Updated: Mar 29, 2020
All individuals need the same nutrients for the same body function. The only variation is in the amounts of each nutrient required according to age, size, activity, etc. For example, all persons need energy for work, but a man, who carries loads may need more energy than a man, who works in an office at a desk job. As you know, we get the nutrients from the foods and the beverages we consume.
The foods which we use daily include rice, wheat, vegetables, fruits, milk, eggs, fish, meat, sugar, butter, oils, etc. These different foods are made up of a number of chemical components called nutrients.
These are classified according to their chemical composition. Each nutrient class has its own function, but the various nutrients must act in unison for effective action. The nutrients found in foods are — carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals, vitamins and water. Fibre is also an essential component of our diet. The functions of nutrients are given below.
Carbohydrates: Starch found in cereals and sugar in sugarcane and fruits are examples of carbohydrates in foods. The chief function of carbohydrates is to provide energy needed by our body. Those not used immediately for this purpose are stored as glycogen or converted to fat and stored, to be mobilised for energy supply when needed.
Fats: Oils found in seeds, butter from milk, and lard from meat, are examples of fats found in foods. Fats are concentrated sources of energy, carriers of fat soluble vitamins and a source of essential fatty acids. If excess fats are taken in the diet, these are stored as fat reserves in the body. Energy taken in excess of body needs, is stored as fat in the body.
Proteins: Casein from milk, albumin in egg, globulins in legumes and gluten in wheat, are examples of proteins occurring in foods. The main function of protein is the building of new tissues and maintaining and repair of those already built. Synthesis of regulatory and protective substances such as enzymes, hormones and antibodies is also a function of food proteins. About 10 per cent of the total energy is supplied by proteins in the diet. Protein, when taken in excess of the body’s need, is converted to carbohydrates and fats and is stored in the body.
Minerals: The minerals calcium, phosphorus, iron, iodine, sodium, potassium and others are found in various foods in combination with organic and inorganic compounds. Minerals are necessary for body-building, for building of bones, teeth and structural parts of soft tissues. They also play a role in regulation of processes in the body, e.g., muscle contraction, clotting of blood, nerve stimuli, etc.
Vitamins: Fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and also water-soluble vitamins C and B group are found in foods. These are needed for growth, normal function of the body and normal body processes.
Water: We get water in foods we eat and a major part from the water we drink as such and as beverages. Water is an essential part of our body structure and it accounts for about 60 per cent of our body weight. Water is essential for the utilisation of food material in the body and also for elimination of food waste. It is a regulator of body processes such as maintenance of body temperature.