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A Quick and Easy Look at the 6 Essential Nutrients

Getting to know what essential nutrients your body needs is the quickest way to take control of your health. With this handy reference guide, it’s easy to find out what they are, and why they’re so important!

Quick and Easy Look at the 6 Essential Nutrients — Portland Nutrition Counseling

There are six necessary nutrients that your body needs to survive. Your body cannot produce them on its own, or in amounts sufficient enough for good health, so they need to come from food sources. Simplify your life and take charge of your health by learning about these six essentials: proteins, carbs, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water. It might seem complicated, but don't worry! This guide will make it easy for you.


All your calorie needs are met by three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fats. These nutrients give you energy, and you need plenty of them to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Eat enough protein. Proteins are made up of amino acids that keep your cells functioning and healthy. It builds and repairs muscles and bones, allows for necessary metabolic reactions to take place, strengthens your immune system, and acts as an energy source when needed. Some proteins come from plant-based sources, like legumes and beans, while others come from animal-based foods such as fish, poultry, beef, and dairy products.

Embrace carbs! Your body needs carbohydrates for short-term energy. Low and no-carb diets may be necessary for some people, but for most of us, it makes more sense to distinguish between refined and unrefined carbs – load up on veggies, fruits, and whole grains, and eat less white flour and sugar.

Choose healthy fats. Your body needs fat. Healthy fats give you long-term energy and protect your organs. (Your brain, in particular!) Fat also helps the body absorb vitamins A, D and E. Good sources of healthy fats include olive oil, avocados, salmon, and nuts.

Maintain balance. Current dietary guidelines recommend you get about 45-65% of your total daily calories from carbohydrates, 20-35% from fat, and 10-35% from protein. However, this ratio may not work for everyone. For example, an athlete may need more carbohydrates than someone with a metabolic disease.


Reminder: Most people will easily meet their macronutrient targets by consuming 80% of their calories from nutrient dense foods.



Vitamins and minerals are the micronutrients that support your body functions. Though you only need them in small amounts, these nutrients are a crucial component of good health. They regulate your mood, sleep quality, immunity, and nutrient absorption.

Understand vitamins and minerals. There are 13 essential vitamins and a number of minerals that keep your body healthy; making sure it can do everything from absorbing other nutrients to making hormones. Minerals are especially important for things like proper brain function, maintaining strong bones, and immunity. Vitamins and minerals can be divided into two groups: water-soluble, which means the body flushes out what it doesn't absorb and needs to be replenished daily, and fat-soluble, where leftovers are stored for later in the liver and adipose tissue.

Eat a varied diet. A healthy, balanced diet will provide varied sources of nutrients, and in the proper amounts. Consuming fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, lean protein, and dairy products will easily meet your daily needs.

Supplements. For most, food is the way to go when it comes to getting your essential nutrients, but there are some exceptions. For example, if you’re a vegan or vegetarian, you may need to supplement B12. If you're on a restricted diet, it’s important to talk with your doctor to see what they recommend.


Some people would disagree about where water belongs; some would classify it as a macronutrient and others classify it as a micronutrient. Water is a macronutrient in that it’s required in large quantities in order to survive, but it is also a micronutrient as it contains certain naturally occurring vitamins and minerals. That said, it’s indisputable that water is an essential nutrient. For generally healthy people, 4-6 cups daily is the standard rule.

Stay Hydrated With These Tips:

Make it a habit. Are you having a hard time remembering to drink water throughout the day? Try setting triggers like having a glass when you first wake up. You could try setting an alarm for yourself throughout the day, tracking with an app, or using a smart product, like this hydration reminder by Ulla.

Add flavor. If you find the taste of plain water too bland for your liking, spice it up! Try infusing it with some fresh fruit or herbs. Some popular infusions are berries, citrus, cucumber, mint, and basil.

The Bottom Line

Nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated. Eating enough fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods usually provides adequate amounts of these essentials for the day. If you have a medical condition or other health concern, ask your doctor about what might work best for you specifically.

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