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Top 6 Essential Nutrients [World Food Day Special]

  By posted Oct 16th 2011
Diet & Fitness


Top 6 Essential Nutrients [World Food Day Special]

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations celebrates the World Food Day on 16th October. Various ministries of forestry, agriculture, livestock and fisheries collaborate together to observe World Food Day. As nutrition and balanced diets become greater concerns with each passing year, we had a word with Shachi Sohal, H.O.D. Dietetics Deptt at Dr. B.L. Kapur Hospital, New Delhi to take us through the top 6 essential nutrients of a healthy diet

There are six classes of nutrients: Carbohydrates, fats, proteins, minerals, vitamins and water. Each serves a specific function in the body. A nutrient is a source of nourishment needed by any living form to sustain life. Nutrients are not only used as an energy source but are needed for growth, metabolism, to breathe, build tissue, help movement and reproduction.

(1) Carbohydrates: 

  • Carbohydrates are referred to as either sugars or polymers of sugars such as starches and they provide energy for the body. Some of them as glucose are used to meet immediate energy needs, some are stored as glycogen in liver and muscles and rest are converted into fat and stored as adipose tissue.
  • The energy value of carbohydrates is 4 kcal per gram.
  • Carbohydrates are converted by our body into simple sugars (like those from fruit sugars), which are released quickly, and complex sugars (from bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, vegetables, fruits etc.) which are released at a slower rate (without the insulin rush of simple sugars). 
  • Around 60 percent of your daily calories should be in the form of carbohydrates. 

(2) Protein: 

  • Dietary proteins provide amino acids to build and maintain tissues and to form enzymes, some hormones and antibodies. 
  • Proteins function in maintenance and growth as they are major constituents of the matrix of skin, nails, hair, blood cells, serum, bones.
  • Proteins are found in the highest concentration in meats, eggs, chicken, and dairy products, soyabean which are high quality proteins.
  • Around 20 percent of your daily calories should come from proteins. 
  • Proteins provide energy at 4 calories per gram.

(3) Water: 

  • Our body is made up of around sixty percent of water. 
  • You should drink about 10-12 glasses of water a day.
  • Fruits and vegetables can also be good sources of water.
  • Water is a catalyst for most of the chemical reactions and is used to transport nutrients to the cells throughout the body 
  • Water regulates body temperature and eliminates waste products. 
  • Water forms the basic structure of all cells and organs.
  • Water acts as a lubricant during digestion.

(4) Vitamins: 

There are 2 types of vitamins: fat soluble and water soluble. 

  • Fat soluble Vitamins, like Vitamins A D E and K, are stored in fat tissue. 
  • Water soluble Vitamins, like Vitamins B and C, are released from the body if not used. 

The most significant sources of vitamins are fruits and vegetables. 

  • Vitamin C-  This is an antioxidant that builds resistance to infection and aids in the prevention and treatment of the common cold.
  • Vitamin E- This vitamin is another important antioxidant also used for treatment to promote het
  • Vitamin A helps maintain healthy eyes, skin, teeth, bones and soft tissues and reduces susceptibility to infections. It acts as an antioxidant. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant that is converted into vitamin A in the human body.
  • Vitamin D- Essential for formation of bones and teeth; helps the body absorb and use calcium
  • Bioflavonoid – They are essential for Vitamin C absorption, and the two should be taken together. 
  • B complex vitamins- These vitamins assist and regulate carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism, Helps convert food into energy and other chemical processes in the body; helps maintain healthy eyes, skin, and nerve function.

(5) Minerals: 

  • Minerals help form our body's structure and regulate various processes within the body. 
  • The major minerals are: calcium, phosphorus, sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium and sulfur. 
  • Calcium is one of the most abundant and important minerals in the body and helps build strong bones and teeth.
  • Iron helps in DNA synthesis, helps in growth and healing, our immune functions, reproduction, and is a vital part of hemoglobin and myoglobin, proteins that feed oxygen to our blood and muscles and prevent anemia. Iron has an important role in transporting oxygen in the body.
  • Zinc is necessary for a healthy immune system, and is also of use in fighting skin problems such as acne, boils and sore throats.
  • Selenium is an antioxidant that assists the immune system. 
  • Magnesium aids the formation of bone and teeth and assists in the absorption of calcium and potassium. Magnesium plays an important part in energy production, cellular replication (DNA and RNA) and protein formation. Magnesium and Calcium work together to help muscle contraction and aid relaxation (vital functions if you consider that heart is a muscle). 
  • Phosphorous It is essential for building strong bones and teeth; helps in formation of genetic material; helps in energy production and storage.

(6) Fats: 

  • Fats are a member of a chemical group called lipids.
  • Fats provide energy of 9 calories per gram.
  • Fats provide Satiety – provides palatability and a feeling of fullness
  • They are carriers of nutrients – fat soluble vitamins as A,D,E,K.
  • The body does need a certain percentage of fat as it acts as the body's insulator protecting organs and absorbing shocks. 
  • Essential Fatty Acids - The body does not manufacture certain fatty acids as linoleic and linolenic acid and the diet must supply these.

There are the three types of fats: 

  • Saturated fats are the worst, they clog arteries and are responsible for causing strokes and coronary heart disease. 
  • Polyunsaturated fats like Omega 3 fatty acid has less fatty acid molecules and is found in fish oils. These fats help in the development of the nervous system. 
  • Mono unsaturated fats (found in olive oil, peanut oil, avocado, nuts, seeds etc.) have the lowest fatty acid molecules and are the best of the three fats.

*Image courtesy: © Thinkstock photos/ Getty Images  


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