various vegetables representing the 6 essential vitamins and minerals

An In-Depth Guide To The 6 Essential Nutrients And Functions

WHAT ARE NUTRIENTS?

Nutrients are substances in food that are primarily responsible for providing an energy source to run the system of a living organism independently of its structural organization.

 From: Wheat and Rice in Disease Prevention and Health, 2014 

The six types of essential nutrients are:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Fats
  • Proteins
  • Water
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals

They are literally the golden substance of life that allows us to survive, grow, and reproduce.

More importantly, the human body cannot synthesize these nutrients on its own, (or not to an adequate amount). And therefore these nutrients are said to be, essential to life. 

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wHY IS EATING A WELL BALANCED AND NUTRITIOUS DIET IMPORTANT TO US?

Ok, let’s start the ball rolling by first qualifying that When I say “diet,” I am not referring to some new fad, scheduled plan, or calorie counter.

People tend to get tensed at the mention of the word, “diet,” and turn away from the subject. Probably feeling as though they are going to be sold something or asked to do the impossible!

However, all that I ask is that when you read this article please replace the word “diet” in your head by thinking of the words:-

Nature’s nourishment for the mind and body, OR, Mother earth’s gift of natural medicine attuned to the human condition.  

A bit unusual I know, but I definitely think that it’s the right way of thinking.

Keep those words in your head when you are trying to conquer your fitness, weight loss, and self-development goals. Trust me those descriptions will make things easier and the food taste all the sweeter.

Now, good nutritious food has been proven to quite literally feed our mind and body. It keeps us strong, mentally alert, and energized for the day ahead.

Moreover, a healthy diet combined with some light daily exercise can prevent the onset of many small illnesses and more serious long term health problems.

Several studies have also shown that when you combine good nutrition with physical activity, on even a small scale, (gym membership is not required). Then the average human has the ability to push life expectancy beyond the established average in their area.

And as a bonus, it has been statistically proven that they will be happier within themselves as they live it! I can think of many old but frisky greeks here!

REGULARLY EATING THE SIX TYPES OF ESSENTIAL NUTRIENTS CAN:
  • Reduce the risk of high Blood pressure.
  • Strengthens bones and improves skin suppleness and color. 
  • Improve your ability to fight illness both minor and major.
  • Increase your energy levels and lift your mood. 
  • Improve your ability to recover from illness.
  • promote feelings of joy, happiness, and wellbeing.
  • Lower high Cholesterol levels.
  • Improve and strengthen your immune system.

In support of this, it has been evidenced that poor diets of low nutritional value are associated with major negative health risks.

This is true even in people displaying a healthy weight and displaying good mental faculties.

These negative health risks include heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, some types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes.

The Problem Of Fast Food

It seems to me that in today’s modern world we are quickly becoming addicted to fast and processed foods. These seemingly innocuous, (and often home-delivered), fast foods are usually high in sugars, salt, fats, colorings, additives, and reconstituted meats.

They do little to satisfy the human body’s nutritional requirements and leave the body feeling unsatiated. Nutritionists agree that most of these products are of low nutritional value. The brain then requests more, fast food, to feed it’s nutritional needs and health problems and obesity quickly follow.

This is why it is vitally important that adults change to a more healthy and nutritious diet as soon as possible. Society as a whole will benefit and healthy eating would be role modeled to the young preventing further fast food addiction.

In this way, nutritional education could be started at a young age and continued throughout adult life, limiting the obesity epidemic. Furthermore, many illnesses, diseases, medical and birth problems could be overcome. Not to mention the potentially huge benefits to society. 

Wouldn’t you like to know that your children are getting all six of nature’s essential nutrients on a daily basis?

I know I would!

HOW TO IDENTIFY THE GOOD FOODS

fruits-3137143_1280.jpg

When it comes to most topics we all have a little knowledge but would not class ourselves as the expert in the room.

Food and Nutrition are the same, we all like to think we know a little, but that someone else is the expert. You only need to look at the vast array of cook, diet, and health books to work that one out.

To make matters worse, the subject of food and what is best for us is discussed with, or around us, every single day. It’s on the news, discussed in the office or at home, you just can’t get away from it, the whole world seems to be telling us what is best for us. 

However, the simple truth is that YOU ARE THE EXPERT, and your body is trying to tell you so.

In reality, we have evolved, over time, to know what is best to eat. We have also learned what is not flavorsome and what might kill us if ingested.

And although we might not admit it, we also know that freshwater and fresh fruit and vegetables are the spice of life.

And although we might not admit it, we also know that freshwater and fresh fruit and vegetables are the spice of life.

We also know that fatty, processed, sugary foods and drinks are bad for us, we just choose to ignore it.

Why have an apple when you can eat cake. Or drink water when you can have a sweet sugary drink with added fizz!

I will concede however that there may be some confusion over what parts of the nutritional jigsaw puzzle we should be digesting. Also to what extent and when, but on the whole, we all know what’s right and what’s wrong.

For more information on good foods please read: What is a plant-based diet and why should you try it?

So stop listening to the so-called experts!

As an individual, you should be gathering more knowledge of what is right and wrong for you .

Only then can you start putting together the awesome nutritional food groups that your body is telling you that you need.

However, no two people are completely identical. Therefore, it is important for you to listen to Your body.

