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NUTRITION BASICS

Nutrients can be divided into two categories: macronutrients, and micronutrients. Macronutrients are those nutrients that the body needs in large amounts. These provide the body with energy (calories). Micronutrients are those nutrients that the body needs in smaller amounts. Click on the links below to discover the functions, recommended dietary intake, and food sources of the different nutrients our bodies need.

Assuming that they are consuming a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins, most adults naturally consume adequate amounts of macronutrients and most vitamins and minerals without the need to track food intake. Special considerations may need to be taken for individuals following a special diet (e.g. vegan), individuals with certain medical conditions (e.g. diabetes or celiac), athletes, and individuals who are elderly.  To calculate your individual needs for each nutrient, check out this helpful tool from the USDA National Agricultural Library

MACRONUTRIENTS

MICRONUTRIENTS

There are several other minerals our bodies need in trace amounts. More information on iodine, biotin, copper, and other trace minerals can be found on the National Institutes of Health website. 

Carbohydrates

Role in the Body

  1. Fuel during high intensity exercise
  2. Spares protein (to preserve muscle mass during exercise)
  3. Fuel for the central nervous system (your brain!)

Recommended Allowance

  • Ideally, 45-65% of our calories should come from carbohydrate sources, as carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for the body, especially the brain. Individuals who are active or athletic may fall on the higher end of that recommendation due to increased need for fuel during high intensity exercise. 

NOTE: 1 gram of carbohydrate = 4 Calories

Food Sources

  1. Grains (prioritize whole grains)
  2. Fruit (choose whole fruits more often than fruit juices)
  3. Some vegetables, such as potatoes and peas (though, most vegetables contain at least a small amount of carbohydrates) 
  4. Dairy (choose low-fat or non-fat most often)
  5. Sugar (limit added sugar intake)

Proteins

Role in the Body

  1. Tissue structure (part of organ tissues, muscle, hair, skin, nails, bones, tendons, ligaments and blood plasma)
  2. Part of cell plasma membranes
  3. Involved in metabolic, transport, and hormone systems
  4. Make up enzymes that regulate metabolism
  5. Involved in acid/base balance to maintain a neutral environment in our bodies

Recommended Daily Allowance

  1. Sedentary Individuals: 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight
  2. Recreationally Active: 0.45-0.68 grams of protein per pound of body weight
  3. Competitive Athlete: 0.54-0.82 grams of protein per pound of body weight
  4. Teenage Athlete: 0.82-0.91 grams of protein per pound of body weight
  5. Body Builder: 0.64-0.91 grams of protein per pound of body weight
  6. When restricting Calories: 0364-0.91 grams of protein per pound of body weight

NOTE: 1 gram of protein = 4 Calories

Major Food Sources

  1. Legumes (beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, peanuts)
  2. Soy products, such as tofu and tempeh
  3. Nuts
  4. Whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat, oats, corn, quinoa, sorghum, millet, and many more!)
  5. Seeds
  6. Meat alternative products (often made with pea protein, soy protein, and/or wheat gluten)
  7. Animal sources

Fats

Role in the Body

  1. Energy reserve
  2. Protects vital organs
  3. Insulation
  4. Transport fat soluble vitamins

Recommended Allowance

  • Aim for 20-35% of your total daily calories from fat
  • Aim for less than 10% of total daily calories from saturated fat. This can be done by focusing on fat from nuts, seeds, avocado, fish, and most oils, and being careful with coconut oil, palm oil, butter, fatty cuts of beef, creams, and meat alternative products like Beyond and Impossible burgers. 

NOTE: 1 gram of fat = 9 Calories

Food Sources

  1. Oils
  2. Nuts
  3. Seeds
  4. Avocados
  5. Meat, fish, dairy

*Those who follow a vegan lifestyle should consider taking an algae-based omega-3 supplement, as this type of fat is difficult to obtain from plant-based fats. 

Micronutrients

Vitamin B1: Thiamin

Function

  1. Needed to release energy in food
  2. Prevents beriberi

Food Sources

  1. Whole grains
  2. Dried beans
  3. Peas
  4. Peanuts
  5. Animal proteins

Vitamin B2: Riboflavin

Function

  1. Needed to build and maintain body tissues

Food Sources

  1. Whole grains
  2. Green and yellow vegetables
  3. Animal proteins

Vitamin B6: Pyridoxine

Function

  1. Helps the development of the nervous system
  2. Involved in the production of blood
  3. Helps break down protein and glucose to produce energy for the body

Food Sources

  1. Potatoes
  2. Chickpeas
  3. Yeast
  4. Nuts
  5. Bulgur
  6. Fish
  7. Rice
  8. Bananas

Vitamin B12: Cobalamine

Function

  1. Promotes proper growth and development of the nervous system

Food Sources

  1. Fortified cereals
  2. Fortified non-dairy milks
  3. Fortified nutritional yeast
  4. Algae
  5. Animal products

*Those who follow a vegan lifestyle should consider taking a B12 supplement.

