Simply put, nutrients are categories of food which have similar properties in terms of their characteristics, derivation, metabolism and nutritional benefits.
I have put together some explanations of the words used commonly when we talk about healthy diets with the aim of explaining what different nutrient classes represent and how to use these foods to our benefit. Nutrient balance is crucial to the healthy functioning of our bodies, hence it is important for us to understand how the different nutrients work and how to structure our diets to ensure we do not become deficient in any one of them.
The 6 classes of nutrients are:
Complex carbohydrates are the main source of energy for hard work. They are high in nutrients and fibre and low in calories. Digested slowly, releasing blood sugar evenly. Examples are grains, sweet potato, cereals, baked beans, pumpkin, whole-wheat pasta, lentils and legumes.
Simple carbohydrates provide sugars for quick energy. Examples are dates, raisins, figs, peach, plum nectarine, banana, apple, grapes.
Proteins are essential for growth, they repair muscle tissue which in turn supports the skeletal system. Proteins form anti-bodies and fight and prevent sickness and disease. Examples of animal protein are beef, chicken, crab, duck, eggs, fish, lamb, milk , turkey and prawns.
Non-meat and plant proteins include soy, tofu, whey, yoghurt and cheese.
Fat provides energy for the body. Fat insulates against cold, absorbs the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. It protects and supports vital internal organs and gives the body an aesthetic appeal. Essential fats are derived from almonds, avocado, olives and olive oil, sunflower, safflower, soybean, corn, ricebran, canola, butter and coconut.
There are 13 different vitamins, each with their own role to play in the efficient functioning of the body. Vitamins aid the processes by which other nutrients are digested and used by the body.
Minerals are found in minute quantities in the body, but their presence plays a major role in developing resistance to infection, maintaining fluid balance, and strengthening bones.
Water is essential to the body and is an indispensable nutrient. It carries nutrients to the body’s cells and aids in digestion, metabolism and detoxification. It also promotes healthy skin and curbs appetite. However, due to the abundance of flavored water, sports drinks and sodas, our intake of pure, filtered water has greatly diminished. Don’t wait to get thirst in order to drink water because by the time you are thirsty you are probably already dehydrated. Aim to drink at least two liters or eight glasses of water every day and more if you are exercising or working in hot temperatures. If you need to flavor water, try slices of cucumber, lemon, lime or mint.