Healthy eating can get complicated.
There are all sorts of food and nutritional tips out there.
How do you know what’s right or wrong?
At the end of the day, nutrition and healthy eating boils down to a couple of key steps:
- Eating food that contains the 7 essential nutrients
- Drinking enough liquids to keep your body and brain hydrated
There is a small learning curve, but once you understand how each ingredient in your kitchen contributes to your nutritional needs, everything else will fall into place.
You’ll be able to ensure you and your family get all of the nutrients you need every day and mix and match ingredients to create healthy, delicious recipes.
In this article, I’ll walk you through the 7 essential nutrients. These are what enable our bodies to stay fit and healthy so we can live our lives to the fullest.
What Are The 7 Essential Nutrients?
There are seven major classes of essential nutrients.
- Dietary Fiber
We need all of these for our bodies to function correctly.
Let’s take a look at why we need these nutrients, how much we need, and how we can get them.
Vitamins are the first of the 7 essential nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy and keep everything working as it should.
If you already have a balanced diet rich in a variety of foods, the chances are that you’re already getting enough vitamins. If not, you can use multivitamin supplements to ensure you are.
There is a wide range of vitamins our bodies need, but here are some of the most important (and their functions):
These vitamins help with a range of essential bodily functions.
For example, Vitamins A and C help our immune systems fight off infections, Vitamin K is essential for blood clotting, and Vitamin D keeps our teeth, bones, and muscles healthy.
These vitamins are all naturally occurring in foods, and we can absorb Vitamin D through sunlight too.
If you’re on a plant-based diet or have dietary restrictions for medical reasons, then it’s worth reviewing your vitamin intake with your doctor or a registered nutritionist. If you’re not getting enough of these essential vitamins, your health may suffer in the long run.
Minerals are another essential nutrient that we need to stay healthy.
Most minerals are present in foods, so you should be getting enough. Otherwise, many multivitamins contain minerals, or you can buy standalone mineral supplements.
Some of the most important minerals include:
They come with a range of health benefits.
For example, if you don’t have enough calcium, your bone health can be adversely affected.
Iron can improve cognitive function and our ability to learn.
Zinc supports normal growth and development, and is also linked to improving our immune function.
Next up, proteins.
Proteins are essential macronutrients that our bodies use for growth and repair, and as a source of energy. After water, they’re the second most abundant type of molecules in our body.
Proteins contain vital amino acids, so it’s important to regularly consume the recommended amount of protein per day.
Protein is essential for anyone with an active lifestyle as it stimulates muscle repair after a workout.
It’s also associated with better muscle function as we age.
Protein is widely available through food, like:
- Meat and fish
- Dairy products
It’s also available in non-animal products like lentils, seeds, and tofu.
You should aim to be getting at least 10% of your daily calories through protein, and the Protein Summit even recommends getting up to 25% of your daily calories through protein.
Carbohydrates are the next essential macronutrient we need. They provide energy and keep our bodies healthy.
There are three main types of carbohydrates:
We need all three to stay healthy. Our bodies break down the sugars and starch and convert them into energy, and fiber helps us feel full after a meal.
We often hear that carbs are unhealthy, and lots of diets focus on eliminating carbs.
In reality, this only refers to certain types of carbs: refined ones.
Refined carbohydrates have been linked to neurocognitive deficits.
If you stick to whole rather than refined carbs like whole grains, dairy, fruit, and vegetables
It’s best to get most of your carbohydrates from whole grains, dairy, fruits, and vegetables instead rather than refined grains.
Fat has been a cornerstone of dietary recommendations for a long time.
Fat is a vital source of essential fatty acids that help the body absorb Vitamins, including A, D, and K.
Omega-3 fats, a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid, found in foods like fish, beans, and certain seeds, have been found to have suppressive effects on cancer, inflammatory, and autoimmune diseases. They are also protective of cardiovascular health.
Our bodies can’t produce Omega-3 fatty acids naturally, so it’s vital that you get them through your diet.
It’s also important to get monounsaturated fats. These help to create good cholesterol and can help [prevent heart disease](https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24499124/?).
Sources of healthy monounsaturated fats include olive oil, walnuts, and avocados.
When it comes to incorporating fats into your diet, you should aim to get around 20 to 35% of your daily calories from healthy fats.
A general goal is for 20 percent to 35 percent of your total daily calories to come from healthy fats, such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, and fewer than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fats.
Fiber is another essential nutrient.
Fiber plays an important role in gut health, reducing bowel health problems, and higher intakes of fiber are even linked to lower body weights.
It’s also linked to improved production of certain fatty acids, vitamin, and mineral absorption, so it’s essential that you get enough fiber every day.
There are two main types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber is found in foods like oats, barley, and mushrooms. Insoluble fiber is found in foods, including kidney beans, peas, and corn.
The best sources of fibermass per serving are:
- Cooked dry beans
- Dark green vegetables
- Whole grains
If you’re low in dietary fiber, chances are that you’re not eating enough fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
60% of our bodies are made up of water, so it makes sense for it to be one of the 7 essential nutrients.
Our bodies use water for lots of important functions:
- It’s a vital nutrient for cells to grow
- It helps us regulate our body temperatures through sweating and breathing
- It transports nutrients through our bloodstream
- It lubricates our joints
The amount of water you need each day will vary based on activity levels, the temperature, and what you eat.
Your children should be encouraged to drink water instead of sugary drinks, too.
We all need a healthy balanced diet and enough fluids if we expect to have the energy to manage our personal life, work, and live to the fullest.
If you want to introduce new foods into your diet to improve your energy, consider foods that incorporate the 7 essential nutrients.
If you eat a variety of nutrient-rich foods, you’ll hit your nutritional needs with ease.
Once you have an understanding of what you should be eating, healthy eating becomes natural. Your food shopping will become easier as you know what foods to buy.
Cooking will be easy, as your pantry is always stocked with healthy ingredients that can be used in a variety of meals.