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A smiling woman with long hair holds a bowl full of nutritious food.

Understanding the types of nutrients

Why are nutrients important? Our bodies need them to survive and thrive each day.

August 10, 2023

A smiling woman with long hair holds a bowl full of nutritious food.

Understanding the types of nutrients

Why are nutrients important? Our bodies need them to survive and thrive each day.

August 10, 2023

A smiling woman with long hair holds a bowl full of nutritious food.

Understanding the types of nutrients

Why are nutrients important? Our bodies need them to survive and thrive each day.

August 10, 2023

Nutrients definition

Following a nutritious or well-balanced diet is one of the main things you can do to support your wellbeing. But what exactly does nutritious or well-balanced mean?

Simply put, if something is nutritious, that means it’s filled with nutrients. OK, but what are nutrients? Why are nutrients important? So many questions! But it’s really not that complicated.

Let’s break down all the essential nutrients – from macro vs. micro nutrients to plant nutrients – so you can feel confident choosing what foods and supplements to include as part of your overall health and wellness goals.

Essential nutrients

No matter where we live, how we spend our days, or what our age, there are some nutrients that we all need in order for our bodies to function properly: lean proteins, healthy carbohydrates, the good kind of fats and plenty of vitamins, minerals and plant nutrients.

“Essential nutrients are defined as nutrients that cannot be made by the body and, therefore, must be supplied from foods,” said Katie Throop, a registered dietitian and researcher for Nutrilite™ products.

“All those essential nutrients work together to perform hundreds of key roles that are essential for healthy body function and growth,” she continued. “Collectively, you can think of them as your foundational nutrition. They can be divided into macronutrients, micronutrients and plant nutrients, also called phytonutrients.”

Macro vs. micro nutrients

Think of macronutrients as your basic nutrition—the nutrients that are the most easily identifiable on your dinner plate and the ones we need in larger quantities to give us energy. This category is composed of protein, fat and carbohydrates.


Protein is the main component of muscles, bones, organs, skin and nails, which is why it is often referred to as a building block. Your body doesn’t store protein, so you need to replenish it regularly. The World Health Organization recommends 0.83 grams per kilogram of body weight per day, or about 7½ grams of protein per day for every 20 pounds of weight.

North Americans get a large portion of their protein from animal products, especially chicken and beef.

“A steady diet of animal products, especially red meat, may not be good for overall health,” Throop said. “Regularly adding a good plant-based protein, such as Nutrilite™ Organics Plant Protein Powder, provides you with protein that is from plants, which are known to be a healthier choice on a daily basis.”


Fat is a macronutrient, but there are good fats and bad fats. It’s best to focus on getting enough good or healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, and consume the others in moderation.

Omega-3 fatty acids support overall health and help maintain a healthy cardiovascular system and nervous system. Your body does not produce these essential fatty acids so you must get them through foods in your diet such as nuts, seeds, oils or fatty fish. You can also fill any fatty acid gaps in your diet with a supplement, such as Nutrilite Heart Health or Nutrilite Balanced Health Omega.


Carbohydrates provide energy and can be simple or complex. Simple carbohydrates consist of simple sugars. Your body digests simple carbohydrates quickly, leading to a feeling of quick energy. Naturally occurring simple sugars found in fruit or dairy are preferred over refined sugars in sodas or processed treats because fruit and dairy have other nutritional benefits and are digested more slowly than processed treats.

Complex carbohydrates are also digested more slowly and should be the primary source of energy. They include bread, pasta, fiber, legumes and some starchy vegetables like potatoes. Like the simple carbohydrates, some complex carbs are better than others.

“Whole grains are complex carbohydrates that are unrefined and contain all parts of the grain,” Throop said. “Whole grain breads, cereals, rice and pasta are preferred to overly processed products because they retain the naturally occurring vitamins, minerals and fiber. Your body also digests them more slowly so you don’t have unwanted blood sugar spikes.”

Now let’s talk about the micronutrients our bodies need: vitamins and minerals.

What are vitamins?

Vitamins are organic substances that work with the macronutrients we eat to perform hundreds of roles in our bodies that are necessary to sustain life. Our bodies cannot produce many of the vitamins we need, so we have to get them from our food or supplementation to avoid deficiencies.

