If you were to ask a nutritionist or your doctor how to stay healthy, you’d probably hear advice on diet and exercise. But, if you made the same inquiry at a health-food store, you could be bombarded with information about multisyllabic substances and essential diet supplementation.
And that can leave even the most health-conscious person confused and befuddled. After all, the answer to this basic question can be phrased differently, depending on the type of nutrients being discussed. There are two basic categories of nutrients that the human body needs to survive and thrive: macronutrients and micronutrients.
You Need Lots of Macronutrients …
Macronutrients are the substances the body relies upon for its energy and structure. Think of your body as an engine. Macronutrients are the fuel needed for the engine to operate. There are four basic types of macronutrients:
The most recognizable and plentiful nutrient on the planet, water’s benefits extend well beyond quenching your thirst. It helps to protect organs. It also helps you maintain a healthy body temperature, it keeps tissues moist and joints lubricated, and it transports oxygen and other nutrients to cells throughout the body.1
Known as the body’s “building blocks,” proteins provide the basis for the growth and construction of everything from muscle and tissue to skin and blood plasma. They also help regulate the metabolic and hormone systems.2
Contrary to what some “zero-carb” diets proclaim, carbohydrates are a necessary component of good health. They deliver fuel to the body during high-intensity exercise. Carbohydrates also supply nourishment to the brain and central nervous system.3
Like carbohydrates, fats are often unfairly demonized when it comes to eating healthy. While consuming too many saturated fats (also called trans fats) can cause arterial clogging and raise your risk of heart disease, unsaturated fats offer protection and insulation to bodily organs. They also function as a reserve source of energy.4
… But Just A Small Amount of Micronutrients
As the name implies, your body only requires small amounts of micronutrients to keep it running well.
Vitamins are life-sustaining organic compounds which are not produced by the body in adequate amounts (or at all). Some of the most crucial vitamins the body needs are:
- Vitamin A for healthy hair and skin
- Vitamin B1 (thiamin) which takes the food we eat and releases its energy
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) to construct and sustain bodily tissues
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) aids in blood production
- Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) facilitates nervous system development
- Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) for strong gums and growth hormone formation
- Vitamin D for strong teeth and bones
- Vitamin E helps protect cell membranes from damage
- Vitamin K helps the blood clotting process5
Unlike vitamins, minerals are inorganic elements. They still play a large role in helping the body carry out all its essential functions. Some key minerals include:
- Calcium for strong bones and teeth, as well as properly-functioning muscles and nerves
- Iodine for the production of thyroid hormones
- Iron for blood cell formation and oxygen transportation throughout the body
- Potassium helps regulate heart rhythm and cellular water balance
- Sodium stimulates nerves and also helps maintain water balance
- Zinc helps wounds heal and enzymes to form6
Finally, antioxidants and phytonutrients are also vital to the body.
Antioxidants can safeguard the body against the damage inflicted by free radicals. These are defective molecules which can affix themselves to healthy cells. Free radicals can potentially cause serious diseases or conditions. Phytonutrients are plant compounds that can have a positive impact on your health. Examples include beta carotene for improved vision, anthocyanidins for blood vessel health, and resveratrol for lung health. The precise health benefits of both antioxidants and phytonutrients are still being studied.7,8
Supplementation of Macronutrients and Micronutrients
Undoubtedly, you have seen both macronutrient and micronutrient supplements at your local grocery store, pharmacy, or health food retailer. But before you start shopping for supplement products, it’s wise to ask your doctor about which ones you would benefit from.
Many times, you can increase your intake of a particular micronutrient by integrating new foods into your diet. And in most cases, altering your food choices can up your macronutrient consumption. But whether you make changes to your lifestyle or incorporate supplements into your health regimen, just remember that you need adequate levels of both macronutrients and micronutrients in order to stay as healthy as you can be.
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