You are the expert.

Your body is telling you what it needs and trust me it’s not the burger or chocolate you were just thinking of. 

It’s actually one or more of the 6 essential nutrients that your body is craving for and you are refusing to supply it. So let’s dive in and find out a little more about them.

WHAT ARE THE SIX TYPES OF ESSENTIAL NUTRIENTS?

The six essential nutrients are identified as follows…

rice in bowl essential nutrient carbohydrate

CARBOHYDRATE

Whole grains, vegetables, and fruits are examples of healthy carbohydrates.

raw salmon rolled essential nutrient fat

FAT

Unsaturated fats, found in natural sources can be found in nuts, avocados, and salmon.

broccoli essential nutrient protein

PROTEIN

Builds new tissues, antibodies, enzymes, hormones, and other compounds.

water essential nutrient

WATER

An essential element for every cell, critical to nutrient transportation, and waste removal.

bowl of oranges essential nutrient

VITAMINS

No food provides every vitamin so a varied and healthy diet is essential for the body's wellbeing.

milk in bottles essential nutrient minerals

MINERALS

Micronutrients which perform essential roles within the body such as Calcium for healthy bones.

WHAT IS AN ESSENTIAL NUTRIENT AND WHAT IS A NONESSENTIAL NUTRIENT?

Essential nutrients are nutrients that the body cannot make or produce in sufficient quantities and must therefore be obtained through our diet. 

Nonessential nutrients can be made by the body or obtained through other sources other than food or drink. Two examples of nonessential nutrients would be cholesterol that is produced by the liver or vitamin D that is produced by sunlight.

Have you ever noticed how you become less energetic and your mood becomes blacker during the winter months?

Well those are two of the side effects experienced as a result of a vitamin D deficiency. There are others which are more serious but we will get into them later.

For the moment I have included a short video below to explain why it is important not to ignore this nonessential nutrient. 

However, you now you know the reason you are generally happier in summer as opposed to winter.

So Maybe it’s not all your partners fault after all!

SR VITAMIN D3

SR Vitamin D3 delivers the same biologically active form of vitamin D produced in the body as a result of direct sunlight without the risk of unprotected UVB exposure.

WHAT IS A MACRONUTRIENT AND WHAT IS A MICRONUTRIENT?

The six essential nutrients are further classified according to size and energy. Carbohydrates, protein, and fat are macronutrients because they make up the bulk of your diet.

Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients because they are required in much smaller amounts. 

Water is consumed by the body in great amounts but is classed as a micronutrient because it is essential for the body although it does not contain energy.

At this point, I would like to point out that I am against the majority of man-made or altered processed foods. Most of which seem to be stripped of all of their original nutritional values.

These foods are pumped full of sugars, salt, starch, and E numbers and then colored to look nice and tasty.

I am, however, totally in favor of the good and preferably organic, natural foods grown on this planet. These foods have evolved over time with us and can satisfy our needs in all departments.

However, I must also point out once again, that we are all different and each one of us has different dietary needs. With this in mind please remember that, Just because it is fresh, does not mean that it is necessarily good for you.

Please note that many people have developed allergies over the years. Plus, in addition to that, any sudden dietary changes will shock the body, even in those with no reported allergies.

So if you are going to make changes to your diet please start small and work your way up. If you do have any questions or concerns visit a doctor for advice first and remember that all things must be taken in moderation.

Eating 100 apples in a day for example will not be good for you no matter what the nutritional content!    

CARBOHYDRATES

rice in bowl essential nutrient carbohydrate

Although low carb diets are popular the fact still remains that, carbohydrates are still one of the essential nutrients that your body requires.

This is because carbohydrates are broken down in the body to make glucose (sugar). The body then uses this sugar as its energy source in order to power the body.

Glucose is the brain’s main power supply and uses up approximately 20% of our daily energy!

Anyone who attempts to cut carbs from their diet altogether is risking serious health problems in both the short and the long term.

In my studies the dietary guidelines on carbs intake say that for a healthy person you should be eating around 150 – 350 grams of carbohydrates per day.

This figure varies because we are all different, in terms of, size, needs, and metabolic rates. However, the documented evidence is that we all need carbs to some degree.

So why the bad rap for carbs?

Well the short answer is that they are often found in high sugar or high starch natural foods like potatoes. Or processed foods where the sugar content is artificially inflated and hidden from view. 

This higher sugar content obviously appeals to our bodies and leads to some people overindulging and thus becoming overweight.

WHAT HAPPENS IF WE DON'T EAT ENOUGH CARBOHYDRATES?

As I previously said, glucose is the brain’s major source of fuel, consuming 20% of the body’s daily production of it.

However for early man, (or woman), in times of food shortage, the brain needed a backup plan and it got this in the form of ketones.

Here comes a sciency bit!

Ketones are a chemical made in your liver which you produce when you have a glucose shortage. 

Your body stores glucose in the form of glycogen in your liver and muscles. When you stop eating carbohydrates your body pulls from this glycogen and breaks it down into glucose.

However, the muscles also need this glycogen for their energy use so the supply is limited.

After 24 – 48 hours with no carbohydrates, the liver starts to produce large volumes of water-soluble compounds called ketones.

