Essential Nutrients

What are essential nutrients?

Essential nutrients are those nutrients that are vital for your health, but they cannot be produced in your body, so you have to get them from foods or dietary supplements in order to be healthy.

Five, Not Six Groups of Essential Nutrients

Five groups of essential nutrients include 1. water, 2. all vitamins, 3. some minerals, 4. some amino acids (from proteins) and 5. some fatty acids (from fats).

Carbohydrates, frequently listed as an essential group of nutrients, are NOT essential. Your body can synthesize all carbohydrates it needs, including glucose, from proteins and fats. Essential nutrients along with carbohydrates are often named basic or key nutrients, though. Several research groups currently recommend getting 55-65% of calories from carbohydrates. This means, even if carbohydrates are not essential, they may be a healthy nutrient choice.

A Nearly Complete List of Essential Nutrients

The number of nutrients that are considered essential is not fixed; every now and then some nutrient gets on or off of the list. We here present 39 nutrients for which we believe are currently considered essential:

 Chart 1. Essential Nutrients

  1.  Water
  1. Vitamin A (retinol)
  2. Vitamin B1 (thiamin)
  3. Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
  4. Vitamin B3 (niacin)
  5. Vitamin B5 (panthotenic acid)
  6. Vitamin B6 (pyridoxin)
  7. Vitamin B7 (biotin)
  8. Vitamin B9 (folic acid, folate)
  9. Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)
  10. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
  11. Vitamin E (tocopherol)
  12. Vitamin K (naphthoquinones)
  13. Choline (vitamin Bp) [1,2,3]
  1. Calcium
  2. Chloride
  3. Chromium
  4. Copper
  5. Iodine
  6. Iron
  7. Magnesium
  8. Manganese
  9. Molybdenum
  10. Phosphorus
  11. Potassium
  12. Selenium
  13. Sodium
  14. Zinc
Amino acids
  1. Isoleucine
  2. Histidine
  3. Leucine
  4. Lysine
  5. Methionine
  6. Phenylalanine
  7. Tryptophan
  8. Threonine
  9. Valine
Fatty acids
  1. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
  2. Linoleic acid

Conditionally Essential Nutrients

Conditionally essential nutrients can be produced in your body, but in certain circumstances, like a severe disease or infancy, you may need to obtain additional amounts from foods. The following nutrients are considered conditionally essential by some, but not all, researchers:

More Research Needed

It is currently not clear if the following nutrients are also essential for humans: aluminum, boron, lead, nickelsiliconsulfur, vanadium.

Non-Essential Nutrients

All other nutrients that can be synthesized by the human body in sufficient amounts are called non-essential nutrients, for example, starch, fructose, saturated fatty acids and cholesterol.

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