Vital Nutrients: The MVPs of Food


It can be tough to wrap your head around health foods these days; so many terms and buzzwords get thrown around like vital nutrients, vitamins, toxins, minerals, amino acids, macros, micros, and nutritional Marxism. We could forgive you for not being able to tell the good stuff from the hype. To get back to the basics, let’s turn to our old pal science to find out what vital nutrients our bodies really need.

There are six essential nutrients that the human body requires, and each comes in a class with different variations. What are the vital nutrients? Let’s examine each one so you can understand why you need them. Also, we’ll look at some ways you can get them into your system if you lack them.

The Six Classes of Vital Nutrients: A Balancing Act

Each of these classes of nutrients is crucial to your survival and healthy living. Don’t fall for fad diets and audacious claims that you need to cut one or more of them out of your diet completely to be healthy. It just isn’t true. However, some of them should certainly be limited. There is such thing as too much of a good thing.

Fat

Our first nutrient is a good example of this limiting but not eliminating principle. A diet with no fat whatsoever is not healthy and can cause problems for your body. Too much fat, especially the wrong kinds of fat, can have just as bad of an effect, if not worse. Balance is the trick.

What It Is

Fats are usually made up of long chains of fatty acids bonded to glycerol. They are typically found as triglycerides and come in two kinds: saturated and unsaturated. There is also a third kind of fat that is technically an unsaturated fat called trans fat, which is not often found in nature but can be found everywhere in the food industry.

What It Does

Fat is primarily a method for storing energy. It is exceptionally efficient at storing food energy in your body long-term for later use. They are converted to energy and digested slowly because they are the storehouses for your body. It does its best to keep the stockpile up, so you don’t starve. It isn’t aware that you are likely less than ten minutes away from enough calories to feed a family of four at any given moment in the modern world.

The Good Kinds

Most fats are actually classified as not essential, meaning your body can create enough of them for you to stay alive. However, consumption of unsaturated fats in the diet has shown to be good for the health of every age group.

Also, in humans at least, two of them are essential and must be included in the diet. These are the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which you have likely heard of. These fatty acids serve as antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and other healthy helpers. They prevent many common health maladies, including cardiovascular disease.

The Bad Kinds

Saturated fats are not as beneficial as unsaturated fats, and can lead to weight gain and sluggish metabolism. Trans fats are even worse, and you should avoid them completely. They can lead to coronary artery disease and other common killers.

Carbohydrates

Another one of the vital nutrients that gets a bad rap is carbs. Carbohydrates or carbs for short, are essential for your energy production and metabolism. They are calorically dense, which is great for powering your body, but of course too many and it will get turned into body fat if you don’t use them.

What They Are

Carbs are classified as  monosaccharides, disaccharides, or polysaccharides depending on the number of sugar units they contain. They are a diverse array of molecules with different makeups and effects on the body. As such, to wholly discount them from your diet is irresponsible. They are technically, in the strict sense, not essential nutrients, meaning the body can produce them and does not need to ingest them to survive. But surviving and living a healthy life are two very different things.

What They Do

Carbs are mainly energy sources. Some of them burn fast like sugars while others like complex carbs release energy more slowly for sustained burns. They are vital for fueling physical activity, provided its the right kind.

The Good Kinds

Sugars should be consumed sparingly, as their high energy content and fast burn means that they will convert to fat if not used immediately. Some kinds of sugars, like glucose, are required for maintaining body functions, so we recommend responsible amounts.

Fiber is perhaps the most helpful kind of carb. Also known as dietary fiber, this carb greatly increases your digestive health by “getting things moving” so to speak. Also, it reduces the risk of colon cancer and prevents absorption of too many calories.

The Bad Kinds

Technically all carbs, especially sugar, can be bad for you if you consume too many, which is easy in the sugarcoated modern world. You should avoid added sugars and refined grains, as they are not natural and can have adverse effects on your weight and health.

Protein

Protein is the building block of your body. Your skin, hair, muscles, and organs come from it. Protein is absolutely vital for everyone, so eat a lot of it. Too much protein is technically possible, but hard to pull off and will mostly just make you fat. Be careful though, because most protein sources come with carbs and fats.

What It Is

Amino acids make up proteins. So when you hear talk of getting this or that amino acid, they are talking about the building blocks of proteins which you can get by consuming the right protein. Most of our protein comes from animals, but several plants are good sources of protein as well.

What It Does

Protein is vital for maintaining your muscles, skin as well as the growth and overall maintenance of your body. They are a good source of energy that doesn’t convert to fat easily and is crucial if you want to pack on the muscles and get ripped.

The Good and Bad Kinds

All protein is good for you; there isn’t really a bad kind. However, different foods have varying sources of protein, and some are better than others due to the other vital nutrients in them. Animal proteins provide essential amino acids, but sometimes come saddled with high fat content. Plant proteins often come with beneficial side nutrients like fiber but don’t provide enough of the important amino acids that your body needs. Always check what you are getting into with protein.

Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins and minerals are both their separate class of nutrient, but they are very similar. They are both micronutrients, meaning that the body requires a relatively small amount of them compared to the above three vital nutrients. Vitamins are organic compounds, while minerals are inorganic, which is the reason for the two separate categories.

What They Are

Vitamins and minerals enter your body in trace amounts and come in the form of molecules instead of big chunks like meat protein or bread carbs. Virtually every food you eat has vitamins and vital nutrients in it, but in wildly fluctuating amounts of course.

What They Do

It would be easier to list the things that vitamins and minerals don’t do. There’s scarcely a bodily function that isn’t regulated or improved by the presence of a certain vitamin or mineral. Balanced daily intake is essential for healthy living.

The Good Kinds

There are 13 essential vitamins. They are:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin D
  • A vitamin C
  • Vitamin K
  • Vitamin E
  • The vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, and B12

The essential minerals are:

  • Calcium
  • Phosphorous
  • Magnesium
  • Iron
  • Copper
  • Sodium
  • Potassium
  • Chloride
  • Sulfur
  • Iodine
  • Cobalt
  • Selenium
  • Manganese
  • Zinc

The Bad Kinds

There aren’t any bad vitamins or nutrients, but too much of some can be harmful. Don’t just overdo it on the vitamins and minerals hoping to get healthy. As there are so many different vitamins and minerals with different effects, the best way to determine if you have a shortage of one is with the help of a nutritionist.

Water

Yes, water is a nutrient. It is vital to keep you alive and healthy. It regulates your body function, lubricates your joints, flushes waste from your body and so much more. Good old H2O is still the best drink out there for you.

Too Much?

Some people assert that it is possible to drink too much water, and that is true. It would just be extremely difficult. The old maxim “drink eight glasses a day” is not supported by science, but couldn’t hurt. As long as your urine is not dark yellow and pungent and you aren’t thirsty, you’re doing OK.

Where to Get Vital Nutrients

So you think you have a shortage of vital nutrients? Not to worry. For people in developed areas, it usually is not a problem getting enough carbs, fats or proteins. The problem is balancing them out. Keep the bad types out, the good types in, and all of it in a responsible calorie amount. Vitamins and minerals can lag behind. So consider supplements. There are a variety of vital nutrients products out there that will get your vitamin and mineral levels up to healthy.

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