Can Ketones Replace Glucose For The Long Term?

Keytones are created by the breakdown of fatty acids stored in the liver and from the fat being eaten.

More importantly, ketones can cross the blood-brain barrier similar to glucose and provide the brain with an alternative source of energy.

The ketone diet is very popular in some areas but I would argue that it takes some serious work to manage it properly. My other concern is that you are forcing your liver to produce large quantities of a chemical that it is normally storing.

Another factor is that the liver can only make enough ketones to make up 70% of the brain’s requirements. For the rest of the brain’s needs, the liver also has to produce glucose. This is done through a process called gluconeogenesis, meaning, (“making new glucose”). 

Apart from the concerns that I have already outlined and the fact that the brain still requires glucose to function, I cannot justify putting the liver through such hard work.

Surely if this was a better way of doing things then the body would already be doing it! 

Changing from a glucose energy source to a ketone energy source in the brain will have side effects. These may include hunger, irritability, dizziness, and confusion.

Prior to starting a ketone diet I would strongly advise seeking medical advice. This is because of the strain put upon the liver. Any defect or, at present, an unknown health condition, may prove fatal

digestive system map for nutrient flow

ARE FOODS HIGH IN CARBOHYDRATES BAD FOR US?

In the weight loss world, the idea that carbs are bad soon took hold and then the rest of the world followed in that thinking. Not all carb-rich foods are the same, however. So depending upon which food they are in, the body will digest them at differing rates and intensities.

There are 3 types of carbohydrates found in food and these are sugar, starch, and fiber.

1. Sugars found in fruit for example are called natural sugars. Whereas sugars found in biscuits, cakes, breakfast cereals, and fizzy drinks are called free sugars. Free sugars contribute greatly to our health problems, as it is very hard to limit our intake of these sugars on a daily basis. 

2. Starch is found in foods that come from plants particularly potatoes for example. Moreover, foods containing starch are a good source of energy and gram for gram, contain fewer than half the calories of fat.

It is also true that starchy foods are a good source of fiber, this can be found in the cell walls of the produce.

3. Fiber that cannot be digested helps to move other food and waste products through our gut more easily, which is why we all should have fiber in our diet. Eating plenty of fiber is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and bowel cancer.

bowl of muesli essential nutrients

Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of energy as they are broken down into glucose (sugar). This is then absorbed into the bloodstream and is used by your body primarily for its fuel. If more glucose is absorbed than can be used then it’s converted into fat for later use.

This is why we should be eating the good carb foods, not the processed sugary ones which we can’t effectively regulate our intake of. 

You can find good healthy sources of carbohydrates, which are high in fiber, in fruit, vegetables, and beans. These healthy foods are also rich sources of other nutrients that the body requires.

I used to tell my kids that they were nature’s sweets just to get them to eat them.

WHAT CARBOHYDRATES SHOULD I BE EATING?

Most of us should be eating a more varied and high fiber diet full of natural products and less processed and refined foods.

Processed foods can be rich in free sugars, additives, preservatives, colorings, and low in nutritional value.

These combinations mean that it is difficult to monitor the specific nutritional demands made by the body, therefore health problems can soon start to develop.

However, a more varied diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, pulses, and high fiber starchy foods, feeds our bodies in the correct way. 

This type of diet carries with it more nutrients and is more beneficial to our health. Firstly the extra fiber in these foods makes us feel fuller for longer by adding more bulk to our meal. Secondly, it helps to keep our bowels healthy and move waste products from our bodies.

HOW MUCH OF YOUR DIET SHOULD BE STARCHY FOODS?

It is recommended that just over a third of your diet should be made up of starchy foods.

potatoes and knife representing starchy carbohydrate

Ideally, these foods would include some bread, pasta, potatoes, and rice, with a third  being made up of fresh fruit and vegetables.

It is also recognized that, in general, white refined products carry less nutritional value than brown or whole-grain varieties. So choose accordingly. 

White bread, white rice, and pasta are basically refined food, low in nutritional value. These foods having been refined to the point where they are stripped of nearly all of the vitamins, minerals, and fiber from them. (Basmati rice is the exception to this general rule of thumb).

Therefore, it is far better to eat brown rice and wholegrain bread and pasta as these foods still have a high nutritional and fiber content within them.

All that being said, I would still advise you to pay close attention to the labeling of these, brown , products. 

This is because some manufactures will deliberately use caramel or other products to dye their foods. They do this in a subtle way to convince us that they are good for our daily intake, although, in reality, they offer very little nutritional value indeed.

I believe that we simply don’t need all these pre-packaged processed foods at all. Indeed the evidence seems to point to the fact, that we have only become unhealthier since their arrival. 

In my ideal world, we would eat natures produce, washed, and in its native form with as little cooking as possible. So if you are eating freshly prepared salads, steamed or stir-fried vegetables with some lean protein; then you are probably consuming the best carbohydrates that your body could wish for! 

