Essential nutrients are important for critical body functions. Your body cannot make them, and if at all it does, then only in insufficient quantity. They can benefit your health in some ways.

The World Health Organization recommends that essential nutrients have to come from food. They help the body stay free of diseases, are important for growth, and support the immune system. There are several essential nutrients, but they are all categorized as macronutrients or micronutrients. Macronutrients are eaten and needed in large amounts. They include protein, carbs, and fat and are important for energy production. Micronutrients, on the other hand, include vitamins and minerals, and the body needs them only in small amounts. This article reviews the main essential nutrients – whether macro or micronutrient.

1.      Protein

Protein is needed for every bit of life. It is commonly used by people in the workout industry. It is important and for a good reason – essential for good health. Protein gives your body its structure, starting from muscles to the skin, bones to hair; every cell in your body – dead or alive – is built of protein. This essential nutrient makes up 16 percent of the total body weight. Protein supports growth, body maintenance, and overall health. It forms part of the endocrine system as hormones, immune system as antibodies, and nearly every important substance is formed with protein. Protein is not used to fuel the body unless in rare cases. The simple form of protein is an amino acid. Your body can make the non-essential amino acids, while you have to fetch essential amino acids from food for proper body function. Healthy sources of protein include fish, meat, eggs, soy, beans, and nuts. Your age and activity level determine the exact amount of protein you may need.

2.      Carbohydrates

Many forms of dieting have currently made carbs seem less important. While reducing your intake of carbs may significantly improve your health and weight, carbs are still essential for a healthy body. They are the epitome of energy for your body, and according to the Mayo Clinic, they are constantly needed by the brain and central nervous system. Carbs also play a role in protecting the body against diseases. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that your total calorie intake per day should be made up of 45 to 65 percent carbs. While white bread or pasta may be delicious, they are not a good choice for your health. Healthy sources of carbs are whole grains, fruits, vegetables high in fiber, and beans. You may also want to avoid products containing added sugar or refined grains.

3.      Fats

Fats have consistently been met with controversies and tagged a bad name, but recently, research has shown that for healthy living, you need to use healthy fats. Fats are essential for many functions in the body. According to the Harvard Medical School, fats are involved in the absorption of vitamins and minerals, movement of muscles, formation of blood clots, and building of cells. While fats may be high in calories, your body needs these calories for proper functioning. It is recommended that you obtain 25 to 35 percent of your total calorie intake per day from fats, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. However, the World Health Organization recommends below 30 percent of the total daily calorie intake.

Getting enough fats can reduce your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, improve sugar balancing, and support brain health. Fats also possess powerful anti-inflammatory properties, which may help reduce the risk of several diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, and cancer. You should always strive to use unsaturated fats containing omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Your body needs unsaturated fatty acids for the provision of essential fatty acids, which it can’t make on its own. Healthy sources of these fats are seeds, fish, nuts, and vegetable oils like olive and avocado. Coconut oil is also an excellent source of medium-chain triglycerides – healthy fatty acids that can improve your appetite and provide energy quickly.

4.      Vitamins

Vitamins are essential for the prevention of diseases and improved overall health. It is one of the micronutrients that your body direly needs for proper functioning. Essential vitamins are 13, and your body needs them to support its function. They include vitamins A, B6, C, and D. There is a specific function performed by every vitamin, and their deficiency can lead to serious health problems and illnesses, such as night blindness, skin infections, and fractures, to name a few. Vitamins also have powerful antioxidant properties and can helpreduce the risk of prostate and lung cancer. Vitamin C, for example, boosts immunity and promotes healing from illnesses. You can healthily source vitamins from vegetables and fruits or supplements if you feel you have been deprived.

5.      Minerals

Minerals are needed in small amounts to help support the body. Minerals are essential in the regulation of metabolism, the formation of strong bones and teeth, and keeping the body hydrated. Common minerals include iron, calcium, and zinc. Calcium is an important mineral involved in strengthening bones, transmitting nerve signals, regulating blood pressure, and help muscles contract and relax. Iron is needed for the formation of healthy red blood cells and the synthesis of hormones. Zinc can help boost your immune system and promote wound healing.

6.      Water

Your body is mainly made up of water. In fact, about 62 percent of your total body weight is composed of water. It is needed by every system in your body. While you can last for weeks without food, lacking water for only a few days can be harmful. It bathes your brain, improving its function and mood. It cushions and lubricates the body, eliminates toxins, transports nutrients, keeps the body hydrated, and prevents digestion. Dehydration can lower your concentration, physical performance and makes you lethargic.


Essential nutrients are six, including protein, carbs, vitamins, fats, minerals, and water. They can be categorized as macronutrients (needed in large amounts) and micronutrients (only in small amounts). Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients, while the rest are macronutrients. Your body needs essential nutrients for muscle building, elimination of wastes, just to mention.

Marie Salbuvik

Dietician MS, Lund University, Sweden Nutrition plays an important role in human life. Eating habits are one of the factors that affect our health. There is often a misconception among people that nutritionists force a very restrictive diet, but that is not true. In fact, I don't ban any products, but I point out dietary mistakes and help change them by giving tips and new recipes that I've tried myself. I advise my patients not to resist change and to be purposeful. Only with willpower and determination can a good result be achieved in any area of life, including changing eating habits. When I don't work, I love to go climbing. On a Friday evening, you are most likely to find me on my couch, cuddling with my dog and watching some Netflix.