It’s no secret that A well-balanced diet full of essential nutrients can help support a healthy life. But what are the most important nutrients you should be including in your diet?
Essential nutrients are components in food that your body needs to grow, function, and stay healthy, but that it can’t make on its own. So, to get these nutrients, you have to eat them through your diet.
There are six classes of essential nutrients:
Carbohydrates are the main source of calories, or energy, in the diet.
Fats also give us energy and help with normal growth and development, immune function, vitamin absorption, hormone production and more.
Proteins, and the amino acids they are made of, are major building blocks of your bodies’ cells. They are responsible for building and repairing tissues as well as the maintenance of muscle and lean body mass.
There are 13 essential vitamins which all have important jobs in your body… such as keeping your nerves healthy, helping prevent or battle infection, assisting with blood clotting, and keeping your metabolism running.
Minerals are only needed in small amounts but play a vital role in muscle contraction, fluid balance, food digestion, bone building, blood pressure regulation, and more.
Last but definitely not least… water is also an essential nutrient. It delivers other nutrients to cells, regulates the body temperature, acts as a shock absorber and lubricant, and helps in the removal of waste from the body.
Bioactive compounds (phytonutrients and antioxidants such as carotenoids and flavonoids) are not considered essential because they haven’t been shown to lead to deficiencies if they’re missing in the diet. However, they may positively impact your health.
Bioactives are a big part of nutrition research and scientists are still trying to better understand and unlock their potential health benefits.
Bioactives that you have probably heard of are:
These colorful plant pigments are found in bright red, yellow, and orange fruits and vegetables. They act as powerful antioxidants and may help prevent numerous health issues such as some types of cancer, heart disease and eye disease as well as enhance the immune system.
Resveratrol is another bioactive compound that is found in the skin of grapes, blueberries, raspberries, and mulberries. It may help reduce the risk of heart disease as well as preventing and battling inflammation.
Flavanols are a part of the flavanoid family that are found in tea, red wine, and cocoa. They may positively influence our cardiovascular health.
Phytosterols are steroid compounds in plants that may lower cholesterol and improve cardiovascular health.
Phytoestrogens, which are found in many plants including soy and other legumes, are also being studied for their potential in reducing the risk of breast cancer.
Healthy eating for longevity
Healthy eating is important at every age. However, the amount of nutrients you need, and your body’s ability to process them, can change over time and depend on your personal health status.
Eating the right foods can’t just make you feel younger and healthier… it can actually make you look younger as well!
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As you age, you may need more Vitamin D and calcium for bone health, more B12 for brain and blood health, and more fiber for a healthy digestive system. Some people may also need more water as their sense of thirst declines.
Your medical conditions, or the medications you take, may also require you to adjust your diet. It’s important to talk with your health care experts when deciding the best nutrition plan for you, especially if you have health issues. However, most people can get the healthy nutrients they need, and boost their overall health and energy levels in the proces, from a well-rounded diet of nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.
If you have certain nutrient deficiencies, you may consider dietary supplements to add missing nutrition to your diet. Supplements include vitamins, minerals, herbals and botanicals, amino acids, enzymes, and bioactives. Mostly, however, you can get all the nutrients you need from a well balanced diet.
Beware of hypes!
You may be one of the many adults that takes a new dietary supplement of some kind that is getting the crap marketed out of it by the health and fitness industry. But do you know enough about what is safe and what you can trust? Too often what’s popular one day, seems to make headlines the next for being unsafe.
The Food and Drug Administration that regulates the safety and effectiveness of drugs and medical devices, also regulates dietary supplements. But supplements are not regulated as strictly as drugs. This is because they are often considered to be more like food than drugs.
For example, companies don’t need to get approval before producing or selling their supplements and don’t have to provide evidence to support the claims about their products before marketing them. There are many safe dietary supplement options out there that can help keep you healthy, and even improve your health, but there are others that may not be safe for you.
This makes being an informed consumer important. When choosing a supplement talk to your health care provider about all the prescription and OTC medications you are taking, AS WELL AS all of the supplements. They can advise you on their safety, as well as how they might interact with your medications.
Tip: If you’re supplementing some nutrient that you can also get by eating more of a certain type of (whole, natural) food… then go for the food!
Avoid mega-doses of supplements, which may be more than your body needs, and can even cause you harm. Keep in mind that the term natural doesn’t always mean safe. Also, always watch out for claims that seem too good to be true. When searching for information on-line, turn to trusted sources.