What Are The Essential Nutrients for The Body – Simplified For Seniors

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.

Carbohydrates

The major food sources of carbohydrates are:

What are the Essential Nutrients for the Body
Fruits
  • Grains,
  • Milk,
  • Fruits,
  • 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

Protein

Proteins are made up of amino acids. Food sources of proteins are:

  • meats,
  • dairy products,
  • seafood,
  • beans
  • 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

Lipids are insoluble in water, unlike carbohydrates. They are found predominantly in

What are the Essential Nutrients for the Body
Seafood – Shrimp
  • butter,
  • oils,
  • meats,
  • dairy products,
  • nuts,
  • 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.

Water

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.

Minerals

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.

MINERALSMajor Functions in Which They Are Required
Macro
SodiumMuscle contraction and nerve function,
body fluid balance
ChlorideProduction of stomach acid, body fluid
balance
PotassiumMaintain balance of water in the blood
and body tissues, muscle contraction
and nerve function
CalciumBuild strong bones and teeth, nerve
function, muscle
contraction, blood clotting
PhosphorusForm healthy bones and teeth, create
energy, proper function of the cell
membrane, acid-base balance
MagnesiumMuscle contraction and nerve function,
steadies heart rhythm, aids bone strength,
create energy and proteins
SulfurCreate protein
Trace
IronHelp red blood cells carry oxygen around
the body
ZincNormal growth, strong immunity, wound
healing
IodineProduce thyroid hormone ,growth,
metabolism
SeleniumAntioxidant
CopperCoenzyme, breakdown iron
ManganeseCoenzyme
FluorideBone and teeth health, prevent tooth
decay
ChromiumAssist insulin in glucose breakdown
MolybdenumCoenzyme
Essential Minerals

Vitamins

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.

What are the Essential Nutrients for the Body
Sunflower seeds

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

VITAMINSMajor Assistive Functions
Water-soluble
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,
coenzyme
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
Fat-soluble
AImprove vision, immune system, healthy skin
DStrengthen bones, absorb bone-building calcium
EAntioxidant – helps protect cells from damage, protect cell membrane
KBone and teeth health, blood clotting
Water soluble and Fat soluble vitamins

Conclusion

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.

References

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.

https://2012books.lardbucket.org/books/an-introduction-to-nutrition/s07-nutrition-and-the-human-body.html

2 thoughts on “What Are The Essential Nutrients for The Body – Simplified For Seniors”

  1. Very interesting. Trying to eat a balanced diet with all of these included can’t be easy. Well, we all try but if we miss one part of this list of nutrients, we can make up for it the next day, can’t we?
    I read somewhere that it is so easy to over-eat on nuts. We’re supposed to eat only a small amount of them per day but I’m not sure how much of it.

    Reply
    • Of course you can try to make up for any nutrients missed the previous day Christine, but I doubt if you can keep up (:-) It is usually best to plan meals for each day as this helps make meeting these targets more manageable.
      Ceci

      Reply

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