mineral absorption, blood clotting, building cells, and muscle movement. It can also help to balance your blood sugar and decrease your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, cancer, and Alzheimer’s as well as improving brain function and fighting inflammation.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 20%-30% of daily calories should come from fat. You should try to incorporate unsaturated fats, such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, into your diet as opposed to trans fats and saturated fats. Unsaturated fats can be found in nuts, seeds, fish, and vegetable oils.

Vitamins

The body needs 13 essential vitamins in order to function properly with each playing an important role. Vitamins are necessary for warding off disease, maintaining healthy vision, good skin, strong bones, and lowering the risk of lung and prostate cancer. A varied, well-balanced diet full of vegetables and fruits and a healthy functioning digestive tract should mean that you’re getting all the vitamins you need.

Minerals

Minerals like calcium, iron, and zinc are essential for body functions like building strong bones and teeth, regulating your metabolism, and staying properly hydrated. Calcium helps explicitly with strengthening the bones, maintaining nerve signal transmission, maintaining healthy blood pressure, and supporting muscle contraction and relaxation. Iron supports your red blood cells and hormone creation while zinc works to boost your immune system and wound healing.

Water

Possibly the most essential nutrient, water makes up 62% of your body weight and is crucial for every system in your body. H2O improves brain function and mood, acts as the body’s shock absorber and lubricant, helps flush out toxins, carry nutrients to the cells, hydrates the body, and prevents constipation. Even mild dehydration can make you feel tired and impair your functionality, so water is most definitely a vital nutrient.

Although you can get water by simply drinking it, fruits and vegetables like spinach or watermelon are also good sources of water. You can tell if you’re adequately hydrated if your urine is frequent and pale yellow.

List of Essential Nutrients

Essential Nutrients: Eggs, salmon, cheese, nuts on wooden plate

Now that you know what the six essential nutrients are, your next question is most likely “how can I get them?” Below is a list of essential nutrients, including amino acids and fatty acids, to get you on the right track to keeping your body in check.

Essential Amino Acids

Amino acids are the building blocks that form protein, one of the most essential nutrients in the body. Without amino acids, cells don’t have their structure, so they’re vital to a healthy body. While there are many types of amino acids, pay closest attention to the following essential amino acid to maintain health and functionality.

Isoleucine:

This amino acid boosts energy levels and assists the body in recovering from strenuous physical activity. This makes it an excellent supplement for professional athletes and bodybuilders. You can find this amino acid in meat, fish, cheese, eggs, and most seeds and nuts.

Leucine:

This nutrient is even more effective than isoleucine as a bodybuilding supplement, due to its role in building muscle and providing energy. You can find leucine can be found in high protein foods like fish, chicken, turkey, yogurt, cheese, and soybeans. However, studies have shown that an excess of leucine can lead to a decrease in energy, so talk to your doctor before including it in your workout regimen.

Lysine:

This amino acid is essential for normal growth and muscle turnover in the body, as well as producing carnitine (a compound found in most of your body’s cells). It also plays a role in transporting fats across the body to cells in order to be burned for energy. L-lysine, the form of lysine that the body can utilize, can be found in beef, chicken, lamb, shellfish, potatoes, peppers, leeks, avocados, soy, kidney beans, and chickpeas.

Methionine & Cysteine:

Methionine is the amino acid involved in the production of cysteine, and both of which are the only amino acids that contain sulfur in the body. They play a critical role in starting the process of making new proteins inside the cells. Regarding intake, animal proteins are better sources of methionine than plant proteins, and the recommended dose for adults is 8.6mg per pound daily.

Phenylalanine & Tyrosine:

Phenylalanine is an amino acid used to form tyrosine, which is important for metabolism and is used to treat depression. Specifically, L-phenylalanine is an essential form and is found in proteins such as meat, fish, eggs, cheese, and milk.

Threonine:

This amino acid is used to treat various nervous system disorders, such as multiple sclerosis, ALS and Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Threonine can be found in high protein foods like lean beef, soy, pork, chicken, liver, cheese, shellfish, nuts, seeds, beans, and lentils. The recommended daily intake of threonine is 6.8mg per pound.

Tryptophan:

Tryptophan is most popularly used to treat depression due to its ability to create niacin which is essential in creating serotonin. You can find tryptophan in salmon poultry, eggs, spinach, seeds, milk, soy, and nuts. If you prefer to take it as a supplement, we recommend trying NOW L-Tryptophan 500mg Capsules.

Valine:

This amino acid is usually used in conjunction with isoleucine and leucine to promote muscle growth, supply energy, and help recover tissues damaged during physical activity. Foods high in valine include cheese, soybeans, beef, lamb, chicken, pork, nuts, seeds, fish, beans, mushrooms, and whole grains. In supplement form with isoleucine and leucine, we recommend Optimum Nutrition’s Instantized BCAA 1,000mg Capsules.

Essential Fatty Acids

Essential Fatty Acids like avocado, salmon, almonds, and olive oil

Now that we know what essential amino acids are, what are essential fatty acids? Fatty acids are good fats and are necessary for life, but, like most essential nutrients, they must be obtained through diet because the body can’t make them. Essential fatty acids can do many things from increasing the body’s absorption of vitamins and minerals to preventing and treating diseases.

Linoleic Acid (Omega-6):

This is the most common type of omega-6 fat. Although it is an essential fatty acid and is an important source of energy for the body, Western diets often contain too high of a linoleic acid level. In order to maintain a healthy balance of omega-6 and omega-3, your intake of linoleic acid may need to be reduced.

Linolenic Acid (Omega-3):

This essential fatty acid can help in the prevention and treatment of blood vessels and heart diseases. Linolenic acid can be found in plant oils such as flaxseed, soybean, and canola oils.

List of Essential Vitamins and Minerals

Essential Vitamins and Minerals in supplement form

Two of the six essential nutrients for the body are vitamins and minerals, but it’s not as simple as that. There is a multitude of essential vitamins and minerals, all with different functions in the body and external food sources.

Essential Vitamins

When it comes to essential vitamins, there are a few popular ones that people know to go to – vitamin C and D. However; there is a wide variety of vitamins that are essential to the body, all with different functions.

Vitamin C

Also known as L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C is used to prevent and treat scurvy, repair tissue, battle high blood pressure, and boost your immune system all while being a strong antioxidant. There is a variety of foods that contain vitamin C, but those with the highest amount are broccoli, cantaloupe, cauliflower, kale, kiwi, orange juice, papaya, sweet potato, strawberries, and tomatoes.

Vitamin A

This vitamin is important for several functions of the body including growth and development, immune system maintenance, and protecting the vision, skin, and bones. Vitamin A is also a strong antioxidant and fights cell damage in the body. You can find retinol, which is one major type of vitamin A, in oily fish, liver, cheese, and butter.

Vitamin D

Made naturally by the body when your skin is exposed to sunlight, vitamin D helps to keep the immune system healthy and maintain bone health by improving the body’s absorption of calcium. However, while you can add vitamin D to your diet by eating fatty fish and fortified fairy, it’s better to take the recommended daily dose of 400 to 899 IU via a supplement like Nature Made’s Calcium & Vitamin D3 Tablets.

Vitamin E

This vitamin acts as an antioxidant and helps to protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals. Vitamin E is especially useful in helping to maintain healthy skin and can be found in many skin treatment ointments like Basic Organics’ Natural Vitamin E Ointment. You add vitamin E to your diet with vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, and fortified foods.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K can help maintain bone health and wound healing due to its ability to make proteins needed for healthy bones and normal blood clotting. You can find vitamin K naturally in green leafy vegetables, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, fish, liver, meat, eggs, and cereals.

Vitamin B6

This B vitamin is important for proper brain development and functioning especially because of its ability to help make the mood regulators serotonin and norepinephrine. You can add vitamin B6 to your diet by eating pork, poultry, fish, bread, whole grain cereals, eggs, vegetables, and soybeans.

Essential Minerals

Many minerals are essential to a properly functioning body, but certain minerals should be taken in higher quantities than others. This is why essential minerals are separated into two categories: bulk minerals and trace minerals. As the names suggest, the body requires higher amounts of bulk minerals while it only requires smaller amounts of trace minerals.

Bulk Minerals

This mineral helps with enzyme activity, energy production, muscle maintenance, nervous system function, and heart health. You can add magnesium to your diet by eating dairy products, fish, shellfish, meat, wheat germ, and almonds.

Calcium helps maintain bones, teeth, and muscle growth in the body. It can be found naturally in dairy products, boned salmon, almonds, and brewer’s yeast.

    • Phosphorous

This mineral plays a vital role in bone and teeth health, as well as maintaining cell growth and proper metabolism. Phosphorus can be found in asparagus, corn, bran, dairy products, and eggs.

    • Potassium

Potassium is a vital component of nerve and muscle health, as well as maintaining the body’s water balance. You can find potassium in bananas, molasses, parsley, fish, fruit, mushrooms, and pumpkin.

    • Sodium

Sodium, which makes up almost half of salt, helps to maintain the body’s water balance, muscles, nerves, and stomach. You can find high amounts of sodium in olives, miso, shrimp, celery, and ham.

Trace Minerals

    • Boron

This mineral works alongside calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium to help the body’s bones, muscles, and metabolism.

    • Iron

By playing a significant role in the transport of oxygen and carbon dioxide to cells, iron is a vital mineral for energy production in the body. You can add iron to your diet by eating eggs, fish, pumpkin seeds, liver, meat, poultry, and leafy vegetables.

    • Zinc

Probably one of the most versatile trace minerals, zinc can help the body in many ways from building the immune system to protecting the nervous system and brain. You can find zinc in food sources like oysters, brazil nuts, egg yolks, kelp, fish, and pecans.

    • Iodine

Iodine is an essential mineral for mental and physical development, as well as maintaining a healthy thyroid. Most popularly found in iodized salt, you can also get iodine from kelp, seafood, and saltwater fish.

    • Copper

Copper works with zinc and calcium to help bone growth and red blood cell production. You can find copper in almonds, avocados, barley, beans, beets, and broccoli.

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