Here is a quick suggestion of good carbs to eat in one day:

  • Breakfast –  Banana, hot oats or cold whole-grain cereal with natural yogurt and fruit
  • Lunch –  Spelt or whole grain bread with a veg-based soup 
  • Dinner –  Sweet potatoes, grilled fish and seasonal veg, salad or beans
  • Supper –  Whole-grain cereal with milk

20 CARBOHYDRATES THAT WE SHOULD BE EATING

  • Oats
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Dates
  • Prunes
  • Beans and Legumes
  • Chickpeas
  • Dried Apricots or Raisins.
  • Cherries
  • Apples
  • Beetroot
  • Avocado
  • Yogurt (fat-free or low fat may have added sugar so be careful)
  • Bananas (in moderation due to the high sugar content).
  • Carrots
  • Spelt
  • Wild/Brown or Basmati Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Oranges
  • Pumpkin
  • Butternut Squash

The list of carbohydrates that we should be eating does not override any special diets, medical advice, or low carb health plans which you may be undertaking at this moment in time. As advised please make any dietary changes slow so that your body can adapt.

20 CARBOHYDRATES WHICH ARE LOW IN FAT BUT HIGH IN PROTEIN

  • Ricotta cheese
  • Eggs
  • Chickpeas
  • cow’s Milk
  • Edamame
  • Mozzarella Cheese
  • Pumpkins Seeds
  • Cottage cheese
  • Pistachios
  • Broccoli
  • Asparagus
  • Green Peas
  • Turkey Breast (Skinless)
  • Chicken (Skinless)
  • Peanut Butter
  • Almonds
  • Fish
  • Tofu 
  • Artichoke
  • Chia Seeds

FAT

raw salmon rolled essential nutrient fat

Similar to carbohydrates, this essential nutrient gets a lot of bad press and is rarely talked about as a positive nutrient.

When you think of fat do you immediately start thinking of things like grease dripping from cooking meat?

The more imaginative amongst us may even think about the large coagulated fat burgs in our drain networks. Unfortunately we then mentally transfer this bleak image into our own bodies.

This is not surprising really as we have been conditioned to do this over the years from the so-called “experts”.

Interestingly, do you know that this is because in 1958 a hypothesis was put forward by a physiologist named Ancel Keys? This hypothesis basically stated that “those countries that ate more fat had a higher death rate due to heart attacks”.

However, Not all the data was shared  but his arguments were accepted by the governing medical bodies of the day. These now accepted findings then kicked off the Anti-Fat movement we still see today.

As a consequence of this, foods then started to become more processed and chemically enhanced with additives, plus sugar and salt. We also began the journey where we eat less of the natural unprocessed meats and fats than ever before in our history.

Today we consume vast amounts of convenience foods and have become obsessed with trying to figure out the exact contents of them.

The actual nutrient content is probably very low. However the  sugar, sodium, preservatives and colorings content will be hugely inflated.

This is why our bodies are rarely satiated once they are consumed.  And it is this low nutrient content that creates  an imbalance in the body leading to weaker immune systems, illness and fatigue.

This is why we, as a society, need to re embrace fat and explore its value and composition as an essential nutrient. 

THE TRUTH ABOUT FAT AS AN ESSENTIAL NUTRIENT

The truth is that fat is an essential nutrient and as such must be playing a great service to our health in one way or another.

It is also true that in areas of the world that have fewer processed foods, and where the population consumes a higher fat diet; the people who live in these areas are not all falling down with chronic heart disease or blocked arteries.

Today the way we look at fat and its effects on our bodies is changing, thanks to extensive medical research on the subject.

Another truth is that talking about fat, its many forms, and how each type affects our bodies is a very large, controversial, and complicated subject.

So for this reason I will try to keep it brief and simple here. 

#FAT IS NOT THE ENEMY

When we think about fat we immediately think about it negatively and probably think of animal fat. However, fat can be found in many other foods, and surprisingly most of them are very good for us.

This is why it is one of the six types of essential nutrients that our bodies require daily.

olive oil fat nutrient
sunflower oil fat nutrient
cheese on tray fat nutrient

Here are a few Fat facts:

Did you know that, in remote tribal communities who still hunt to feed their families, the fat from the kill is the first thing to be eaten?

This is because it is the part of the animal which will give the most energy and nourishment to the hunter. This fat eating, before meat-eating, can also be traced back to early man, (or woman) from the evidence that has been left behind. 

We need fats for many of our bodily processes and it is our major source of energy within the body. Our bodies also obtain fats from foods other than just meat and fish.

For example, vegans are on a meat-free diet so they obtain their fat quota from other foods. Nuts are a good example of this.

Fats also help to balance hormones, build cell membranes, and absorb minerals, plus vitamins A, D, and E.

These vitamins are fat-soluble, meaning that they can only be absorbed with the help of fats!

Fat is also used by the body to sheath the surrounding of nerves. It is essential for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation so it isn’t just there to provide energy or to increase a dress size!

I hope that you can now see some of the benefits of fat and stop thinking of it as the enemy, or even worse; the harbinger of death.

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF FAT?