Vitamins are either fat soluble or water soluble. When we consume vitamins, our bodies put them to work. If we consume excess fat soluble vitamins, they are stored in our livers or in body fat until they are needed. Water soluble vitamins, however, are not stored. Any water soluble vitamins not immediately used by the body are flushed out of our systems through urine.

There are 13 essential vitamins our bodies need:

Fat soluble vitamins

  • Vitamin A supports immune function, vision and skin health
  • Vitamin D supports bone, teeth and muscle health
  • Vitamin E supports cellular, eye and skin health
  • Vitamin K supports bone health

Water soluble vitamins

  • Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) supports cellular health and immune function
  • Vitamin B1 (thiamin) supports energy and the nervous system
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) supports energy, skin and eye health, and the nervous system
  • Vitamin B3 (niacin) supports energy, skin health and the nervous system
  • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) supports energy
  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) supports energy and circulation
  • Vitamin B7 (biotin) supports metabolism
  • Vitamin B12 supports energy and the nervous system
  • Vitamin B9 (folic acid) supports healthy red blood cells and the nervous system

Difference between vitamins and minerals

While vitamins are organic substances, minerals are inorganic. They are found in rocks, soil and water where they are taken up by plants or consumed by animals. We get them through eating those plants or animals.

Our bodies need minerals to support bone and teeth health and to help turn food into energy. Those minerals are divided into two groups: major minerals and trace minerals. Our bodies use major minerals in large (major!) quantities:

  • Calcium supports bones, teeth, muscles, nerves and blood clotting and helps regulate blood pressure
  • Chloride supports digestion, proper pH levels and helps regulate fluid and nutrients going in and out of cells
  • Magnesium, like calcium, supports bones, teeth, muscles, nerves and blood clotting and helps regulate blood pressure
  • Phosphorus is a key for bones, teeth and cell membranes and supports normal pH levels
  • Potassium balances bodily fluids and supports muscle contraction and a steady heartbeat
  • Sodium balances bodily fluids and supports nerve impulses and muscle contraction
  • Sulfur supports your DNA, metabolism and the health of your cells, skin, tendons and ligaments

Trace minerals are used in small amounts but are just as essential to our health:

  • Chromium supports normal blood sugar levels and energy
  • Copper supports metabolism, red blood cell production, and fights free radicals
  • Fluoride supports strong bones and healthy teeth
  • Iodine is key for certain hormone production that supports metabolism and proper brain and bone development
  • Iron supports production of hemoglobin, myoglobin, amino acids and collagen
  • Manganese helps bone formation and metabolization of amino acids, cholesterol and carbohydrates
  • Molybdenum activates enzymes that break down toxins, prevents buildup of sulfites
  • Selenium protects against cell damage and infection and plays key role in reproduction, thyroid hormone metabolism, DNA synthesis
  • Zinc supports blood clotting, protein and DNA production, the immune system, wound healing and cell division

Plant nutrients

Last, but definitely not least, let’s talk about plant nutrients, also known as phytonutrients. These naturally occurring nutrients are what give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors. In plants, they act as a defense mechanism, helping them to survive and thrive.

But plant nutrients are also beneficial to humans. They act as antioxidants to help our bodies fight off excess free radicals that can damage cells. Those free radicals are generated by our bodies’ internal systems as a result of things like a poor diet, sleep deprivation, too much sun or pollution.

“The various colors of plant nutrients are often associated with providing different benefits to our bodies, so it’s important to consume fruits and vegetables from across the color spectrum,” Throop said. “Purple is associated with brain health, orange with eye health, green with cellular health, red with heart health and white with bone and joint health.”

How to get enough nutrients

When you consider all these different types of nutrients – protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and plant nutrients – you might think it would be difficult to ensure you’re getting everything you need in your daily diet.

“The good news is that a well-balanced diet filled with a variety of fruits and vegetables typically delivers everything your body needs,” Throop said.

But if eating this healthily every day is more of an ideal goal for you rather than reality, a vitamin, mineral and plant nutrient supplement can help fill nutrient gaps you might have. A multivitamin is a good place to start, Throop said.

“But if you know you’re coming up short with specific nutrients, targeted supplements like vitamins B, C or D or a protein supplement might be just what your body needs.”

To learn more about what nutrient supplements might be beneficial for you as you work toward getting all the nutrients your body needs, visit the Nutrilite Nutrition Recommender for personalized expert advice.