10 Things You Should Know About Nutrients

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#1: What is a Nutrient?

There are two main types of nutrients: macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients provide structural material and energy. They also make up the bulk of what most people eat each day. Protein, carbohydrates, and fats are all macronutrients.

Micronutrients are needed in smaller amounts and include vitamins and minerals. Micronutrients don’t drive the calories in your diet, but they do have a significant impact on your health. Getting the proper balance of vitamins and minerals in your diet is very important.

Both micronutrients and macronutrients are essential to good health and a balanced eating pattern.

#2: Meet Protein

Protein provides 4 calories per gram and helps your tissues grow, bolsters immune function, and aids hormone and enzyme creation. Most people get their protein from chicken and beef, but there are tons of other sources of protein out there! MyPlate recommends eating a variety of protein foods each day. Consider...

  • Beans
  • Shellfish
  • Lentils
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Tofu
  • Peas
  • Poultry
  • Nuts
  • Pork
  • Seeds
  • Beef

#3: Meet Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram and are your body’s primary fuel source. There are two different types of carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are also known as simple sugars, while complex carbohydrates are made of strings of simple carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates are not the boogeyman that so many fad diets and "health" gurus want you to fear. In fact, carbohydrates are vital to a healthful eating pattern. Some are just more healthful than others. Steer clear of high-carbohydrate foods that are also loaded with empty calories like cupcakes, candy, and refined grain foods. Instead, stock up on whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

#4: Meet Fat

Fats provide 9 calories per gram and help keep your skin and hair healthy, as well as insulating your organs. Fats also help regulate body temperature and healthy cell function. Like with carbohydrates, there are different types of fats.

Saturated fats raise your total blood cholesterol and your LDL (a.k.a. bad) cholesterol. They endanger your heart and your overall health. Trans fats raise your LDL cholesterol and lower your HDL (a.k.a. good) cholesterol. They also increase your risk of type II diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Unsaturated fats are good for you when consumed in moderation. Monounsaturated fats improve cholesterol levels, insulin regulation, and blood sugar control, while polyunsaturated fats decrease your risk of heart disease and diabetes.

#5: Micronutrient Spotlight: Vitamins

Vitamins play myriad roles in your body. Some bolster immune function while others help your blood clot the way it should, and still others boost nerve health. There are 13 different vitamins out there, including...

  • Biotin
  • Folate
  • Niacin
  • Pantothenic Acid
  • Riboflavin
  • Thiamine
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K

#6: Key Vitamin: Folate

Folate is a B vitamin, and the man-made form of it is called folic acid. You can find folate in beans and peas, dark green leafy vegetables, and oranges and orange juice. Folic acid, on the other hand, has been added to a bunch of fortified grain foods.

#7: Micronutrient Spotlight: Minerals

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, "There are two kinds of minerals: macrominerals and trace minerals. You need larger amounts of macrominerals. They include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride and sulfur. You only need small amounts of trace minerals. They include iron, manganese, copper, iodine, zinc, cobalt, fluoride and selenium."

Minerals carry out a variety of roles in your body, doing everything from helping create hormones and enzymes to boosting the health of your brain.

#8: Key Mineral: Calcium

Calcium is a mineral that is vital to good health. You can find it in most dairy products, especially milk and yogurt. Dairy foods like butter and sour cream don’t have enough calcium to be considered good sources of this nutrient, while other foods (like cereal) don’t have any calcium at first, but are then fortified with this important mineral.

#9: How Many Nutrients Do I Need in a Day?

The answer to that question varies from person to person and nutrient to nutrient. In fact, that's where percent daily values come in. If you check the Nutrition Facts panels of the food you buy, you will see a percent daily value listed by the nutrients. That's roughly how much of your daily nutrient needs that food contains, broken up by category.

To get a personalized nutrient recommendation, talk with a registered dietitian nutritionist and consider sites like this one.

#10: How Can I Get Enough Nutrients Each Day?

Eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods that are low in empty calories is a great way to meet your nutrient needs each day. Follow MyPlate and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans for delicious and nutritious ways to improve your eating pattern.

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