What are the Essential Nutrients for a Healthy Diet?

Putting together a healthy eating plan can seem a bit overwhelming. There is so much advice out there about what to eat that it can be hard to figure out what's actually essential. To help make it easier to eat well, you can simply narrow it down to 6 basic nutrients. These are the essential compounds your body needs to get from your diet or supplements because it either doesn't make them or can't make enough on its own. Check out this list of essential nutrients and find out which nutrient-rich foods are a must for your eating routine.


Water is absolutely essential for your health. Every system in your body requires it, and every system will suffer without it. From your metabolism to your brain to your kidneys to your blood, you must get enough water in order to survive and thrive.

The traditional advice to drink eight glasses of water per day still rings true. In fact, you should try to get a bit more if possible, especially if you're exercising, pregnant, breastfeeding or live in a hot climate. You may also need to consume more water if you're dealing with certain health issues, like a fever, diarrhea or vomiting. Remember that you can also get additional water into your diet through some food sources, especially fruits and vegetables.


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Protein is one of the most essential building blocks of the body. It's most commonly associated with muscle, but protein is actually in every cell of your body, including skin cells, bone cells, hair cells and brain cells. In addition, protein is in your body's hormones and antibodies. It's essential for the growth and maintenance of just about all aspects of your body.

Different sources of protein contain different amino acids that make up "complete proteins," so you should try to eat a variety of protein sources throughout the day. Some of the best high-protein foods include meat, eggs, fish, beans, nuts and soy.


Low-carb diet trends have caused some people to believe that all carbohydrates are bad, but that's actually not true. In fact, your body depends on carbohydrates to survive since they are your body's main source of fuel. They help to protect against disease and ensure your nervous system and brain are functioning properly.

Overall, about 45 to 65 percent of your total daily calories should come from carbohydrates. However, it's important to choose healthy carbs whenever possible. White bread, white rice, pasta and other refined grains, for example, are not as good for you as other carbs. The good news is that there are plenty of healthy alternatives packed with whole grains and fiber, including shirataki noodles, beans, apples, bananas and chickpeas.


Like carbohydrates, fats have a negative connotation for many people. However, you can't completely deprive your body of these nutrients. Your body needs fat to helps with building new cells, muscle movement, blood clotting, absorbing vitamins and minerals and other essential functions. And healthy fats can have some very important positive health effects, including reducing the risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, cancer and Alzheimer's disease and improving brain function.

So what types of fats are the "good" fats? Your best bet is to look for foods with unsaturated fats. Some especially healthy options are those with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, such as fish, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils (including olive, avocado and flaxseed oils). Watch out for trans fats and saturated fats like butter and cheese; you don't have to cut these foods out entirely, but you should limit your consumption whenever possible.


Your body needs minerals just as much as any of the other nutrients on this list. Minerals help to make your bones and teeth stronger and perform other vital functions, like aiding with hydration, maintaining healthy blood pressure levels, relaxing and contracting your muscles and regulating your metabolism. You also need minerals to keep your immune system strong and heal wounds.

There are a number of minerals out there, but when it comes to nutrient-rich foods, you can look for some common ones like iron, calcium and zinc. Minerals are often found in fruits and vegetables, but you'll also see them in other food sources. If you aren't getting enough minerals in your diet, you can consider taking a multi-vitamin that contains some of the key ones your body needs.


Getting enough vitamins in your diet is essential for a number of reasons. Vitamins play an important role in several key body functions, including vision, skin health and bone strength. Vitamins can also lower the risk of certain diseases and provide a boost for your immune system.

Vitamins are like minerals in that they can be introduced through foods (especially fruits and veggies) or through a multivitamin. There are over a dozen your body needs, including vitamins C, D, B6 and A.

When researching the micro and macro nutrients your body needs, look to these 6 basic nutrients to keep your eating plan on track.

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