Here is a list of 10 vital nutrients with their functions and sources to help you shop for healthier food options.
Now, plan your diet armed with an arsenal of facts and information.
Read Panchali’s article as published in Complete Wellbeing.
An essential nutrient, carbohydrates provide energy, which helps our body to perform physical and physiological functions. They supply energy to all vital organs of the body including the brain, the eyes, the glands, the kidneys and the heart. Carbohydrates are classified as simple carbohydrates or sugar, complex carbohydrates and fibre. Whole grains, bananas, root vegetables, honey, table sugar, rice, pasta, oats, biscuits and breads are few main sources of carbohydrates. A diet high in simple sugars, refined foods [cakes, maida, and chocolates] and soft drinks may upset the carbohydrate balance and lead to elevated blood sugar levels, obesity and mood fluctuations. The ideal strategy is to increase intake of complex carbohydrates and fibre-rich sources such as whole cereals, brown rice and wheat bread.
These help repair, build, and maintain the tissues of the body. Whether it is the cardiac muscles, nerve tissues or oxygen carrying component in the blood [haemoglobin], they are mostly made up of proteins. Protein-rich foods include eggs, fish, chicken, beans, lentils, nuts and dairy products. Opt for leaner versions like chicken and egg whites over mutton or beans and skimmed milk over shell fish and whole fat milk.
Though considered to be a ‘bad nutrient’ by most weight loss seekers, fats are necessary as energy providing nutrients and must account for 20 – 30 per cent of our daily calorie intake. Fatty sheaths surround each cell of the body and are essential for a healthy skin, vision, nerve transmission and hormonal functions. It is best to limit the intake of saturated fats [meats, cheese, cream, butter] and trans fats [margarines, French fries, cookies, wafers] and add heart-friendly fats such as MUFA [mono unsaturated fatty acids] found in olive oil, almonds and avocadoes to your diet.
The functions of both fat soluble [vitamin A, D, E and K] and water soluble vitamins [B, C] are manifold.
- While vitamin A [found in carrots, pumpkin, greens] is needed for good vision and cellular growth; vitamin D [as in eggs, milk, curd, fish] promotes better absorption of calcium in the body. Exposure to sunlight helps the body to synthesise its own vitamin D.
- Vitamin E [found in nuts and seeds] is needed for healthy red blood cells and vitamin K [found in organ meats, leafy vegetables and wheat bran] is needed for blood clotting.
- Vitamin C [found in citrus fruits, spinach, green chillies, capsicum and sprouts] acts as an antioxidant, helps absorb iron better and increases immunity. It also helps maintain the health of gums, teeth and blood vessels.
- Vitamin B complex include thiamine[B1], riboflavin [B2], niacin[B3], pyridoxine[B6], folic acid and cobalamin[B 12]. B vitamins are crucial for the body’s growth and development. They provide the body cells with energy, help to maintain the intestinal bacterial health, regulate the functions of nervous system and promote cellular reproduction and growth. Its food sources include whole grains, sprouts, chicken, fish, lentils, curd and leafy vegetables.
It is good for bones, nerves and muscles. Calcium-rich diet sources include dark leafy vegetables [spinach, radish greens], milk, curd, paneer, soybeans and sprouted beans.
The body needs sodium to maintain proper electrolyte balance, blood pressure and nerve function. The recommended dietary intake of sodium for an average adult is approximately 3000mg, which can be provided through table salt, pickled and smoked foods and salty snack items [1tsp of table salt contains 2000mg of sodium]. High sodium intake may lead to hypertension [high blood pressure], water retention and increased risk of kidney disorders.
Zinc and copper
Trace mineral zinc is responsible for proper tissue growth, blood sugar balance and good immunity. Copper is needed for better blood circulation, synthesis of collagen and enzymatic action. Both of them act as potent antioxidants and protect the body against free radical damage. Rich sources include almonds, walnuts, wheat germ, fish and green leafy vegetables.
It plays an important role in enzymatic action, cholesterol metabolism and muscular activity. Nuts, seeds like sunflower seeds and sesame [til] seeds, apples and whole grains are good sources of magnesium.
Essential for proper heart functions, muscular contractions and fluid balance, potassium is a crucial mineral. Food sources include bananas, figs, oranges, raisins, coconut water and spinach.
Selenium and iodine
These are essential for maintaining proper functions of the thyroid glands. They act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents and are needed for good skin, hair and nails. Ensure an optimum intake of selenium by adding fish, nuts and mushrooms to your diet. Get iodine through sea weeds like kelp, iodised table salt and sea foods.
A varied diet comprising a balanced intake of vital nutrients, adequate consumption of water and a dose of exercise is what we need to enjoy a fit, strong and healthy body.
Know your nutrients
The nutrients needed by the body are broadly categorised into macro and micro nutrients depending upon the quantities in which they are needed. The nutrients needed in large quantities [macro nutrients] are energy-giving carbohydrates and fats and body-building proteins.
Water and macro minerals such as calcium, sodium, potassium and magnesium are also often referred to as macronutrients. Though the quantity needed of each micro nutrient or trace minerals are less, each of them is essential to maintain proper physiological and metabolic functions. Any shortage in the consumption of micro nutrients [vitamins and minerals such as copper, zinc, selenium, iodine]
may lead to nutritional deficiencies and impaired body functions.
The best way to add these vital nutrients to have a diverse and balanced diet. While a tablet of vitamin C will provide you with only vitamin C; a glass of orange juice will provide you with calcium, folate, potassium, magnesium, fibre and a range of flavonoids along with vitamin C.
Further, the synergistic effect of various nutrients present in a glass of orange juice ensures a better utilisation or absorption in the body. In case you are not sure of your diet, you can opt for supplements to meet your daily needs after consulting your doctor.