Federated Health Charities’ mission is to improve the health and quality of life of all Ontarians by supporting 21 different health charities providing critical services to those experiencing, or affected by, illness. We believe education and prevention are key parts of supporting the health of our communities so our weekly Health Hint series strives to provide tangible and easy to implement hints and tips on how to maintain your health, prevent disease, and enjoy increased quality of life. Check out our latest Health Hint on how to stay motivated while working from home. We hope you find it helpful. If you would like to join our efforts to support the health of Ontario please consider a donation to Federated Health Charities.
What are Nutrients?
Nutrients are substances that the body needs to grow and take care of itself. The human body needs 45 nutrients to survive, which are grouped into six different classes: lipids, carbohydrates, water, proteins, vitamins, and minerals.
Essential nutrients are nutrients that the body can’t make by itself, or can’t make enough of to stay at a healthy level – these need to come from the diet or dietary supplements.
Proteins, lipids, and carbohydrates are used by the body to create energy, which means that they need to be consumed in large amounts to stay healthy. This is why they can be referred to as energy-yielding nutrients, or macronutrients. Water is also considered a macronutrient: even though it doesn’t provide energy, it has many important purposes for the body, including, but not limited to transporting fluids and regulating body temperature.
Carbohydrates are the most common sources of energy, and the quickest for the body to break down. They include:
- starches, which can be found in grains and vegetables
- sugars, found in fruits and milk
- fibres, which can’t be digested, but are important for gastrointestinal health, and are found in legumes, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Lipids are concentrated sources of energy that can be found from fats and oils in the diet. They are a way for the body to store energy for future use: by converting energy into triglycerides, a type of lipid made up of fatty acids, the body can store energy in the body. This means that when you get hungry, or when you fast for long periods of time, and can’t replenish your energy by eating a granola bar or a plate of pasta, the body will use these deposits of lipid energy as a back-up plan instead.
Proteins are found in meat, fish, milk, grains, and legumes. There are many different types of proteins, and they are all used by the body to grow, maintain and regulate itself. Proteins are made of amino acids, some of which can be made by the body, and others that need to come from the diet or dietary supplements. Although proteins and carbohydrates provide the same amount of energy per gram in calories, proteins take more work to convert into energy that the body can use. A healthy diet needs to have a diverse mix of carbohydrates, lipids and proteins – the body needs all of these macronutrients for different purposes: energy, energy storage, and body maintenance.
The body needs vitamins and minerals in smaller quantities, which is why they are referred to as micronutrients.
Vitamins are organic molecules that the body cannot make by itself. They do not provide energy, but are used for many different functions, including in the processes to convert food into energy.There are thirteen different types of vitamins, and they each have unique functions in the body. For example, Vitamin B is used to regulate how macronutrients are used for energy. Other vitamins are crucial for bone growth, tissue growth, and blood clotting.
Minerals are inorganic molecules. Like vitamins, they do not provide energy, but are important for regulating body processes and keeping strong body structures. Minerals are needed to transmit nerve impulses (signals from your brain to your body to tell it what to do), develop bone strength, and transport oxygen through your blood stream. There are many different kinds of nutrients, and they all serve different functions for the same purpose: keeping your body healthy and strong. The body is made of nutrients – minerals in your bones and teeth are held together by proteins that form ligaments and tendons, while lipids and proteins surround every cell in your body. Macronutrients are the big-ticket items: they give your body the energy it needs now and in the future, while micronutrients pave the way for all of the different processes and systems in your body to keep running smoothly. A healthy diet, with lots of colourful sources of food, and dietary supplements as necessary, will help your body make sure it has everything it needs to survive and thrive.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our latest Health Hint!
Written by Sebastin Noor
NOTE: This article is intended to provide general health tips based on available research. You should consult with a health care professional for specific medical and dietary instructions that are right for you. }
Smolin, L. A., Grosvenor, & Gurfinkel, D. (2015). Nutrition: Science and Applications (2nd ed.). Nashville, TN: John Wiley & Sons.