It can be overwhelming for a senior who enters the search words – what are the essential nutrients for the body – only to have Google return several thousands of results. Not quite the outcome you were expecting!
Most understand a bit about carbohydrates, omega3, fiber and some vitamins but rarely fully understand the big picture and how essential nutrients function.
This article reviews and breaks down information into simple terms so an average senior can read and understand those nutrient categories that are needed by the body.
With this understanding, we will later explore the best nutrition for seniors and the elderly for healthy aging.
What are Nutrients?
Let’s start off by defining nutrients.
All foods we eat contain different kinds of nutrients. These nutrients are substances the body needs to function by providing energy, directing and controlling processes in the body, and participate in developing body structure.
We can only get nutrients from what we eat because our bodies cannot make them. We can see that getting the right nutrients in the correct amounts are important to proper body function.
What Are the Essential Vitamins and Minerals the Body Needs?
The body needs six groups of nutrients to function properly and maintain overall health. These six essential nutrient groups in the food we consume are carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, water, vitamins, and minerals.
There may also be natural toxins, dyes and preservatives depending on processing. Some plants may also have antioxidants which are beneficial . Check a previous article – The Benefits of Eating Blueberries – Is Anti Aging One?
What Are the Benefits of Essential Nutrients in the Body?
Carbohydrates: Provide a ready source of energy for the body and provide structural constituents for the formation of cells.
Protein: Necessary for tissue formation, cell reparation, and hormone and enzyme production. It is essential for building strong muscles and a healthy immune system.
Fat: Provides stored energy for the body, functions as structural components of cells, and signaling molecules for proper cellular communication.
It provides insulation to vital organs and works to maintain body temperature.
Water: Transports essential nutrients to all body parts, transports waste products for disposal, and aids with body temperature maintenance.
Vitamins: Regulate body processes and promote normal body-system functions
Minerals: Regulate body processes, are necessary for proper cellular function, and comprise body tissue.
Nutrients Needed by the Body in Large Amounts – MACRONUTRIENTS
Those nutrients that must be ingested in large amounts by the body are called macronutrients and there are three are three types: carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins. They provide calories and are converted into energy in body cells.
It might also surprise you to note that water is also a macronutrient because you also require large quantities of it. The difference between it and other macronutrients is that it does not provide calories.
The major food sources of carbohydrates are:
- Starchy vegetables e.g. potatoes.
- Non-starchy vegetables also contain carbohydrates but in smaller amounts
Simple carbohydrates include sucrose, the type of sugar use for your tea or coffee, and glucose, the type of sugar that circulates in your blood.
Complex carbohydrates are broken down during digestion into simple sugars (glucose) and transported to all cells in the body our cells to be stored for. Its use is to create energy our build.
Do you know that fiber is a complex carbohydrate that cannot be broken down by digestive enzymes in the intestine? Therefore, it will typically pass through the intestine undigested.
Perhaps now you begin to understand the role of fiber in the diet to aid digestion and encourage bowel movement
Proteins are made up of amino acids. Food sources of proteins are:
- dairy products,
- various plant-based foods, especially soy
Proteins provide structure to bones, muscles, and skin and are important in conducting most of the chemical reactions that take place in the body.
We therefore can deduce that healthy muscles, bones and skin would greatly benefit from eating a lot of protein.
Lipids are insoluble in water, unlike carbohydrates. They are found predominantly in
- dairy products,
- seeds, and
- processed foods.
The main job of lipids is to provide or store energy, and not just some energy as in carbohydrates, but large amounts of it.
They serve as a major component of cell membranes, surround and protect organs (in fat-storing tissues), provide insulation to aid in temperature regulation, and regulate many other body functions.
More than 60 percent of our total body weight is water. It transports materials in or out of the body, provides a fluid medium for chemical reactions, cushions and protects body organs and helps to regulate and body temperatures.
On average, an adult consumes just over two liters of water per day from food and drink combined.
Nutrients Needed by the Body in Small Amounts – MICRONUTRIENTS
Micronutrients are nutrients required by the body in small quantities but which are still essential for carrying out important body functions.