  • Monounsaturated – think of olive oil – the chemical bonds are loose so it flows.
  • Polyunsaturated – think of sunflower oil – the chemical bonds are still loose so it still flows.
  • Saturated – think of cheese – the chemical bonds are tighter so it becomes solid at room temperature.
  • Trans added to foods to stop them from becoming rancid ( Trans fats are now banned in America). 
avocado monounsaturated fat

Monounsaturated fats

Good sources of monounsaturated fats are olive oil, avocado, peanut oil, and most nuts. People living in the Mediterranean region enjoy a low rate of heart disease. However, they consume a large amount of olive oil in their diet which supports the theory that monounsaturates are good for you.

sardines polyunsaturated fat

Polyunsaturated fats

Polyunsaturated fats are essential nutrients and are used to build cell membranes and the covering of nerves. They are needed for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation. Polyunsaturates found in fish such as sardines, mackerel and salmon are a good source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids help to prevent heart disease and stroke. Omega-6 fatty acids play a crucial role in brain function and normal growth and development.

cheese saturated fat

Saturated fats

The word "saturated" here refers to its chemical makeup. The chain of atoms holding it together is literally saturated with hydrogen atoms. This chain gives it its strength and the ability to be a solid at room temperature. Saturated fats release their energy slowly which means that you can go longer between meals. Saturated fats are currently being debated on again regarding their risk of contributing to heart diseases.

burger trans fat

Trans fats

Trans fat is a byproduct of a process called hydrogenation that is used to turn healthy oils into solids to prevent them from becoming rancid. These fats are very bad for you, have no health benefits, and have no known safe level for consumption. It is believed that for every 2% of calories from trans fat consumed daily, the risk of heart disease rises by 23%. Trans fats are now banned in the united states and other countries around the world.

PROTEIN

Proteins are essential nutrients, they serve many functions and are the building blocks of body tissue.

The importance of proteins was recognized by chemist Jons Jacob Berzelius. It was he, who in 1838, coined the term protein  from the greek word proteios, meaning “holding first place.” 

Interestingly they are also organ-specific which means that the proteins in the brain differ to those in the muscle or heart.

Fun Fact 1 | the average person is composed of roughly 62% water, 15% fat, 16% protein, 6 % minerals. The rest of the body is composed of less than 1% carbohydrate, along with trace amounts of vitamins and other substances.

Fun Fact 2 | Aside from water, proteins are the most abundant kind of molecules in the body and can be found in all of the cells within the body.

WHY ARE PROTEINS SO IMPORTANT?

Proteins are made up of thousands of smaller units called amino acids, which are attached together in long chains. There are twenty different types of amino acids. So amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and proteins serve a multitude of purposes in our body.

They serve as enzymes that break down other components into forms that the body can then process and use.

Think of you, (as the enzyme) going into a hardware store and taking out only the specific things you need to build a shed or fix a tap and you should get the idea.

Proteins can be described according to their large range of functions in the body.

  • Antibody – Antibodies bind to specific foreign particles such as viruses to help protect the body.
  • Enzyme – Enzymes carry out almost all of the chemical reactions that take place in cells.
  • Messenger – Messenger proteins transmit signals to coordinate biological processes between different cells, tissues, and organs.
  • Structural Component – They provide cell structure and support and on a larger scale help the body to move. 
  • Transport / Storage – These proteins bind and carry atoms and small molecules within cells and throughout the body. 

Proteins also serve as hormones, and cellular repair, especially in the muscles, skin, bone, and hair.  They are responsible for growth and are needed to form blood cells. Along with this, they can also provide us with fuel and other functions which include transferring essential vitamins and minerals to other parts of the body.

Now strap yourselves in folks, the next few bits are a bit intense!

Meat, Milk, eggs, soya bean, and fatty fish are sources of complete protein. A complete protein or whole protein is a food source that contains each of the nine essential amino acids necessary in the human diet. 

THE NINE ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS AND THEIR BASIC FUNCTIONS

  • Tryptophan – brain and nervous system functions, healthy sleep patterns – eggs, fish, chocolate, red meat, bananas.
  • Threonine – immune system – heart – bones – lean meat, nuts, seeds, pumpkin, quinoa. 
  • Isoleucine – helps the body produce hemoglobin for blood cells – cashews, oats, lentils, beans, brown rice.
  • Leucine – muscle strength and growth – immune system, liver –  beef, seeds, nuts, tuna, watercress, figs.
  • Lysine – muscle repair and growth, absorption of minerals – peas,  cashews, cheese, chia seeds.
  • Methionine – new blood vessels and muscle growth – onions, figs, meat, fish, chia seeds.
  • Phenylalanine – used to help produce hormones and brain chemicals – avocado, leafy greens, olives, seeds, peanuts
  • Valine – nervous system – cognitive function – whole grains, apples, oranges, broccoli, spinach, chicken. 
  • Histidine – neurotransmitters – tissue damage protection – seafood, potatoes, soya, chia seeds.

Phew, that’s a lot of information but it doesn’t stop there! As well as the nine essential amino acids we have, eleven non-essential amino acids, which help the essential amino acids fulfill their roles.

THE ELEVEN NON ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS

  • Arginine
  • Glutamine 
  • Tyrosine
  • Cysteine
  • Glycine
  • Proline
  • Serine
  • Ornithine
  • Alanine
  • Asparagine
  • Aspartate 

The most important aspect and defining characteristic of protein, from a nutritional standpoint, is its amino acid composition.

To be clear; considerable debate has taken place over issues surrounding the body’s protein intake. The amount of protein required in a person’s diet varies considerably from day today. This is because it depends, to a large extent, on the overall energy intake required at any given moment of time.

Bodyweight, rate of growth, activity level, need for enhanced muscle mass, serious illness, and pregnancy are just a few of the many factors involved.

