Essential nutrients are ones that your body cannot make, and therefore must be supplied from the foods you eat
Essential nutrients include protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and fats all of which play a specific role in helping to maintain your health and wellbeing
Eating a wide variety of foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats will help you get the essential nutrients your body needs
If your diet falls short of some essential nutrients, vitamin and mineral supplements can help fill in any nutritional gaps †
Nutrition plays a key role in supporting your health and well-being. The foods you eat provide a wide variety of nutrients, including essential nutrients that cannot be produced by your body and therefore must be supplied through your diet.
Let’s explore what are essential nutrients, the role they play in maintaining optimal health, and which foods provide essential nutrients in your diet.
What are essential nutrients?
Unlike non-essential nutrients, essential nutrients are ones that your body cannot make, and therefore must be supplied from the foods you eat. These nutrients are a mix of macronutrients, like protein, carbohydrates, and fats, and micronutrients, like vitamins and minerals that are needed in adequate amounts to help your body function properly.
Every essential nutrient plays a specific role in helping to maintain your health and well-being. For example, carbohydrates provide you with energy, proteins help build and repair tissues, fats help your body absorb important nutrients, and some vitamins and minerals play a role in supporting your immune system.  Therefore, ensuring you eat a healthy diet with a wide variety of foods will help provide your body with the essential nutrients needed to support your health and well-being. †
Protein, one of the three macronutrients, is essential for the human body in order for the growth and maintenance of tissues to occur. Protein also produces hormones and enzymes and is needed to help build lean muscle mass. 
Protein is made from twenty basic building blocks known as amino acids. Nine of these 20 amino acids are known as essential amino acids which must be provided by food as they cannot be made by your body.
Dietary proteins can be considered complete or incomplete depending on whether or not they provide all nine essential amino acids. For example, meat, dairy foods, and soy products, are all examples of complete proteins, whereas beans, nuts, and grains are considered incomplete proteins as they are lacking in all nine essential amino acids. It’s important to note that eating a wide variety of incomplete proteins can help ensure that you’re getting all of the essential amino acids that your body needs.
There are many factors that affect how much protein you need. These include your gender, age, activity level, height, and weight. However, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is 46 grams for most healthy women, and 56 grams for most healthy men. 
Protein can be found in a wide variety of foods including:
Despite the still-trendy low-carb diet craze, the truth of the matter remains: carbohydrates are your body’s main energy source and your brain’s only source of fuel. They remain important to your health and well-being as a key source of energy, and also as a source of dietary fiber which can help support a healthy digestive system. † 
There are two main types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are broken down quickly by the body and send immediate bursts of energy into the bloodstream. Simple sugars are found in refined sugars, like the white sugar you find in a sugar bowl. However, not all simple sugars are alike. There are also simple sugars in foods like milk and fruit. These are “naturally occurring” sugars that are naturally present in the food which also has other nutrients, vitamins and minerals.
Complex carbohydrates, like whole grains, are broken down more slowly and provide sustained energy into the bloodstream. As with simple sugars, some complex carbohydrate foods are better choices than others.
While the general dietary guidelines are that people eat 45% to 65% of their total calories in the form of carbohydrates each day, your needs may differ depending on your age, body size, and activity level. 
Whole grains like brown rice, whole grain bread, and barley are just a few examples of healthy complex carbohydrates that also provide dietary fiber to support your gut health. Experts recommend a total fiber intake of 38 g/day for men and 25 g/day for women. For adults over 50 years of age, experts recommend a total fiber intak e of 30 g/day for men and 21 g/day for women. How can you increase your fiber intake? Eat at least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables daily, substitute whole grains for refined grains, eat oatmeal or bran cereal for breakfast, and eat beans and lentils at least once a week.
Vitamins are micronutrients, meaning your body needs them but only in small quantities. Vitamins are considered essential nutrients because your body doesn’t produce them, or only produces them in quantities that are insufficient.
There are many different types of vitamins, each with its unique function within your body. Vitamins are categorized into two groups: fat-soluble vitamins and water-soluble vitamins.
Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in your body’s liver and fatty tissues and can be used for later use. The following are considered fat-soluble vitamins:
Water-soluble vitamins are not stored in your body and therefore must be consumed daily either through your diet or through supplementation. Water soluble vitamins include:
A varied, well-rounded diet filled with plenty of fruits and vegetables will often help you get all of the vitamins your body needs. However, vitamin supplements can help fill in any nutritional gaps when diet alone isn’t enough. †
Much like vitamins, minerals are also micronutrients that support your body’s health and well-being. Minerals are different from vitamins as they come from our soil and water while vitamins are made by animals or plants.
There are two types of minerals, including macrominerals, which you need in larger amounts, and trace minerals which are needed in very small amounts.
The macrominerals include:
The trace minerals include:
From supporting your nerve, heart, and bone health, to supporting a healthy immune system, minerals are needed for a wide variety of your body’s functions.† 
The best way to get enough minerals in your diet is to eat a varied, and balanced diet. You’ll find minerals in animal-based foods like fish, organ meats, and dairy products, and in plant foods like nuts, seeds, and vegetables.
Through the years, fats have gotten a bad reputation, as many people associate them with body fat. However, fats are an essential part of a healthy diet needed for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, for energy, and to protect your organs. 
While dietary fat is considered an essential part of your overall diet, it is important to choose the right types of fats. A healthy diet is one that consists mostly of unsaturated fats rather than saturated fats. Unsaturated fats including polyunsaturated fats like Omega 3 fatty acids, have been shown to support a healthy heart.† 
Omega 3 fatty acids are found naturally in some foods like fatty fish, flaxseed, and plant oils and in dietary supplements like fish oil.
It may come as no surprise that water plays a critical role in supporting your health and wellbeing. In fact, your body is made up of 50 to 75 percent water. Therefore, staying well-hydrated will benefit nearly every body system. 
This essential nutrient is required by your body to perform a wide range of important functions including regulating body temperature, supporting digestion, and maintaining healthy skin. 
How much water you need each day will depend on a variety of factors including your age, weight, health, activity level, and location. However, as a general rule of thumb, most women should aim for 9 cups every day, and men should aim for 13 cups every day. 
Eating a wide variety of foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats will help you get the essential nutrients you need to support your overall health and well-being.
If your diet falls short of some of these healthy foods, you can help bridge any nutrient gaps that may be missing from your diet with a daily vitamin and supplement routine. Having a daily vitamin and supplement routine will ensure that your body is getting the essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fats it needs to support your health and wellbeing. †
Khan SU, Lone AN, Khan MS, Virani SS, Blumenthal RS, Nasir K, Miller M, Michos ED, Ballantyne CM, Boden WE, Bhatt DL. Effect of omega-3 fatty acids on cardiovascular outcomes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. EClinicalMedicine. 2021 Jul 8;38:100997. doi: 10.1016/j.eclinm.2021.100997. PMID: 34505026; PMCID: PMC8413259.
Emily has over a decade of experience in the field of nutrition. In her writing, she strives to bring lackluster research on health and nutrition topics to life. She loves writing about GI health and women’s issues. Find her at www.southcharlottenutrition.com
As a member of the Medical and Scientific Communications team, Sandra educates healthcare professionals and consumers on nutrition, supplements, and related health concerns. Prior to joining Pharmavite, Sandra worked as a clinical dietitian at University of Chicago Medicine in the inpatient and outpatient settings. Sandra received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Science, with minors in Spanish and Chemistry from the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ. She earned her Master of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition from RUSH University in Chicago, IL. As part of her Master’s program, Sandra performed research on physical activity participation and correlates in urban Hispanic women.