No matter what diet or lifestyle we have, it is necessary to get all the nutrients a body needs. Those are called essential nutrients for a reason.
This article is about the essential nutrients to have a balanced diet. And I was curious what kind of diets there are, so it is also about specific diets and lifestyles.
The 6 essential nutrients are water, carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals.
Some say fibers are the 7th essential nutrient.
Most of these nutrients are provided by food. The body can only produce a few nutrients itself. The rest you get from a varied diet and/or from supplements.
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Table of contents
- 1 The essential nutrients to have a balanced diet
- 2 How about the essential nutrients to have a balanced diet?
- 3 No diet but a lifestyle
- 4 Is one of those diets the best?
The essential nutrients to have a balanced diet
We all need the essential nutrients water, carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals to have an optimal functioning body. A varied diet and the right supplements ensure this.
How about the essential nutrients to have a balanced diet?
A word of caution first: whatever diet you would like to choose, I recommend consulting a doctor or dietitian.
Some conditions require a specific approach, which may be counteracted by a particular diet.
A specific diet is followed for a limited time, while a lifestyle is maintained for a longer time. That is why I prefer a change of lifestyle over following a diet.
Water, the most essential of all?
The human body needs a lot of water. We ‘are’ water for about 55% to 60%. The guideline for the quantity of water you need to drink daily is about 2-2,5 l. for women and 2-3 l. for men. Depending on your weight.
It’s pretty easy to know if you’re drinking enough water: your pee should be almost colorless. If it’s dark yellow, you really don’t drink enough.
A related diet
The water diet is a fasting method. During a short period of time, you only drink water. There are variations in the type of water diet. In some, you not only drink water but also eat water-containing vegetables like tomatoes and cucumber.
Most health specialists do not recommend this diet. You will lose weight too quickly and build up a shortage of other essential nutrients, putting your natural immune system at risk.
Don’t drink water with ice cubes. The cold is not good for your body.
Carbohydrates are a source of energy
Carbohydrates are in potatoes, pasta, rice, bread, cereals, milk, fruit, and sugar. Carbs are the primary fuel source for the brain and central nervous system.
Whole-wheat products contain a lot of fibers that are good for the defecation process.
Carbs have a bad name nowadays. Mostly because of the refined products. It is best to skip white rice, potatoes, and sugar. As well as candy and soft drinks. Instead, eat whole-wheat pasta, rice, and bread.
Under the guidance of a dietitian, a low-carb diet can help people with type 2 diabetes. Commercial diets like Atkins, South Beach, Dukan, Keto, and a lot more are meant to lose weight. They are low in carbohydrate intake and often rich in proteins.
Protein as building blocks
All human cells contain protein. Our body consists of about 17% of protein. This nutrient is essential for building, maintaining, and repairing cells like skin, blood, and muscle cells. We get protein from meat, seafood, dairy, nuts, legumes, and eggs.
Athletes will eat protein-rich foods because of the building effect of muscle mass. I know a bodybuilder who eats 12 eggs a day! Personally, I would fear kidney damage, but I am not responsible for other people’s choices.
Most low-carb diets will be high protein diets, like Scarsdale and Atkins. Generally, health experts advise following such diets for a short period of time, as they can lead to nutrient deficiencies.
Fats are fuel
Fat is an important fuel for your body. It ensures that fat-soluble vitamins, like A, D, and E, can be absorbed into our bodies.
Unsaturated fat contains essential fatty acids. Fats are in meat, seafood, oil, butter, margarine, avocados, nuts, and seeds.
We also need a supply of fat as an energy reserve. The subcutaneous fat tissue protects us against the cold. And fat is necessary to build up cell membranes.
A related diet
A low-fat diet suggests eating less unhealthy fats (saturated fats) that are in processed foods like fried foods, chips, and chocolate.
Vitamins for normal growth
Vitamins are part of the micronutrients, where water, carbohydrates, protein, and fat are the macronutrients. Vitamins don’t provide energy but play a crucial role in our immune system and energy metabolism.
Tiredness can be a sign of having a shortage of vitamins. Vitamins are in food. They include the water-soluble B group vitamins and vitamin C and the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
I don’t know of a diet that focuses solely on vitamins. Most diets suggest taking vitamin supplements to prevent nutrient deficiencies and enhance dietary function.
Minerals and trace elements, tiny but important
Like vitamins, minerals are small substances that we get from food. We need them for building and maintaining good health. For example, magnesium, iodine, and selenium make sure our immune system functions well.
No diet but a lifestyle
In my personal view, it is better to change your lifestyle if you want to lose weight or counterattack a condition with food than follow a crash diet.
If you lose a lot of pounds in a short time, the chance of a yo-yo effect is very high. By adjusting your lifestyle, perhaps step by step, you lose weight more slowly.
The most simple form of diet: eat less than you are used to. This is how my husband Tom and I managed to lose nearly 25 kilos each in 2 years’ time, in combination with more exercising. We obviously reached our ideal weight, because we still eat less food than we did years ago, without gaining or losing weight.
Weight Watchers is a low-calorie diet.
A diet against allergies or diseases
For example, people with a gluten allergy are better off on a gluten-free diet.
Tom is at risk of gout, so he eats no food with purine in it.
People with high blood pressure can better have a salt-free or low-salt diet.
Current fad diets
The Paleo or caveman diet is based on food believed to be eaten by primeval humans.
A diet based on a certain conviction
Religious diets, following certain eating instructions, such as the Jewish kosher and the Islamic halal.
Vegetarianism that skips eating of meat or fish. Or veganism that avoids the use of any animal products.
Is one of those diets the best?
This website is about health and sustainable behavior. Since I am not a doctor or dietitian, I am always careful what I say. Especially when it is about nutrients and a balanced diet.
And I research many scientifically proven statements. It becomes interesting when it turns out that research regularly produces conflicting ‘certainties’.
For instance, when I was doing my research about high cholesterol, I discovered that in the sixties Ancel Keys stated that saturated fatty acids contribute to an increased cholesterol level.
A hypothesis that is currently highly doubted and even contradicted. However, this has resulted in approximately 28% of the US population taking cholesterol-lowering drugs.
This reinforces my belief that I should read this research, but specifically should listen to my own body and use common sense.
In my personal view, there is no perfect diet. While doing the research for this article I concluded that our eating patterns have elements of several diets:
- No dairy, so that looks like vegan;
- We never eat processed food or refined products, similar to Paleo;
- The main meal is either a combination of carbs and vegetables or of protein and vegetables, like the Montignac diet;
- We never have dinner, just a few nuts around 5pm, which is intermittent fasting.
Do you have a preferred diet? Tell me in the comment box.