These are just some of the factors Which make it difficult when attempting to calculate daily protein requirements.

CAN EATING TO MUCH PROTEIN BE BAD FOR YOU?

On the evidence of studies, it was long thought that eating too much protein may be bad for you. However, those studies included diets that were high in animal proteins such as red or processed meats and other dairy products.

There has been little research done on purely plant-based products and the risks associated with a high protein vegan diet. This means I can’t give you a definitive answer. Except to say that, a high protein diet may be a problem for those with an existing kidney problem or kidney dysfunction.

It should also be remembered that variety is the key to supporting any diet. Also in addition to that, attention should be given to the vitamin and mineral requirements of the body, especially in pregnancy.

However, for healthy people, including the elderly, higher protein intake may actually be beneficial in helping to decrease muscle loss. In my opinion, however, the most effective way to obtain the right amount of protein and all the amino acids is to have a varied diet

Try to combine different vegetables, grains, and pulses such as beans and rice or quinoa and broccoli and stay away from processed alternatives.

These foods offer little in the way of good nutritional benefits.

You will never find processed meat offered as one of the six types of essential nutrients for life!

15 EXAMPLES OF HIGH PROTEIN VEGAN FOODS

  • Quinoa – 4g protein per 100g of quinoa (cooked weight).   
  • Garden peas – 7g protein per 100g
  • Baked beans – 5g protein per 100g (careful of added salt/ sugar and additives) but an easy favorite for kids.
  • Tofu – 8g protein per 100g
  • Almonds – 3g protein per six almonds  
  • Lentils, green/red – 9g protein per 100g
  • Chickpeas – 7g protein per 100g
  • Pumpkin seeds – 4g protein per tablespoon 
  • Walnuts – 3g protein per three whole walnuts
  • Buckwheat – 5g protein per 100g
  • Broccoli – 3g protein per 80g (do not overcook)
  • Spelt – 5g protein per 100g
  • Sorghum – 8g protein per 100g 
  • Oats – 10g protein per 100g
  • Chia seeds – 2g protein per tablespoon 

Remember that a balanced diet is the cornerstone of good health, and you should enjoy a variety of healthful foods from all the food groups. Everyone is different, so please use this information to tailor your individual diet and don’t think that one size fits all.

I believe that in today’s world there are many ways to eat healthily and a little knowledge can go a long way.

Eat to be healthy, it’s not about body size, image, or how other people view you.

Just do what is right for you and then happiness will follow. 

WATER

water essential nutrient

Water provides no calories or organic nutrients, it is colorless, tasteless and odorless  and yet it is vitally important to our health.

Although you may not think of water as one of the six types of essential nutrients it is essential for our health.

In Fact without the presence of water in our diet we would be dead in about one week.

This estimate is based upon observations of people at the end of their lives when food and water intake has been stopped. 

Here are some amazing facts about the human body and its relationship with water: 

1. Blood and the cerebrospinal fluid are composed mostly of water and even seemingly dry human bones are 31% water. 

2. Water is the most abundant chemical nutrient present in living human cells. It accounts for 65 to 90 percent of each cell and is also present between cells.

3. Each day we lose 2 to 3 liters of water through breathing, sweating, urine, and bowel movements. It is essential that we replace that water to prevent dehydration and even death.

4. Water acts as a lubricant and shock absorber for our joints and regulates our body temperature. It also helps to flush waste and is essential to the workings of the brain and spinal cord.

5. When the brain detects low water levels, it instructs the kidneys to release aquaporins that enable the blood to retain and absorb more water, leading to concentrated dark urine.

Signs of dehydration include:

  • Fatigue/Low energy levels
  • Headache
  • Depression/Anxiety
  • Dizziness/Fainting
  • low blood pressure
  • Poor skin moisture
  • Cognitive impairment    
stone man sweating essential nutrient water

THE LINK BETWEEN OBESITY AND FLUID INTAKE

The human body has evolved alongside the food sources around it and extracts from those foods, all the essential nutrients for its survival.

Water-based fruits and vegetables are key ingredients to the mix as well as fresh flowing natural water. 

Today’s heavily processed foods have been stripped of their natural water content. In addition to this they also have additives such as salt and sugar and artificial flavorings.

This is a poor combination which only confuses the body and leads to dehydration.

So how does this occur?

Typically when we eat man-made carbohydrates, drink alcohol, or eat salt and sugar-laden processed foods, the body cells become starved of water. It is at this point that the brain becomes confused as it is visually seeing and tasting the food but receiving incorrect nutritional information.

Mother nature however, ensured that water and nutrition was always available to us in our foods in the form of fresh fruit and vegetables.  She placed the water here together with the nutrients that we need to survive.

So when we ate we effectively also drank, and this is where the brain received its initial nutritional blueprint.

But wait, it gets more confusing!!!

Now when we eat processed foods it’s easy for the body’s cells to become dehydrated and call for water.

As  the message is to eat more, the brain then reads this thirst as hunger. It does this as it’s looking for those natural foods full of H20.

It is not looking for the salt or sugar in the food you are eating, however to satisfy the thirst you eat more and so the cycle continues. This is one of the reasons that why we seem to find processed foods addictive.

Think of it this way, vegans tend not to eat processed foods and I personally don’t know many overweight vegans constantly on the munch.

Do you?    

HOW MUCH WATER SHOULD WE BE DRINKING DAILY?

It has long been thought that we must drink eight glasses of water per day. However, that estimate has now been further fine-tuned to more conventional thinking.

Taking into consideration our weight and the environment, the figure varies from about 2.5 to 3.7 liters of water for men. The figure for women is a little less at between 2 to 2.7 liters of water.

This range takes into account our age, types of food eaten, health, activity, and temperature. However, this is still only a guideline so please listen to your body and drink when you require it.

Drinking well may also have other long term benefits.

Studies have shown that optimal hydration can lower the chances of stroke and help manage diabetes. It can provide a stronger immune system and can even reduce the risk of certain types of cancer. 

Drinking well will certainly make a big difference to how you will feel, think, treat others, and function each day.

So listen to your body, drink well and be happier and healthier and do this by just being hydrated!     

VITAMINS

bowl of oranges essential nutrient vitamins

Vitamins are organic compounds produced by bacteria, fungi, and plants that we need to ingest in order for the body to function properly.

They are the bodies, builders, defenders, and general maintenance workers and are an essential part of our diet. 

Vitamins are also classed as micronutrients and offer a whole range of health benefits.

These benefits became very evident in the 16th century when sailors died from scurvy due to the lack of vitamin C in their diet.

Thus, we now know without a doubt, that a deficiency in certain vitamins leads directly to disease and even death.

What Are Lipid Soluble And Water Soluble Vitamins?

Vitamins come in two types which are described as Lipid Soluble and Water Soluble.  The difference between them is how the body transports, stores, and ejects any excess from the body.

Water-soluble vitamins are vitamin C and  vitamin B complex vitamins. 

Complex vitamins are made up of eight different types, all of are responsible for specific tasks within the body. (We will discuss them later).

Water-soluble vitamins are digested and then carried around the body directly by the bloodstream, and so can move about freely.

Unfortunately, the downside of this is that they can quickly find themselves passed back out of the body via the kidneys. Therefore they need to be replenished on a daily basis.

Lipid soluble vitamins (meaning fat-soluble) are dissolved in fat and found in foods such as dairy, butter, and oils.  These vitamins cannot be easily transported in the watery rich bloodstream. Instead, these vitamins are taken directly to the intestine and broken down by acidic bile flowing in from the liver.

Next, they pass through the intestine wall where they can attach themselves to proteins. These proteins can then carry them easily in the bloodstream and deliver them around the body.

Any excess Lipid soluble vitamins can be stored in fat cells in the liver. These vitamins can then be retrieved and used as and when the body requires them so do not need daily replenishment.

Lipid soluble vitamins, are: vitamins A – D – E – K

A FEW HEALTH BENEFITS OF VITAMINS

  • Maintain and boost the immune system
  • Strengthens blood vessels and blood
  • Strengthens bone, teeth, and muscle
  • Keeps the skin healthy and elastic 
  • Maintains healthy eyes
  • Aids the brain and nervous system functions
  • Prevents or delays serious diseases
  • Prevents birth defects
  • Aids in blood coagulation
  • Helps to release energy from food

WHAT DOES EACH VITAMIN DO?

  • Vitamin A – healthy teeth, skin, eyes, and immune system – eggs, cheese, liver (if pregnant don’t eat liver due to its high vitamin A content which can harm an unborn baby).   
  • Vitamin B – energy production, immune function, iron absorption – whole grains, potatoes, bananas, molasses.    
  • Vitamin C – anti-oxidant, skin elasticity, strong blood vessels – oranges, kiwi, guava, brussels sprouts, green peppers.  
  • Vitamin D – strong healthy bones, teeth, and muscle – eggs, red meat, liver, salmon, mackerel, sardines, and herring. 
  •  Vitamin E – blood circulation, healthy skin, and eyes – almonds plus other nuts and seeds, plant oils, and tomatoes.
  • Vitamin K – blood coagulation, healthy bones – leafy greens, broccoli, and vegetable oils.

WHAT ARE THE EIGHT VITAMIN B COMPLEX VITAMINS?

Vitamin B is a complex vitamin made up of eight different types all of which do different jobs within the body, these types are:

  • B1 – Thiamin – release energy from food, a healthy nervous system – found in peas, dried fruit, and liver. 
  • B2 – Riboflavin – healthy skin and eyes – found in milk, eggs, and rice, (UV light can destroy riboflavin so store out of direct sunlight). 
  • B3 – Niacin – release energy from food, healthy nervous system, and eyes – found in milk, fish, wheat flour, and eggs.
  • B5 – Pantothenic acid – release energy from food, healthy brain – found in almost all meat and vegetables.
  • B6 – Pyridoxine – form hemoglobin, allows the storage of energy – found in potatoes, soya bean, peanuts, milk pork, and fish.
  • B7 – Biotin – breaks down fat – found in most natural foods in low levels and the gut bacteria can make biotin.
  • B9 – Folate – also known as folacin and the man-made form named Folic acid – forms red blood cells, helps prevent birth defects.
  • B12 – Known as B12 – healthy nervous system, release energy from food – found in cod, cheese, salmon, milk, and eggs

Without this range of vitamins, the human body would face deficiencies that would cause a huge range of problems. These would include fatigue, nerve problems, heart disorders, and the inability to fight infection.

