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6 Major Nutrients

By Nicole Crawford

The body needs a healthy balance of six primary nutrients in order to grow and develop properly. In addition to these six nutrients, be sure to obtain other nutrients like antioxidants and other phytochemicals, or plant chemicals. Always consult your doctor before taking supplements to obtain nutrients, and try to get them from food sources whenever possible.

Water

Water accounts for about 60 percent of your body weight, according to the Mayo Clinic. It is a crucial element of nutrition, since it helps transport nutrients throughout the body's cellular networks. It also eliminates waste from your organs and helps keep the tissues moist. Although specific water needs vary from person to person, most adults should drink 8 or 9 cups each day. Always drink to thirst and pay close attention to hydration during exercise or in extreme temperatures.

Fat

Although some kinds of fat, like saturated and trans fat, can be detrimental when consumed in excess, other kinds are necessary for proper growth and development. Fat provides insulation and protects your organs from damage and is also crucial for many metabolic processes, as noted by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Unsaturated fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat should make up most of your fat intake. Good sources include most plant oils, nuts, nut butters, fish, olives and avocados.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates provide glucose to the body's cells and muscles, which provide fuel for organ functioning and daily activity. They are commonly divided into two groups: simple carbohydrates, which are quickly digested, and complex carbohydrates, which take longer for the body to process. For optimal health benefit, limit your intake of simple carbohydrates found in sugary products like pastries, candy and soda, and choose nutrient-rich sources like fruit, whole grain bread and whole wheat pasta and rice.

Protein

Protein plays a crucial role in cell growth and repair, which is why it is especially important during periods of rapid growth, like childhood, adolescence and pregnancy. Protein is composed of amino acids, nine of which cannot be produced by the body and must be obtained from food sources. These are known as essential amino acids. Animal foods like dairy and meat, as well as soy products, contain all of the essential amino acids and are often referred to as complete protein foods.

Vitamins

Vitamins are commonly divided into two groups: water-soluble and fat-soluble. Water-soluble vitamins include all of the B vitamins and vitamin C. They dissolve in water, which means that they are eliminated in urine and need to be replaced from dietary sources. Fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K are stored in the liver and fatty tissues. Vitamins play a variety of important roles in human health, including bone strength and formation, good eyesight, energy production and wound healing.

Minerals

Minerals are inorganic ions that are also classified in two groups. Macrominerals include calcium, potassium, sodium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus and sulfur. These minerals are needed in larger amounts than other trace minerals, like selenium, zinc, copper, manganese, iron, cobalt, iodine and fluoride. As noted by the National Institutes of Health, food sources are the best way to obtain minerals in the diet, but your doctor might recommend a supplement if you are unable to obtain optimal amounts from diet alone.

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