Micronutrients include all the essential minerals and vitamins. There are sixteen essential minerals and thirteen vitamins.
Macro minerals are minerals that are required in larger amounts. They as calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and phosphorus.
Many minerals are critical for enzyme function. Others are used to maintain fluid balance, build bone tissue, synthesize hormones, transmit nerve impulses, contract and relax muscles.
They also protect against harmful free radicals in the body that can cause health problems such as cancer
Trace minerals, such as selenium, zinc, molybdenum, iron, and iodine, are only required in minute amounts – a few milligrams or less.
|MINERALS||Major Functions in Which They Are Required|
|Sodium||Muscle contraction and nerve function, |
body fluid balance
|Chloride||Production of stomach acid, body fluid |
|Potassium||Maintain balance of water in the blood |
and body tissues, muscle contraction
and nerve function
|Calcium||Build strong bones and teeth, nerve |
contraction, blood clotting
|Phosphorus||Form healthy bones and teeth, create|
energy, proper function of the cell
membrane, acid-base balance
|Magnesium||Muscle contraction and nerve function, |
steadies heart rhythm, aids bone strength,
create energy and proteins
|Iron||Help red blood cells carry oxygen around |
|Zinc||Normal growth, strong immunity, wound |
|Iodine||Produce thyroid hormone ,growth,|
|Copper||Coenzyme, breakdown iron|
|Fluoride||Bone and teeth health, prevent tooth |
|Chromium||Assist insulin in glucose breakdown|
The 13 essential vitamins are in two groups – water-soluble or fat-soluble. The water-soluble vitamins are vitamin C and all the B vitamins, while the fat-soluble vitamins are A, D, E, and K.
Vitamins are required for many functions in the body, such as making red blood cells, synthesizing bone tissue, normal vision, nervous and immune system functioning.
They do not work alone and there is a threshold for each, so taking excessive amounts of one simply because of its perceived benefits is not beneficial!
A case in point is taking high doses of B complex. Check out this previous article – Health Benefits of B Vitamins – The Remarkable B Complex
Most of the water soluble vitamin group act as coenzymes (enzymes working in conjunction with other enzymes) in important body functions – creating energy, growth, red blood cells
|VITAMINS||Major Assistive Functions|
|Thiamin (B1)||Convert carbohydrates into energy, normal function of heart, muscles and|
nervous system, act as a coenzyme
|Riboflavin (B2 )||Convert carbohydrates into energy, produce red blood cells, vision, coenzyme|
|Niacin (B3)||Convert food into energy, maintain healthy skin, nerve function, coenzyme|
|Pantothenic acid (B5)||Coenzyme, convert food into energy|
|Pyridoxine (B6)||Normal brain and nerve function, create amino acids, make red blood cells, |
|Biotin (B7)||Coenzyme, amino acid, and fatty acid breakdown|
|Folate (B9)||Make red blood cells and DNA, coenzyme, essential for growth|
|Cobalamin (B12)||Make red blood cells, nerve cell function, coenzyme|
|C (ascorbic acid)||Form collagen, healthy bones, teeth, gums and blood vessels, absorption of |
iron and calcium, brain function, antioxidant
|A||Improve vision, immune system, healthy skin|
|D||Strengthen bones, absorb bone-building calcium|
|E||Antioxidant – helps protect cells from damage, protect cell membrane|
|K||Bone and teeth health, blood clotting|
What are the essential nutrients for the body? Now that you understand what these nutrients are from this article, How do you know if you are eating the correct amounts of the macro and micronutrients for good health? Most countries have a Health Department that issues guidelines.
In Canada there is a Canada’s Dietary Guidelines – Canada’s Food Guide , while in the US, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) publish a Dietary Guidelines for Americans, issued every 5 years.
These guidelines promote healthy eating and overall nutritional well-being to prevent chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension.
Canada’s Dietary Guidelines – Canada’s Food Guide https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/guidelines
Chapter 6 Nutrition Essentials by Stephanie Green and Kelli Shallal – Maricopa Community Collegeshttps://open.maricopa.edu/nutritionessentials/chapter/essential-nutrients/
U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov.