This post is meant as a quick reference guide to explain what nutrients are and the main sources of them. It isnt an in depth discussion about nutrients or any aspects of them, simply a quick reference guide, handy for newbies or for anyone wanting to ensure that they have a balanced diet.
The post is divided into sections. The first covers the macronutrients plus water and fibre. From there the post moves to vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients to alcohols and artificial food components which are briefly mentioned due to the frequency they appear in modern foods. This is followed up by a links section which also doubles as the references for this post.
After a nutrient is listed and basically described, at least 5 examples of whole foods high in that particular nutrient are listed. What you will notice is the foods which come up again and again. Lean meats, dairy, grains, fruits, vegetables, etc. These foods should be forming the basis and majority of your diet. This post is also handy if you wanted to choose a food to enable you to up your intake of a certain nutrient such as a particular mineral.
Dihydrogen oxide (H2O) or water is a colourless, tasteless liquid under normal circumstances. Liquid water is essential to life and therefore is the most important and essential nutrient. Water is obtained by drinking and by eating food. It is mainly lost through perspiration, respiration and urination. Water contains no calories.
Water is the basis for the fluids of the body. Water makes up more than two-thirds of the weight of the human body. Without water, humans would die in a few days. All the cells and organs need water to function. Water is the basis of blood, saliva and the fluids surrounding the joints. Water regulates the body temperature through perspiration. It also helps prevent constipation by moving food through the intestinal tract and eliminates waste from the body through filtering by the kidneys. The human brain is around 80% water by weight and is very sensitive to dehydration. For a bodybuilder, adequate hydration is just as important than adequate nutrition. In a survival situation, hydration is much more important than nutrition.
Protein is one of the basic components of food and makes all life possible. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. All of the antibodies and enzymes, and many of the hormones in the body are proteins. They provide for the transport of nutrients, oxygen and waste throughout the body. They provide the structure and contracting capability of muscles. They also provide collagen to connective tissues of the body and to the tissues of the skin, hair and nails. Proteins contain 4 calories per gram.
MEATS - Meat cuts should be lean, trimmed & skinless.
- Poultry: Chicken, Turkey, Goose, Game Birds, etc. (Be sure to remove skin. If buying ground meat ensure it is lean.)
- Red Meat: Any quality lean meat from Cows, Elk, Buffalo, Kangaroo, Game. (If buying ground meat ensure it is lean.)
- Other Meats: Pork, Lamb, Lean Ham, etc. (Ensure you buy the leaner cuts as these meats can be quite fatty.)
- Fish: Fresh Cod, Snapper, Salmon, Swordfish, Canned Fish. (Most fish are lean but the fattier fish are high in healthy fats)
- Shellfish: Includes: Mussels, Oysters, Scallops, Prawns, Lobsters, etc.
DAIRY - Choose mostly low fat dairy products
- Milk, Powdered Milk (Choose mostly skim milk. Can be Cow/goat/sheep, etc)
- Low Fat Cottage Cheese & Natural Yoghurt. (These foods include the benefits of bacterial cultures to improve gut health)
- Cheeses & Other Dairy Products. (Cheeses are very high in fat, choose softer cheeses where possible)
- Eggs, Powdered Egg (Egg whites are pure protein, egg yolks contain fat and protein)
VEGETABLE PROTEINS - Vegetable proteins are often “incomplete” so it is wise to vary them or add dairy/meat
- Raw Nuts & Seeds: (These are also high in healthy fats and contain carbohydrate)
- Grain Protein: (Many grains eg: wheats, rices, etc contain significant amounts of proteins)
- Bean/Vegetable Protein: (Soyabeans are the main protein source here, although other beans and vegetables contain protein)
PROTEIN SUPPLEMENTS - These are available in powders/bars/drinks/etc.
- Whey Protein: (A fast digesting milk protein. Available in various forms/fractions)
- Casein Protein: (A slow digesting milk protein.)
- Soy Protein: (Derived from soyabeans.)
