Keeping up with what you’re supposed to eat may seem complicated, but there are really only six categories of essential nutrients. Those are the substances you need to get from food because your body can’t produce enough of them on its own.
If you want to simplify healthy eating, focus on the six basics. That means protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water.
Find out what you need to know with this quick guide.
All your calories come from three macronutrients, which are protein, carbohydrates, and fats. They give you energy, and you need them in large supplies.
Keep these tips in mind:
- Eat enough protein. The major building block for your body cells and tissues is protein. It helps you increase muscle mass and may boost your metabolism. Good sources include fish, eggs, beans, and dairy products.
- Embrace carbohydrates. For short term energy, your body uses carbohydrates. While low and no carb diets seem popular, it makes more sense to distinguish between refined and unrefined carbohydrates. Load up on vegetables, fruits, and whole grains while avoiding products that are mostly white flour and sugar.
- Choose healthy fats. Your body needs fats too. They give you longer term energy and help protect your organs. Healthy foods that are high in fat include olive oil, avocados, salmon, and nuts.
- Stay balanced. How much do you need to eat from each group? Current dietary guidelines recommend that you get about 45 to 65% of your total daily calories from carbohydrates, 20 to 35% from fat, and 10 to 35% from protein.
Vitamins and minerals are the micronutrients that support your body functions. You only need them in small amounts, but they’re still vital to your health and wellbeing.
Benefit with these strategies:
- Understand vitamins and minerals. There are 13 essential vitamins and a wide range of minerals that you need to stay fit. Vitamins help your body use other nutrients and make hormones. Minerals are especially important for your central nervous system and skeleton.
- Seek variety. Common signs of vitamin and mineral deficiencies include hair loss and slow healing. Most symptoms can be treated quickly by changing your diet.
- Consider supplements. For most adults, food is superior to supplements. However, it’s important to follow your doctor’s recommendations if you’re on a restricted diet.
There’s a little difference of opinion when it comes to water. Some experts call it a macronutrient because you need a lot of it. Others say it’s a micronutrient because it doesn’t provide energy directly. You may side with those who put it in a separate category of its own.
Add more water to your diet with these tips:
- Adopt new habits. Maybe you have trouble remembering to drink enough water. Try creating triggers like having a glass when you wake up or make a phone call.
- Add flavor. If the taste of plain water doesn’t appeal to you, liven it up. Infuse it with fresh basil or a few crushed cranberries.
- Chew it. Water from solid foods counts too. For meals and snacks with a high water content, use ingredients like cucumbers, celery, strawberries, cauliflower, and cottage cheese.
- Avoid dehydration. You may have heard that you can only live about 3 days without water. Even under less extreme conditions, dehydration can affect your performance. If you feel fatigued or have trouble concentrating, you may need to drink more.
Proper nutrition can be simple. Eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and other whole foods is usually all you need to give your body adequate amounts of the 6 essential nutrients.
If you have medical conditions or other concerns, your doctor or dietician can also help you in understanding your individual needs.