The words nutrition and nutrients cannot be used interchangeably, but they are closely related. Nutrition can refer to a supply of components that are derived from food, which keeps people alive and healthy. This term can also refer to the science used to determine which components are in which foods and to understand how the components in a person’s diet affect her health. Nutrients are the various components, such as fat, carbohydrates, and vitamins, that the body derives from the food that an individual consumes.
Nutrition and nutrients are two closely related terms. It is not possible to consider nutrition without considering nutrients. When a person eats, the body breaks down the foods that are consumed and extracts certain beneficial components. These are referred to as the nutrients, and examples include vitamins, protein, and minerals.
When considering what is obtained from a person’s diet, nutrition is therefore the collection of nutrients that a person receives from eating. If a person does not get a sufficient amount of nutrients, he is considered malnourished. If a person completely lacked nutrition, she could not survive, because nutrients are essential to human life. It is generally believed that the types, amounts, and mixture of nutrients that are in a person’s diet can have an effect on her health by helping to prevent and to treat disease. The supply of nutrients in a given item is considered its nutritional value.
It is also possible to assess the nutrition of individual items, which can help to determine whether they should be consumed, how much should be consumed, and whether doing so will offer the body any benefits. The general rule of advice is that people should try to maintain diets that consist mostly of nutrient-dense foods. It is believed the continuing study of the relationship between nutrition and nutrients will lead to a deeper understanding of how a proper diet can be used to maintain good health. For example, more attention is being given to the connection between nutrition and mental health.
Many studies in the field of nutrition also aim to reveal the negative effects that occur in the bodies of individuals with poor diets. The analysis of nutrition and nutrients is an important part of certain jobs in the health care field. Although physicians may address the effects of their patients’ diets to some degree, they do not usually specialize in the connection between food and health. Dietitians and nutritionists are professionals who concentrate on these topics.
How Nutrients and Nutrition Work Together
Think of nutrients and nutrition as a jigsaw puzzle. Each nutrient is a puzzle piece, and nutrition is the overall image of the completed puzzle. The individual pieces are separate and unique from each other, but when they come together, they form the whole picture.
If one piece is missing from a jigsaw puzzle, the overall image is still visible but isn’t complete. In the same way, when a body is deficient in one nutrient, it can still function, but an element of overall health is missing.
When several nutrient pieces are missing, the holes in the puzzle begin to interfere with the overall picture. This situation is when body systems begin to struggle, and physical symptoms can become apparent.
The Main Nutrients Necessary for Adequate Nutrition
The human body requires several major nutrients. These are the elements that provide the overall nutrition the body needs for basic functions. When the body is deficient in one or more essential nutrients, its function becomes impaired.
The exact symptoms of nutrient deficiency will vary depending on which nutrients are lacking, but common signs include fatigue, impaired immune function, dry and brittle hair, ridges in nails, and irritability.
The main nutrients and the vital roles they have in the body are listed below.
Just about every tissue of the human body is made up partly of protein. It helps form the muscles, bones, skin, organs, and even hair. It aids the body's recovery after exercise or an injury, and it also lowers blood pressure, curbs hunger, and helps with healthy weight maintenance.
Meat and fish contain the largest amounts of protein, but protein-rich nutrition can also include eggs, nuts, dairy, and beans.
Though it often has a bad reputation, fat is essential for the function of the human body. It gives the body energy, helps it produce hormones, keeps it warm, supports cell growth, and protects the organs. It is also necessary for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Some healthy fat sources include avocados, nuts, olive oil, fatty fish, eggs, cheese, and dark chocolate.
Carbs are the body’s primary source of fuel. They provide energy for the brain, central nervous system, heart, and kidneys. They also help regulate cholesterol, increase satiety, and decrease bloating.
Good sources of healthy carbohydrates include fruits and starchy vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
There are many essential vitamins that the body needs, including:
- Vitamin A
- B Vitamins, including B6, B12, folate, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, and more
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
Each vitamin plays its own role in the body, helping with everything from nerve function to resisting infection to proper blood clotting.
Different foods contain different vitamins, so the surest way to get enough necessary vitamins is to eat various healthy foods. Vitamins found naturally in food are better for the body than synthetic vitamins added to food, so strive to get as many vitamins as possible from their natural food sources.
Minerals function similarly to vitamins, each helping with different body functions. Some essential minerals include:
As with vitamins, to achieve the best nutrition, it is ideal to consume foods with naturally occurring minerals rather than synthetic supplement versions.
Water is as, or even more, essential for bodily function as proteins, fats, carbs, vitamins, and minerals. It is required by every body system for digestion, dissolving and absorbing nutrients, eliminating waste, and maintaining healthy blood flow.
Even low levels of dehydration will cause impaired cognitive function, headaches, dizziness, sleepiness, low blood pressure, dry mucous membranes, and decreased skin elasticity.
Most Commonly Lacking Nutrients in Modern Nutrition
The modern diet is not dense in nutrition, and most Americans are deficient in four essential nutrients, according to the USDA and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
These four nutrients and the foods that contain them include:
- Calcium – milk, yogurt, spinach
- Dietary fiber – berries, popcorn, whole wheat, beans
- Potassium – bananas, potatoes, lima beans, squash, tuna
- Vitamin D – salmon, tuna, dairy, orange juice
It’s important to note that vitamin D is not only found in the foods we listed above. Sunlight is another essential vitamin D source, as the skin will absorb this vitamin when exposed to the sun.