Essential Nutrient Overview
Your body has innate nutritional needs that it requires for health and function. These are called essential nutrients. You cannot live on wood like termites. You cannot use sunlight for energy like plants. So, the basic physiology of your body determines what you need to consume for fuel and also for nutrition. These are the substances that your body is designed to run on.
For example, you need to consume Vitamin C from your food. If you do not, you will develop scurvy like an 18th century sailor. Almost all other mammals actually do not need to consume Vitamin C, however. They can make it from other substances they eat. Humans and other primates cannot do this. In other words, you are required to consume these essential nutrients from the food that you eat.
We need to consume Vitamin C from our food to satisfy a need of your body. This is a basic example of how the essential nutrients you obtain from your food are specific to your body as a human being. You will find a list of the known essential nutrients below.
What Else Affects the Essential Nutrients My Body Needs?
The essential elements that your body requires from your nutrition are based on both the innate needs of your body and also the specifics of your lifestyle. The optimal levels are determined by things like your activity level, your age, even your environment. High levels of physical activity will require greater calorie intake. So will exposure to cold temperatures. As we age, often the absorption of nutrients declines so more micronutrients are necessary. It is important to remember that your body is dynamic and its essential nutrient requirements are dependent on the rest of your lifestyle at the time.
Where Can I Get The Essential Nutrients My Body Needs?
Nutrients are designed to come from eating real food in a manner that supports your lifestyle. Whether from plants or animals, the food that we eat contains an extremely complex mixture of chemical compounds. And often times, the name of a nutrient is actually referring to a classification of nutrients, rather than a single isolated element. And the form and context that these nutrients come from is often crucial in how well our body can use them. So a best practice is to consume a wide variety of real food that is congruent with your genetics and lifestyle that is in line with the Bonfire Health Ideal Diet.
Macro and Micro Nutrients
The two main categories of nutrients are macronutrients and micronutrients.
Macronutrients are the substances that we need in relatively large amounts, and include the three sources of calories – fat, carbohydrates and protein – as well as water.
Micronutrients include a large list of substances that our bodies need in smaller amounts, such as vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and essential fatty acids.
Minerals play a crucial role in the health of your body. Certain minerals are essential elements that you need to consume in your diet. They include electrolytes like sodium, potassium and chloride, bone and teeth components such as calcium and phosphorus, and vital components of energy production such as magnesium.
The health of the digestive system influences its ability to properly absorb nutrients. Key factors in mineral absorption are the mineral’s form (bioavailability) as well as interactions with other nutrients and substances present in the digestive system. The digestive system needs to be properly acidic for the absorption of certain minerals, for example.
Minerals are typically broken down into two categories: macrominerals and microminerals. Larger amounts of macrominerals are consumed than the microminerals. Just like all substances taken into your body, there are specific ranges of amounts which your body needs.
These macrominerals do not provide energy (calories) but serve many important functions in your body.
Microminerals are present in all types of real, natural food to varying amounts. Often times, the health of the soil will determine the micromineral content of food. They are typically absorbed by your body in the small intestine.
Microminerals serve most commonly as co-factors for enzymes, meaning they are important for specific biochemical activities in your body. Here are some microminerals:
The importance of fiber in your diet has been a topic of great research interest during recent years. Fiber is found in natural foods – whole plant foods, in particular, are great sources of the various types of fiber. Fiber includes both soluble and insoluble fiber. Both are important for digestive health. Fiber was a large part of our ancestors‘ diet. Great sources of fiber include bananas, apples, pears, onions, potatoes, cauliflower, green beans and zucchini, as well as various berries, nuts and seeds.
Certain fats are essential nutrients for your body. For many years, conventional nutritional advice was to keep fat intake as low as possible, particularly saturated fat from animals. However, it had been observed as early as 1929 that people and animals did not thrive when fed a processed diet specifically designed to remove all fat – and that adding a fatty component back to the diet will reverse ill effects. So after many years of a “minimize-fat” stance (low fat, non-fat, no fat), it has become apparent that numerous health problems occur when healthy natural fats are deficient in people’s diets. To read more about fat in general and saturated fat in particular, read Fat Is Good.
While it has now become recognized that fat is a necessary component of a healthy diet, certain specific types of fat are essential to the body. The specific types of fats described as essential fall into two types: Omega-6 fatty acids and Omega-3 fatty acids.
Both Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids:
- are unsaturated
- are only found in certain foods
- are a long chain fat, meaning they are a longer molecule than the majority of fats we consume
There are also several differences between them. We consume far too many Omega-6 fatty acids in our modern diet, and we consume far too little Omega-3 fats, especially DHA and EPA. Omega-6 fats are found in many sources commonly found in our diet, while Omega-3, especially the essential DHA and EPA, are not commonly found in our diet today. In addition, Omega-6 fats tend to have pro-inflammatory effects, while Omega-3 fats have an anti-inflammatory influence on your body. The best source of DHA and EPA Omega-3 fatty acids is fresh water fish. The easiest way to make sure you are consuming enough Omega-3 fatty acids is to take a daily supplement.
