Essential Nutrients: A Comprehensive Guide to Macronutrients, Micronutrients, and Their Functions

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Essential Nutrients: A Comprehensive Guide

1. Six Classes of Nutrients

  • Carbohydrates (provide energy)
  • Fats (provide energy)
  • Proteins (provide energy)
  • Vitamins (do not provide energy)
  • Minerals (do not provide energy)
  • Water (does not provide energy)

2. Functions of Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fats


Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which is the body's main source of energy. They are important for the brain, nervous system, kidneys, and muscles. Carbohydrates are stored in the liver and muscles for later use as energy. Fiber, a type of carbohydrate, promotes bowel health by allowing waste to move more quickly through the gut. Carbohydrates are found in grains, fruits, milk, nuts, seeds, beans, and vegetables.


Proteins build and repair cells in all parts of the body. They are especially important for growth during childhood, adolescence, and pregnancy. Proteins are made up of amino acids. Along with growth and repair, they preserve muscle mass, produce hormones and enzymes, support the immune system, and provide energy if carbohydrates are not available. Proteins are found in meat, eggs, fish, nuts, seeds, and beans.


Fats are broken down into fatty acids. Fat is used for cell membranes, energy, absorbing fat-soluble vitamins, supporting internal organs, and providing taste and texture to food. Types of fats include monounsaturated, saturated, and trans fats. Good fats, or unsaturated fats, include olive oil, avocados, and nuts. Bad fats, or saturated fats, are found in meat, butter, and lard. Trans fats, or very bad fats, are found in baked goods, fried foods, and snack foods.

3. Types of Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fats


  • Sugars: Simplest carbs, provide fast energy (glucose, sucrose, fructose)
  • Starches: Complex carbs, provide energy slowly (bread, rice, pasta, potato, oatmeal)
  • Fiber: Complex carbs, do not provide much energy but keep the digestive system healthy (brown rice, brown bread, fruits, vegetables)
  • Glycogen: Not from food, made in the liver and muscles, short-term energy storage


  • Complete proteins: Contain all 9 essential amino acids (animals, milk, eggs, meat, fish, chicken)
  • Incomplete proteins: Do not contain all 9 essential amino acids, must combine grains and legumes (wheat, rice, beans, peas, lentils)


  • Saturated fats: High proportion of fatty acids without double bonds, less healthy (dairy foods, fatty meats)
  • Unsaturated fats: High proportion of fatty acids with double bonds, healthier (walnuts, sunflower seeds, fish, corn oil, soybean oil)

4. Vitamins and Minerals


Vitamins are nutrients that contain carbon and are needed in small amounts to maintain health and growth.


Minerals are chemical elements that are needed for certain body processes such as enzyme activity and bone formation.

5. Importance of Sodium, Calcium, and Iron


Sodium processes muscle movement, nerve signals, and the transport of nutrients into and out of body cells. It also controls fluid levels in the body.


Calcium is essential for building strong bones.


Iron is used to make hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood.

6. Fat-Soluble and Water-Soluble Vitamins

Fat-Soluble Vitamins (A, D, E, K)

Fat-soluble vitamins are dissolved in fat and stored in fat tissue. They remain in the body for a long time.

  • Vitamin A: Milk, yellow and orange fruits and vegetables, eggs
  • Vitamin D: Fish oil, liver, salmon
  • Vitamin E: Vegetable oils, beans, nuts
  • Vitamin K: Spinach, broccoli, leafy vegetables

Water-Soluble Vitamins (B, Folate, B12, C)

Water-soluble vitamins are not stored in the body very well. They provide energy and help release energy from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

  • Vitamin B: Pork, seeds, peas
  • Vitamin B12: Meat, liver, eggs
  • Folate: Green vegetables, orange juice, whole and fortified grains
  • Vitamin C: Citrus fruits, strawberries, melons

7. Minerals (Calcium, Iron, and Sodium)

  • Calcium: Milk, shellfish, legumes
  • Iron: Red meat, eggs, beans
  • Sodium: Table salt, processed meats, soy sauce

8. Evaluating the Healthiness of a Meal

Chicken Bowl

Protein: 38g, Carbohydrates: 156g, Fat: 6g

This meal is high in protein and carbohydrates, but low in fat. It is a good option for people who are trying to gain weight or muscle.

Quinoa Bowl with Broccoli, Beans, Chicken, and Leafy Veggies

This meal is a good source of protein, carbohydrates, and fiber. It is also a good source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin K, which helps with blood clotting.

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