- Egg Protein: (Primarily the protein albumin, this is a slow digesting protein)
- Vegetable Proteins: (Can be found in the form of Wheat, Pea, Spirulina Protein, etc)
- Amino Acids: (These are the building blocks of proteins. They are present in protein containing foods or available as free form powders or capsules. The essential amino acids * are amino acids that cannot be synthesized by the body from other available resources, and therefore must be supplied as part of the diet. “Complete” proteins contain all of these, whilst “incomplete” proteins do not. The amino acids are:
Alanine, Arginine, Asparagine, Aspartic Acid, Cysteine, Glutamic Acid, Glutamine, Glycine, Histidine, Isoleucine*, Leucine*, Lysine, Methionine*, Phenylalanine*, Proline, Serine, Threonine*, Tryptophan*, Tyrosine, Valine*
Carbohydrates are the chief source of energy for all bodily functions and muscular exertion. They are necessary for the digestion and assimilation of other foods. They help regulate protein and fat metabolism, and fats require carbohydrates to be broken down in the liver. They also provide some of the structural components necessary for the growth and repair of tissues. All carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram. Complex carbohydrates contain fibre.
SIMPLE CARBOHYDRATES - These are the small molecule carbohydrates or sugars
- Sugar Cane & Sugar Beets (The main commercial sources of sugar)
- Fresh Fruit & Berries (These contain mainly fructose, a low GI sugar)
- Honey (Honey contains a mix of glucose and fructose)
- Milk (Milk and milk products contain the sugar lactose)
- Prepared Sugars (Glucose/Fructose/Lactose/Maltose, etc. Found in drinks or free form)
COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES - These are long chains of simple carbohydrates, that breakdown to release sugars
- Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Pumpkin & Squash
- Yams, Parsnips & Other Root Vegetables
- Corn, Oats Wheat & Other Grains.
- Wholegrain Flours, Breads & Pastas.
- Brans, Weet Bix & Shredded Wheat Cereals.
- Ancient Grains (Amaranth, Millet, Teth, etc).
- Basmati, Brown & Wild Rice.
- Raw Nuts, Seeds, Beans, Lentils, Couscous & Other Pulses, etc.
- Vegetables such as Carrots and Peas.
Fats / Oils
Fatty acids are individual isomers of what we more commonly call “fats”. There are potentially hundreds of different fatty acids, but just a few dozen that are commonly found in the foods we eat. Nutritionists commonly classify dietary fat as either saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated, based on the number of double bonds that exist in the fat’s molecular structure. For each of these three classes, there exists a large number of different chemical variations or “isomers”. These include the EFA’s or Essential Fatty Acids. Fats are required to produce and build new cells. They are a source of energy and are critical in the transmission of nerve impulses and brain function and development. They are also involved in the synthesis of other essential molecules such as hormones. All oils ideally should be cold pressed, extra virgin and of high quality. Fats contain 9 calories per gram.
VEGETABLE FAT SOURCES - These are mostly high in mono and polyunsaturated fats and contain EFA’s
- Flaxseed, Hempseed, Evening Primrose, Almond, Canola, Olive and Most Other Plant Oils.
- Whole Raw Nuts & Seeds (Some whole seeds need to be cracked or ground to be digested)
- MCT Oils (These are medium chain saturated fats derived from coconut oil, available as a supplement)
ANIMAL FAT SOURCES - These can be high in mono and polyunsaturated and saturated fats and contain EFA’s
- Salmon, Cod, Halibut, Shellfish & Other Fatty Fish/Fish Oils (Fish are high in unsaturated fats and EFA’s)
- Dairy Products (Can vary in fat content wildly and can contain high levels of saturated fat)
- Lean Meat & Poultry (Even when trimmed and skinless, these provide fat. Can be high in saturated fat)
- Eggs (Only the yolk contains the mainly saturated fat)
Dietary fibers are large carbohydrate molecules containing many different sorts of monosaccharides. The key difference between fiber and other carbohydrates is that they are not broken down by the human digestive system. Fibre has no caloric value but is still classed as a macronutrient.
There Are Two Types Of Fiber: Soluble & Insoluble
These are often found together in the same source.
Soluble fibres can be dissolved in water (hence the name). These fibers are beneficial in that they can slow the speed of digestion due to their thickness. They are also helpful in maintaining artery health.
Insoluble fibers are such things as cellulose which do not dissolve in water. Insoluble fibers do not affect the speed of digestion. They are beneficial to gut health.
- Broccoli / Cauliflower / Cabbage
- Celery / Lettuce / Spinach / Watercress
- Mushrooms / Onions / Carrots
- Green Beans / Peas / Asparagus / Kale
- Bean & Vegetable Sprouts / Beetroot / Leeks
- Cucumber / Zucchini / Aubergine
- Tomato / Capsicum / Silverbeet
- Frozen Mixed Vegetables
- Any Other Non-starchy Vegetable (or similar) of Any Colour
- Any Grain or Grain Product
- Fruits & Berries