Nutrients

When food is digested, it breaks down into chemical substances called nutrients. There are more than 50 known nutrients that keep the body healthy. Every nutrient is necessary. While each nutrient has a different job, no nutrient acts alone. Think of nutrients as the "raw materials" that keep the body alive and healthy. They are responsible for:

Scientists group nutrients into six major categories:

Most foods contain more than one of these nutrients, but no one food contains all the nutrients in the amounts necessary for life.

Ten- and 11-year olds have special nutrient needs because they are just beginning a growth spurt. In particular, they need more:

Nutrient Functions

Nutrient Purpose Food Sources
Proteins
  • Build and repair cells
  • Fight infection and heal cuts
  • Make antibodies, enzymes, and hormones
  • Meat, fish, poultry
  • Dried peas, beans, nuts
  • Eggs, milk, cheese
Carbohydrates
  • Supply energy
  • Supply fiber to help food move through the digestive tract
  • Breads, cereals
  • Rice, pasta
  • Fruits, vegetables
  • Dried beans and peas
  • Sugar and foods sweetened with it
Fats
  • Supply concentrated energy
  • Carry vitamins throughout the body
  • Insulate the body from cold
  • Cushion internal organs and bones from damage
  • Butter, margarine, oils
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fried foods
  • Salad dressings, gravies
  • Snack chips, etc.
  • Cookies, cakes, pies, etc.
Water
  • Carries other nutrients throughout the body
  • Carries wastes out of the body
  • Regulates body temperature
  • All foods and beverages
Vitamin A
  • Keeps skin healthy
  • Keeps eyes healthy, especially for night vision
  • Helps fight infection
  • Deep yellow fruits and vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots, peaches, pumpkin, cantaloupe)
  • Dark green, leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, collards, broccoli)
  • Liver, egg yolk
  • Milk, cheese, butter
Vitamin C
  • Helps heal cuts
  • Prevents infection
  • Helps the body use iron
  • Maintains healthy body tissue
  • Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits, lemons)
  • Other fruits (kiwis, strawberries)
  • Some vegetables (green peppers, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, spinach, potatoes)
Calcium
  • Provides strength and structure for bones and teeth
  • Keeps nerves and muscles healthy
  • Milk, cheese, yogurt
  • Dark green leafy vegetables (kale, broccoli, collards)
  • Salmon with bones
Iron
  • Helps blood carry oxygen
  • Prevents anemia (and the fatigue that accompanies it)
  • Helps fight infection
  • Lean meat, liver, oysters
  • Dried peas and beans
  • Fortified grain products
  • Some vegetables (tomatoes, spinach)
  • Some dried fruits (prunes, raisins, apricots)

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