Food does more than just provide you with energy -- it also serves as a source for the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy. You can't eat just any foods to get these nutrients, either. You need to eat a variety of foods from each of the food groups, since different types of food each provide a different mix of essential nutrients.
Essential Amino Acids
All of the cells in your body are made up of a mix of amino acids. While your body can make some of the amino acids it needs, there are nine essential amino acids your body can't make on its own. You need to eat protein-rich foods to get these amino acids in sufficient amounts for your body's needs. Animal-based foods like chicken, fish and low-fat dairy products contain all of the essential amino acids, while plant-based protein sources often lack one or more of these essential amino acids. However, eating different types of plant foods, such as rice and beans, within the same day will provide you with all different types of amino acids you need.
Essential Fatty Acids
Don't cut all of the fat out of your diet, since your body needs two types of fat -- omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids -- for proper brain function, skin and hair growth, bone health and keeping your metabolism and reproductive system working properly. While most people get more than enough omega-6 fats from the plant oils in their diet, not everyone gets the recommended amount of omega-3 fats, found mainly in fish, flaxseed and walnuts. Eat seafood at least twice a week to get the heart-health benefits of omega-3 fats, which help lower your triglycerides.
Vitamins perform a number of functions in the body, including acting as antioxidants, helping blood clot, improving the absorption of minerals, boosting immune function, forming DNA and proteins, keeping your metabolism functioning properly, turning the food you eat into energy and producing red blood cells. Although your body can manufacture a small amount of biotin, vitamin D and vitamin K, you still need to get at least some of these vitamins through your diet. Your body can't manufacture vitamins A, B-6, B-12, C, E, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, choline and folate, so consume foods containing these vitamins regularly. The water-soluble vitamins, which include the B-complex vitamins and vitamin C, aren't stored in your body so you need them on a daily basis.
You need the essential minerals for forming both the soft and the skeletal parts of your body, maintaining a proper water balance and acid-base balance in your body, contracting muscles and transmitting nerve signals, as well as for other body functions. These minerals include calcium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, sulfur and chlorine, which you need in larger amounts, and the trace minerals iron, zinc, selenium, manganese, iodine, copper, nickel, cobalt, vanadium, fluorine, silicone, tin, molybdenum and chromium, which you only need in very small amounts.
If you don't get enough fiber in your diet, you are likely to become constipated. However, keeping yourself regular isn't the only reason why you should consume this essential nutrient, which is found in whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Fiber can lower your risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. It also helps you feel full after eating, making it beneficial for people trying to lose weight. Aim to consume at least 25 grams per day.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamins - Introduction
- MedlinePlus: Protein in Diet
- Food and Agricultural Organization: Essential Nutrients - Minerals
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Omega-6 Fatty Acids
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- MayoClinic.com: Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet
Based in Massachusetts, Jessica Bruso has been writing since 2008. She holds a master of science degree in food policy and applied nutrition and a bachelor of arts degree in international relations, both from Tufts University.