Essential Nutrients

Winnsboro Medical Clinic>Nutrition>Nutrition 101>Essential Nutrients


Our bodies are made mostly of water and it needs to be replaced to make up for the amount that the body loses doing normal everyday functions.

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends drinking water while doing physical activity and after the activity is completed.  Also remember to drink more water when it is hot outside.

Some may have restrictions on fluid intake because of a health condition, such as kidney disease.  Be sure to follow your doctor’s advice regarding fluid intake.

To help with weight and calorie control, try to get your water from unsweetened beverages.


Fats serve as an essential building block for the body, energy storage, and carrier to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, K.  However, while fats are essential some are better for you than others.  Look for these on types of fats on Nutrition Labels to see which foods you can eat more or less of in meals:

  • Less healthy (eat less):
    • Saturated Fats – Primarily found in animal products (meat, dairy) and are solids at room temperature, like butter and animal lard.
    • Cholesterol - is a natural product of fat in all animals that is used as a building block for our bodies and for making steroids, such as testosterone and estrogen to name a few.  Our bodies can make cholesterol from fats in adequate amounts and there is no evidence for a required amount from our diet.
    • Trans Fats – These fats are found heavily in processed fats, such as those used in shortenings, margarine, fried foods, packaged baked goods, and boxed snack foods.  These fats were used commercially by solidifying oils so that packaged foods could have longer shelf lives in the grocery store.  On food labels, read the Ingredients list and look out for oils that are “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated.”  Trans Fats are also now required to be listed under Total Fat in the Nutrition Facts.  It is recommended to eat as little as possible of these fats because of their link to obesity and other chronic diseases.
  • More healthy (eat more):
    • Monounsaturated Fats – Primarily found from plant sources and are liquids at room temperature.  Good sources are vegetable oils (like canola, olive, sunflower) and nuts.
    • Polyunsaturated Fats – It is important to include these fats into your diet because the body cannot make them on its own unlike the other types of fats discussed above.  Rich sources are liquid vegetable oils (soybean, canola, corn) and nuts (walnuts, flaxseed).  Another source of polyunsaturated fats, called omega-3 fatty acids, are found in fish, especially salmon, tuna, trout.  Try to incorporate these fish into your meals about 2-3 times out of the week.  Many heart-healthy diets are rich in polyunsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids.

Since fats are high in energy, teens and adults are recommended to limit 20-35% of their daily total calories from Total Fat.  Fat-free or low-fat milk or milk products are not recommended for children 2 years and under in age due to their rapid growth and development needs, especially the brain.


Carbohydrates are the main source of glucose (a sugar), which is also the main energy source, for the body.  This provides the fuel for quick energy and can also be stored in the muscles and liver for times of need.  The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend:

  • Choosing healthy and fiber-rich sources of carbohydrates:
    • Fruits & vegetables (fiber-rich)
    • Whole grain breads & cereals, brown rice (fiber-rich)
    • Milk or milk products (fat-free or low-fat)
  • Avoiding less healthy sources (refined carbohydrates):
    • Foods containing added sugars:  candy, cakes, cookies, sugar-sweetened drinks (soda, sweet tea, sweetened coffee).  These foods add extra calories but little nutrients to your diet.  Look for these words in the Ingredients List on the food package:
      • High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Corn Sweetener, Sucrose, Sugar, Syrup, Invert Sugar
      • The higher the ingredient is on the list, the more it is found in that particular food.
    • White bread, cakes, cookies (choose wheat or whole grain instead) – the processing of the flour takes away many of the healthy nutrients originally present.  Commonly referred to as “bad carbs”.

The 2005 Guidelines recommend that at least half of your day’s grains be whole grain.

It is also recommended to get at least 14 grams of Fiber for every 1,000 calories consumed.  So for an average 2,000 calorie diet, you should aim to eat close to 28 grams of Fiber.  This may seem overwhelming at first but make slow changes and gradually try to get your Fiber intake higher.  To help get you started, try these tips:

  • Eat whole fruits (fresh, frozen, or canned) instead of fruit juice.  If choosing canned fruit, choose those that are canned in their own juices or water.
  • Eat more vegetables (at least 2) with supper
  • Have more fruits or vegetables at home/work for snacks.  Dried fruits are also good, just be careful of dried fruits that are sweetened with sugar.
  • Try eating some meals using dried beans or peas (legumes) instead of meat.  They are rich in fiber and protein.
  • Choose “whole grain” foods more often and switch to brown rice.
  • Have whole grain cereals during breakfast and take it further by topping it with fruit.
  • Popcorn is a whole grain!  Look for low-fat varieties and snack sizes at the grocery store.


Proteins, just like fats and carbohydrates, are an essential building block for normal body function and growth.  They are constantly being used and broken down in our organs.  The good thing is that most Americans get enough protein from our diets.  Unless you’re muscle building, there is no advantage to eating more proteins than the body needs because the body simply gets rid of the excess.

Rich sources of protein are:

  • meats, poultry, fish, eggs
  • legumes (dry beans, peas), tofu and soybeans, nuts, seeds
  • milk, milk products
  • grains, vegetables, some fruits – these provide small amounts of protein compared to the above items.  Vegetarians should remember to eat a large variety of these 3 foods to meet their protein requirements.

Vitamins & Minerals

Vitamins are substances made by plants or animals.  Minerals are elements that come from the earth.  Our bodies absorb these substances from the foods we eat and use them to maintain normal development and growth.  All of our needed vitamins & minerals can be obtained by eating a well balanced diet.  Click on the links below for more information: