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What nutrients are critical in a healthy diet?

Alberta Scruggs
Nutrition & Dietetics
There are six categories of nutrients necessary for a healthy diet. They include carbohydrate, fat, minerals, protein, vitamins and water. Within each categories are sub-categories. Each have specific functions and roles and should be included in your daily diet for optimal health throughout your life cycle. Choose food for your primary source of nutrients (it's better absorbed and utilized by the body). If you find you can't get all that you need from food, supplement your food choices with dietary shakes, vitamins, minerals, etc.

The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences provides a Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) table that includes Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs), Adequate Intakes (AIs), Estimated Average Requirements (EAR) and Upper Intake Levels (UL), for all nutrients, based on a population of healthy Americans. http://fnic.nal.usda.gov/nal_display/index.php?info_center=4&tax_level=3&tax_subject=256&topic_id=1342&level3_id=5140

If you have a health condition such as a vitamin deficiency, heart disease or lupus, these recommendations may need adjustment.
Susan S. Blum, MD
Preventive Medicine
You must eat enough protein every day to make your immune cells, your muscles, and your hormones and neurotransmitters. There are 9 essential amino acids, these are the building blocks that make a protein. They are called essential because you cannot make them you must eat them. The amount of protein every day that you should eat is related to how much you weigh, but this ends up approximately 60 grams for a 135-pound person.

You must eat fiber every day, in the form of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Fiber keeps your bowels moving regularly, helps feed and nourishes the beneficial bacteria in your intestines, and helps remove toxins, cholesterol and hormones from your body. Aim for 30 grams of fiber every day.

You must eat essential fatty acids every day. These are the famous Omega 3 and Omega 6 oils. Again, these are called essential since you cannot make them from other fats, so you must eat them. From your diet, you can get these essential fats from fish, nuts and seeds, dark green leafy vegetables.

Minerals, antioxidants, B-vitamins: a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds will provide all the vitamins you need. If you don’t eat these foods every day, consider taking a multivitamin/mineral every day to make sure you get what you need. These vitamins and minerals are critical as co-factors in all your biochemical body processes.
Rose Reisman
Nutrition & Dietetics
Often we can get confused on what foods and nutrients are key to our daily diets and we may even overeat certain healthy foods while leaving other nutrient foods on the back burner.

I urge you never to go off complex carbohydrates as many doctors and nutritionists are urging you to do for weight loss. It may be a quick route to temporary weight loss but not the permanent solution to a healthy body. Complex carbs contain essential B vitamins and fiber which gives you the energy you need. Daily you should consume 100% whole grains, fruits, vegetables and beans as your complex carbs. Keep in mind that ½ cup of grains, beans or 1 slice of bread has about 100 calories. The key is to keep your grains to a moderate amount.

Simple carbs consist of white flour products, white rice and sugar based foods. These foods should be limited since they are empty calories with little or no nutrition. They raise your blood sugar quickly which means you’re hunger soon after.

Protein is crucial in your day and keeps you full which often prevents over eating. Be sure to have a variety of animal and non-animal sources. Lean animal protein consists of poultry, lean beef and fish. Non animal sources consist of soy products, nut butters, oils, nuts and beans.

Calcium from an early age for both sexes is important since osteoporosis is now common in men as well as women. We need to maintain the strength of our bones and teeth. The recommended dose is 1000 mg daily and it’s always better to get that from foods. For example one cup of milk or yogurt gives you 1/3 of your daily amount. Cheese is also good but remember there’s excess fat. On days where you can’t get your daily maximum use a supplement, but the best source is always from food.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.