It also has to be said that overloading the body with vitamin supplements can cause toxicity. This means that we have to be very careful with our choices. However, being mindful about what we eat and having a wide and varied diet should see us ok in hitting that vitamin jackpot. 

This is why mother nature provided us with the six types of essential nutrients in our food and not in a bottle!

MINERALS

milk in bottles essential nutrient minerals

minerals are naturally occurring inorganic elements. They can be found on the periodic table and our body needs them in trace amounts to help regulate bodily functions.

Minerals are micronutrients which means that we measure the amount the body requires in milligrams, unlike macronutrients which are measured in grams.

There are a few minerals that we require in larger amounts to others, (over 100mg per day) and these are classed as major minerals.

Those minerals that we require less than 100mg per day are classed as trace minerals.

WHAT DO MAJOR AND TRACE MINERALS DO?

           Major minerals – over 100mg per day.   

  • Sodium – balances body fluids – found in meat, shellfish, seaweed.
  • Potassium – the balance of bodily fluids – found in bananas, turkey, beef.
  • Chloride – helps to digest food – found in cheese, bacon, bread. 
  • Calcium – strong bones, regulates muscle contractions – found in milk, tofu, cheese, nuts.  
  • Phosphorus – release energy from food – found in oats, fish, poultry.
  • Magnesium – food into energy – found in spinach, wholegrain bread.
  • Sulfur – required by amino acids – found in garlic, onion, broccoli.

           Trace minerals – under 100mg per day. 

  • Iron – transport of oxygen in the blood – found in eggs, poultry, cereals.
  • Copper – produce red and white blood cells – found in nuts, offal.
  • Zinc – wound healing – found in meat, wheat germ, shellfish.
  • Selenium – immune system – found in eggs, meat, fish, brazil nuts.
  • Iodine – regulates bodily chemical reactions – found in sea fish, shellfish. 
  • Chromium – influences insulin – found in lentils, spices, potatoes.
  • Fluoride – teeth enamel – found in water, tea leaves.
  • Manganese – activates enzymes –  found in tea, cereals, nuts. 
  • Others – required by the body at very low levels.   

Three of the above minerals account for 98% of the body’s mineral content by weight and these are calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium.

Calcium and phosphorus play many roles within the body at a cellular level. They are best known for being major components of bone matter.

Magnesium is an essential element required to enable the production and activation of many enzymes. Consequently, it is vital for the body’s metabolic process.

Magnesium and phosphorus are easily absorbed by the body. Happily, they can be found in most animal and vegetable foods, as well as those foods high in calcium content.

Problems associated with a lack of magnesium or phosphorus elements are low. This is primarily due to their abundance and also by being very easily absorbed by the body.

Low calcium intake however can be a problem with those trying to limit their dairy, milk, and fat intake in their diets.

The average adult needs about 1000mg of calcium per day and this figure will rise as you grow older or are pregnant.

Smoking inhibits the body’s ability to synthesize calcium so a smoker will need to increase their calcium intake levels regardless of age.  

WHAT ARE THE PROBLEMS ASSOCIATED WITH A LOW CALCIUM INTAKE?

Low calcium levels can lead to a risk of osteoporosis or thinning of the bones which can lead to fractures and weakened limbs.

For those wishing to limit the amount of fat in their diets, I would recommend non-fat yogurts, dairy, and milk. All of which are still excellent sources of calcium without carrying the extra calories.

Another factor in low calcium diets is those diets with a very high protein content. The problem here is that these diets may increase the amount of calcium excreted in the urine.

This would inevitably result in a decrease in the amount of calcium needed for bone building.

In addition to trying to get enough calcium, we should also be incorporating some form of exercise into our daily lives. We should do this in order to prevent muscle and bone loss through inactivity.

IN SUMMARY:

A couple of things to bear in mind is that having variety in your diet is really important. A person needs to consume all six types of essential nutrients to ensure a healthy body and life. These nutrients support life, are essential to our core bodily functions, and are central to preventing disease.

Typically a person eating a well-balanced diet that includes, fruit, vegetables, proteins, fish, water and carbohydrates will get all the nutrients that they need. People with special dietary needs, or medical conditions, may need to take additional supplements to aid their dietary requirements.

I have briefly mentioned supplements in this post, however I would strongly advise talking to a healthcare professional prior to adding them to any diet. 

The information found in this post is purely for your consideration and is by no means exhaustive on every subject. Any health plan or major change to your diet that you wish to undertake should be discussed with a healthcare professional or dietician first.

You must also take any allergies or existing medical conditions into account. 

There are some combinations of healthy food which inhibit our body’s ability to process the vitamins and minerals that we need.

So once again I would stress that the six types of essential nutrients give us the variety which is the key to a healthy diet. 

man straining trying to unscrew bottle lid
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sustainability dad

Mark Aspland is a proud father of two boys, would be amateur actor and green living enthusiast. He has been sharing hints, tips, and sustainable living content on his website Sustainability Dad since august 2019. 

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He now has an army of followers who are like-hearted individuals passionate about the environment and how to affect positive change through peaceful action.