Nutrients are the basic building blocks of health. Without them, our bodies would not be able to function as they should or remain healthy. In order to maintain a good, nutritious diet and maximise your health, there are six essential nutrients which must be included in your diet on a daily basis.
The Six Essential Nutrients:
Despite what recent diet-fads may suggest, carbohydrates are one of the essential nutrients that you must include in your diet. The guidelines suggest that 45-65% of your diet be made up of carbohydrates, as they are the main source of energy for the brain. Lack of carbohydrates can cause you to feel sluggish, tired, and unable to concentrate, as a result of low blood sugar. Good sources of carbohydrates include fruits, breads, grains, starchy vegetables, and sugars. Eating whole grains provide the additional benefit of added fibre, which can help against heart disease, weight gain, diabetes, and help to maintain a healthy digestive system.
Protein is essential for cell growth and repair, making up the major structural component of cells. They make up every part of the body, from nails and hair, to blood and bones. Protein is also used to produce enzymes to break down food, hormones which regulate the body, and other bodily chemicals. The best sources of protein are low-fat meats like chicken and turkey, beans, dairy products like cheese and milk, and eggs. Protein should make up around 10-35% of your daily calorie intake.
Much like carbohydrates, fats tend to have a bad reputation, but they too are essential for maintaining a healthy and balanced diet. Your brain relies on healthy, non-saturated fats to function effectively, as cell membranes are actually made from polyunsaturated fats. In particular, brain function can be improved by consumption of omega-3 rich fats, of which fish, walnuts, and vegetable based oils are good sources. Fat also acts as a form of stored energy, and increases the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K. Healthy fats should contribute to 20-35% of your daily calorie intake.
There are 13 different types of vitamins out there that contribute to different functions of the body.
Vitamin A helps to look after your skin, eyes, and immune system, and can be found in dairy products, eggs, and oily fish. These are also good sources of the B vitamins, of which there are eight. They help the body to produce red blood cells and energy. Vitamin C helps the body to produce collagen, which makes up the structure of the blood vessels, bones and ligaments. Vitamin D assists in the absorption of calcium, and comes not only from foods such as fatty fish, beef liver, and egg yolks, but also from the sun. Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant protecting the body from free radicals, and can be found in sunflower seeds, almonds, and spinach. Lastly we have vitamin K, which is essential for the blood-clotting process and is found mainly in leafy green vegetables.
Your body requires numerous minerals in order to remain healthy, but some to remember are calcium, iron, and potassium. Calcium is essential for healthy bones and teeth, with the best source being dairy products including milk, cheese, and yoghurts. Iron helps maintain healthy blood, contributing to the production of red blood cells which transport oxygen around the body. A deficiency of iron can result in anaemia, but good sources include red meats, leafy green vegetables, lentils, and kidney beans. Potassium is vital for heart function. The best sources are bananas, sweet potato, avocado, and spinach.
Maintain a balanced diet
By including all of the above in your daily calorie intake, you are providing your body with everything it needs to function effectively and remain healthy. While a good diet does not necessarily guarantee you perfect health, it certainly gives your body a fighting chance against anything life can throw at it.
For more information on diet and nutrition, the NHS Choices Food & Diet pages are an excellent resource.