What Are Nutrients?

on June 27, 2011

The modern definition of nutrition encompasses almost any aspect of diet and exercise and their impact on your overall health. On a basic level, nutrients are anything that gives a person energy from calories, primarily food. This means that anything you eat is considered a type of nutrient. Nutrients are divided into three different types: macronutrients, micronutrients and essential nutrients.

Macronutrients. Macronutrients, at the basic level, are types of calories that provide energy and are divided into three major categories: protein, carbohydrate and fat. The ChooseMyPlate program developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that the average American make half of his or her plate at every meal vegetables and fruit, with about a third lean protein. At least half of grains should be whole grains, and a generous helping of calcium-rich food should be eaten. Go easy on the trans-fats, salt and cholesterol.

Micronutrients. In addition to macronutrients, you body needs micronutrients, though only required in small doses, for your body’s internal processes. The World Health Organization refers to micronutrients as “magic wands” that allow your body to produce things like enzymes and hormones. Some of the major micronutrients include calcium, which works to build and strengthen bones; iron, which has a host of benefits, including building strong vision; and magnesium, which helps the muscles relax and helps the nervous system run smoothly. Micronutrients are found in quality foods like meat, fruits and vegetables, but can also be taken in tablet or pill form.

Essential nutrients. Some nutrients are absolutely imperative for a healthy body and mind. Containing not only macronutrients and micronutrients, essential nutrients are also comprised of vitamins and dietary minerals. According to the George Mateljan Foundation, essential nutrients include things like zinc; iron; vitamins A, B, C and D; magnesium; beta-carotene and a long list of others. Magnesium and vitamin D are the most common nutrient deficiencies in American adults; both are important in building and strengthening bones and protecting muscles.

Water. It may not seem like it, but water is another essential nutrient than can be ingested in its liquid form or found in different foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Because water is necessary for processes like digesting food and carrying nutrients to the rest of the body’s systems, it is important to get the recommended amount of water per day.

Found in: Nutrition