“You are what you eat.” No truer words were ever spoken, because essential nutrients are the life-source that comes from the foods you eat. While it is possible to get most of what you need from a balanced meal, the typical American diet, jam-packed with processed foods, can be low in some essential nutrients. And, of course, if you’re lacking nutrients, your body is likely not performing the way it should. Here’s what your body needs to thrive.
Essential nutrients your body needs
Most people realize that food is not just about satiating hunger. The nutrients you get from food drive biological activity and are the fuel that keeps your engine running. But what nutrients does your body need to be healthy?
There are many nutrients, according to My Nutrition, Washington State University, and they fall into two categories: Macronutrients and micronutrients. The body needs macronutrients in large amounts for energy and micronutrients in smaller quantities.
Macronutrients consist of:
Micronutrients consist of:
- Vitamins including: B1, B2, B6 and B12, C, and Folic Acid. Fat-Soluble Vitamins, including: A, D, E, and K.
- Minerals including: Calcium, Potassium, Iron, Sodium, Zinc
If you regularly consume a wide variety of healthy, whole foods and beverages, then you’re likely getting most of the nutrients your body requires. However, if you’re like many people who frequently skip meals, go on diets, or simply don’t eat certain foods or food groups, then you might be deficient. Let’s break down the essential nutrients your body needs for growth and maintenance.
Despite the low-carb craze, carbs are essential for your body. Carbs provide you with enough energy to fuel your body, control your weight, and fight disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. But you need to choose your carbs wisely.
- Choose fiber-rich, whole, fresh or frozen fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. Avoid refined carbs with added sugars, which tend to strip nutrients.
How do you know you’re not getting enough carbs?
Since carbs convert to sugar and are a primary energy source, your brain, muscles, and other parts of the body can’t function normally without them. When you’re not eating enough carbs, the level of sugar in your blood may drop below the normal range, causing hypoglycemia. In addition, your body begins to burn fat for energy, which leads to ketosis.
Signs of hypoglycemia include:
- Feeling shaky
- Feeling dizzy
- Feeling confused
- Difficulty speaking
- Feeling anxious or weak
Signs you’re in ketosis include:
- Experiencing mental fatigue
- Having bad breath
- Feeling nauseated and having a headache
- In severe cases: Experiencing painful joint swelling and kidney stones.
High protein diets are all the rage for a good reason. Protein is vital for good health. It’s an essential nutrient, necessary for bones, organs, muscle building, skin, hair, and nails. In addition, it’s used for repairing every cell and tissue in your body, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
When it comes to choosing protein, choose healthy sources to obtain your nutrients. Research conducted by Harvard Chan School of Public Health found that eating even small amounts of red meat, particularly processed red meat, regularly, is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and even death from cardiovascular disease.
- Limit red meat and replace it with healthier protein sources such as poultry, eggs, and fish.
- Vegetarian and vegan protein sources include: Beans, tempeh, tofu, nuts, seeds, green peas, quinoa, and edamame.
How do you know you’re not getting enough protein?
True protein deficiency is pretty rare in the U.S. However; it can happen to someone with anorexia, cancer, undiagnosed Crohn’s disease, or malnutrition. In addition, vegans or those following a raw foods diet might find themselves deficient. Signs you’re not getting enough protein might include:
- Swollen and puffy skin
- Fatty liver
- Skin, hair and nail issues
- Flabby muscles
- Weak bones
- Big appetite
People often forget that fat is an important nutrient for the body. Doesn’t fat make you fat, after all? Well, not necessarily. Not if you reduce saturated fats and trans-fats, and replace both with healthier unsaturated fats, suggests the World Health Organization (WHO). Fat is an essential nutrient that protects your organs and helps your body absorb essential vitamins.
- Remember to choose sources of healthy unsaturated fats. Natural sources of good fats like those found in nuts, avocados, salmon, soybeans, and sunflower, canola and olive oil protect the heart.
- Bad “saturated and trans” fats like those found in processed and baked foods increase the risk of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.
How do you know you’re not getting enough fat?
Since fat helps you absorb vitamins, a diet too low in fat could make you vitamin deficient.
- Your skin becomes dry
- You are hungry all the time
- You have poor body temperature regulation
- Extreme mental fatigue
- In extreme cases loss of menstrual cycle
Vitamins and minerals
Most people are aware of the importance vitamins and minerals play on health. Unfortunately, many Americans do not get enough of these essential nutrients in their diet. Vitamins are powerful antioxidants that heal bones and wounds and boost the immune system. They also lower the risk of certain cancers and help the body heal.
Minerals are those essential nutrients found in the earth and in foods, which our bodies need to develop and function normally. A key role they play is to maintain the proper balance of water in the body. They’re also important for healthy bones, hair, skin, and nails. But, experts agree, supplements might not be the best way to get these essential nutrients. In fact, according to Harvard Health, the benefits of multivitamins are pretty slim.
- Instead, get your vitamins and minerals through a balanced diet of plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
How do you know you are vitamin deficient?
- Brittle hair and nails
- Mouth sores
- Bleeding gums
- Poor night vision
- Hair loss
- Restless leg syndrome
- White or red bumps on the skin
Some mineral deficiencies may include:
- Muscles cramping
- Numbness in the body
- Tingling in the fingers
- Poor appetite
- Irregular heart rhythms
Those most susceptible to mineral deficiency include people suffering from liver, pancreas, intestine, gallbladder, or kidney disease. Additionally, anyone who has had surgery of the digestive tract could be susceptible to a mineral deficiency. Chronic alcoholism and taking medication such as antacids, antibiotics, laxatives and diuretics could also cause deficiency.
Water is the essence of life. We are made up of 60 percent water, and our blood, 90 percent. Without it we would die after only three to four days. So, it goes without saying that water is crucial for existence. Water does so much for the body such as lubricate joints, form saliva, and mucus, deliver oxygen, help with weight loss, prevent kidney damage, keep skin supple, maintain blood pressure, and more.
How do you know you’re not getting enough water?
According to the Mayo Clinic, not enough water can lead to:
- Extreme thirst
- Irregular urination
- Dark-colored urine
The bottom line, to maintain health, you need to maintain the essential nutrients in your diet. It’s really not complicated. Simply eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy proteins, and fats each day. Before long, you’ll look better, feel better, and maybe even add years to your life. After all, you are what you eat.
-The UpWellness Team