Many nutrients play an essential role in your body by acting as antioxidants. Antioxidants protect cells, DNA and proteins from damage by free radicals. Free radicals are produced by normal metabolic processes in your body as a by-product of energy production and use. However, unhealthy lifestyle choices create excessive free radicals that create damage to your body. Free radical damage is associated with blood vessel damage and cardiovascular disease, DNA damage and cancer formation, and dementia.
Antioxidants are most concentrated in plant foods, especially those with bright colors.
The most commonly discussed antioxidants include:
- Vitamin A: found in carrots, kale and broccoli; critical for vision
- Vitamin C: found in red peppers, parsley and citrus fruits; supports the immune system
- Vitamin E: found in avocados, eggs, oils, leafy greens like spinach, nuts and seeds; promotes a healthy heart and aides in the absorption of nutrients
- Carotenoids: found in oranges, tomatoes, bananas and brightly colored peppers; aide in healthy immune function and fight free radicals
- Lycopene: found in tomatoes, pink grapefruits, watermelon and papayas; important for preventing heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes and male infertility.
- Glutathione: found in raw fruits and vegetables like broccoli, asparagus, avocados, and cauliflower; detoxifies carcinogens and free radicals and plays an important role in the immune system, gastrointestinal system, and the nervous system.
There is a broad range of nutrients in food that have levels of antioxidant activity; many are known, and likely even more remain to be uncovered.
Research shows that antioxidants are best obtained from whole foods, rather than as isolated chemicals. A Bonfire diet-style provides a high level of antioxidants by supplying you with a broad range of fruits and vegetables, and at the same time, a genetically congruent lifestyle minimizes excessive free radical production.
One of the most dynamic areas of nutritional research has been into the body’s needs for fruits and vegetables. The complex chemical compounds found in plant foods have been shown over and over again to have proven health effects and protect us from disease. The chemicals in plants are often referred as phytochemicals, or phytonutrients.
The Linus Pauling Institute at the University of Oregon:
“Phytochemicals can be defined, in the strictest sense, as chemicals produced by plants. However, the term is generally used to describe chemicals from plants that may affect health, but are not essential nutrients.”
However, in combination, research shows that phytochemicals are in fact a critical essential element. A key to this aspect of phytochemicals is that their effects add together. Rather than a single chemical from a specific plant, the effects are from the spectrum of phytochemicals, and the total amount consumed. This is why a Bonfire Health Diet Style includes eating a wide variety of vegetables!
Here are some of the more well known classifications of phytochemicals (although there are many thousands, most unknown):
See more about phytochemicals here at the Linus Pauling Institute.
It became clear that there were specific substances in food that were necessary for health, and that the lack of certain substances led to disease. In 1912, the term “vitamin” was coined to describe these substances. At first, there were two known vitamins, or classes of vitamins: Vitamin A, the fat-soluble vitamin, and Vitamin B, the water-soluble vitamin.
There are now 13 essential vitamins, broken down into fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins.
- Vitamin A (carrots, kale, and broccoli)
- Vitamin D (fatty fish such as salmon, sunlight)
- Vitamin E (avocados, eggs, oils, leafy greens such as spinach, nuts and seeds)
- Vitamin K (green leafy vegetables such as kale, swiss chard, spinach, parsley and lettuce)
- Vitamin B1 (green vegetables, beets, almonds, turnips and beans)
- Vitamin B2 (eggs, nuts, fish and lean meats)
- Vitamin B3 (turkey, chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, avocados, dates and mushrooms)
- Vitamin B5 (broccoli, avocado, and meats)
- Vitamin B6 (meats, raw vegetables, nuts)
- Vitamin B7 (egg yolk, liver, some vegetables)
- Vitamin B9 (liver, turkey, tuna, banana, potatoes, chili peppers)
- Vitamin B12 (fish and shellfish, liver and other meat sources, eggs)
- Vitamin C (red peppers, parsley, citrus fruits)
Your body requires protein in your diet. Proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids. Your body connects various amino acids together to form long protein chains that are an essential part of every cell and tissue of your body. Therefore, your body does best when an array of the various amino acid types are consumed.
Essential Amino Acids
Certain amino acids are essential. Essential amino acids must be consumed in the diet or a deficiency results. In other words, they cannot be made by your body. The essential amino acids, however, can be used by your body to create all the other non-essential amino acids.
The essential amino acids are: threonine, lysine, methionine, arginine, valine, phenylanine, leucine, tryptophan, isoleucine and histidine. They are abundant in animal products like eggs, chicken and beef. Be sure to select free range, grass-fed, naturally raised meats and eggs. They can also be found in various nuts and seeds.
These amino acids cannot be made by your body. They need to be consumed in your diet. These ten amino acids are referred to as the essential amino acids.