Essential Nutrients: Your Guide to a Balanced Diet
Most of us love food, but we rarely know what nutrients they bring to the table. There are six major nutrients that you must obtain from your diet to maintain a healthy body. Nutrients are divided into two main categories — macronutrients and micronutrients. Your body needs a daily supply of macronutrients in large quantities. These are carbohydrates, protein, fat, and water. Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals that are needed in lesser quantities but are essential. Your body needs a blend of both these types to meet daily energy and nutrient requirements. Let us find out more about these six essential nutrients.
Carbohydrates are the primary source of fuel for the body and supply you with energy. There are broadly two types of carbs:
Simple carbohydrates: These are broken down quickly in the body to supply energy. Sugar, candy, sweetened beverages, and packaged foods that have added sugars are simple carbohydrates.
Complex carbohydrates: They take a longer time to break down. Also known as slow carbohydrates, they include whole grains, legumes, and vegetables.
Even though carbs are often considered as a nutrient to watch out for when you are on a weight loss plan, it really depends on the type you choose to consume. Whole grains that undergo the least processing are preferred to their refined counterparts. Fiber, found in fruits and vegetables, is a type of carbohydrate vital for gut health and should be part of your daily diet.
The National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), India suggests that an adult needs 45% to 65% of their daily caloric intake from carbohydrates. For instance, if you need to consume a 2000kcal diet, carbohydrates should supply between 900 to 1300kcal of energy which corresponds to 225g to 325g of carbohydrate in a day.
This essential nutrient not only helps you build muscle, but also promotes the growth, maintenance, and repair of cells. It is vital for the formation of hormones and enzymes that are required to carry out various body functions, such as digestion, muscle building, and so on. Eating a protein-rich meal also makes you feel fuller much faster.
An adult needs to consume 0.8g of protein per kg of body weight. But this amount might range from 1g-2.2g/kg of body weight, depending on your level of physical activity. Some of the richest sources of protein are dairy products, animal products, cereals, and pulses. According to NIN, 10% to 35% of your daily caloric intake should come from protein. For instance, in a 2,000Kcal diet, 200 to 700kcal of energy which corresponds to 50g to 175g of protein in a day.
Fats are an integral part of a balanced diet. They are the most concentrated source of energy among the three macronutrients and are vital for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K. The source of your fats is critical. There are “good fats” and “bad fats”. Good fats include fish, avocados, nuts, seeds, and cold-pressed oils. On the other hand, bad fats come from refined oils, margarine, and hydrogenated oils like vanaspati.
The calories from fat should be between 20% and 35% of a person’s daily intake. For example, a 2000kcal diet should supply 400 to 700kcal of energy which corresponds to 45g to 78g of fat in day.
Water doesn’t supply nutrients, but is essential for the optimal functioning of the body and indeed, survival. It helps in the removal of toxins, delivers nutrients, regulates body temperature, and lubricates joints. Dehydration can be severely detrimental to health.
Vitamins do not directly provide energy to the body, but play important roles as coenzymes and contribute to the generation of energy. They also support your immune system and help with disease prevention. Our bodies cannot synthesize vitamins, except Vitamin D to a certain extent. So, it is crucial that we include vitamin-rich sources in our diet.
There are two kinds of vitamins:
Water-soluble vitamins: These include vitamins C and B-complex. They get dissolved in water and need to be consumed every day as your body cannot store them. They can be found in citrus foods, whole grains, lean meat, and green leafy vegetables.
Fat-soluble vitamins: Such vitamins need fat as a carrier to get transported, and can be stored in the body. Vitamins A, D, E, and K belong to this category. Dietary sources include nuts, seeds, dairy products, carrots, dark green leafy vegetables, meat, poultry, and fish.
Minerals are involved in the growth, repair, and regulation of various functions such as bone health, blood clotting, and muscle contraction. Iron, calcium, magnesium, and zinc are some important examples. But the body also requires others such as selenium, phosphorus, copper, iodine, and fluoride. A variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and dairy products will ensure a supply of these minerals.
Minerals have complex ways of interacting with each other in the body. Foods rich in certain minerals, when consumed along with others, might interact and reduce their absorption in the body. For instance, combining a food rich in iron with something loaded with calcium can hinder the absorption of iron in your body. You should, therefore, be careful to avoid such nutrient combinations.
Now that you know about the basics of the essential nutrients for your body, it’s time to eat better. Focus on consuming a balanced diet and “eat the rainbow” — ie, eat different colored fruits and vegetables — so you can have a fair share of all macronutrients and micronutrients.
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