Vitamin C: Ascorbic Acid

Function

  1. Helps form growth hormones
  2. Needed to build strong gums, teeth, and bones
  3. Antioxidant

Food Sources

  1. Citrus fruits
  2. Cabbage
  3. Berries
  4. Peppers

Folic Acid

Function

  1. Helps build DNA and protein
  2. Helps maintain intestinal tract
  3. Aids in bone growth
  4. Prevents nervous system birth defects

Food Sources

  1. Dark green leafy vegetables
  2. Yeast
  3. Wheat germ

Vitamin A: Retinol

Function

  1. Vision
  2. Healthy skin
  3. Healthy hair

Food Sources

  1. Animal products
  2. Body can make vitamin A from vegetables that have carotene
    • Carrots
    • Sweet potatoes
    • Pumpkin
    • Other red-orange vegetables

Vitamin D

Function

  1. Promotes strong teeth and bones
  2. Prevents rickets

Food Sources

  1. UV-treated mushrooms
  2. Dairy milk and fortified non-dairy milks
  3. Fortified cereals
  4. Cod liver oil
  5. Tuna
  6. Salmon
  7. Egg yolks
  8. Produced by the body when exposed to sunlight. If you live in an area with little sunlight, consider taking a Vitamin D supplement. 

Vitamin E

Function

  1. Prevents damage to cell membranes
  2. Protects vitamin A
  3. Aids in blood production

Food Sources

  1. Seeds and Nuts
  2. Vegetable oil

Vitamin K

Function

  1. Aids in blood clotting

Food Sources

  1. Green leafy vegetables

Calcium

Function

  1. Maintains teeth and bones
  2. Helps blood clot
  3. Helps nerves and muscles function

Food Sources

  1. Calcium-treated tofu
  2. Legumes
  3. Almonds
  4. Dairy milk & fortified non-dairy milks
  5. Dark green vegetables
  6. Sardines
  7. Clams
  8. Oysters

Potassium

Function

  1. Regulates water balance in cells
  2. Helps nerves function
  3. Important for heart rhythm

Food Sources

  1. Oranges
  2. Bananas
  3. Cereal
  4. Potatoes
  5. Dried beans

Sodium

Function

  1. Regulates water balance
  2. Stimulates nerves

Food Sources

  1. Table salt
  2. Bread
  3. Almost everything

Iron

Function

  1. Forms blood cells
  2. Transports oxygen throughout the body

Food Sources

  1. Fortified cereals
  2. Whole grains
  3. Legumes
  4. Lentils
  5. Nuts
  6. Seeds
  7. Dried fruits
  8. Animal proteins

*Absorption of iron can be aided by consuming iron-rich foods with a source of vitamin C. For example, chili made with beans (iron) and tomatoes (vitamin c). 

If you have iron deficiency, avoid consuming iron-rich foods with calcium-rich foods. 

Zinc

Function

  1. Aids in transport of carbon dioxide
  2. Aids in healing wounds
  3. Forms enzymes

Food Sources

  1. Whole grains
  2. Dairy milk and fortified non-dairy milks
  3. Legumes

Water

Water makes up most of our body, and is found in our blood, tissues and organs.

Functions

  1. Moistens tissues such as those in the mouth, eyes, and nose
  2. Protects body organs and tissues
  3. Helps prevent constipation
  4. Helps dissolve minerals and other nutrients to make them accessible to the body
  5. Regulates body temperature
  6. Lubricates joints
  7. Lessens the burden on the kidneys and liver by flushing out waste products
  8. Carries nutrients and oxygen to cells

We lose water each day through sweat, breathing, and urination, so it's important to stay hydrated. How much water we each need varies depending on several factors, including activity level, but a good rule of thumb is to drink enough water to prevent feeling thirsty. Besides drinking plain water, here are some alternative methods for staying hydrated:

  • Non-caffeinated beverages, such as herbal tea (caffeine is a diuretic, so coffee, black tea, and energy drinks should not be relied on for hydration)
  • Water with squeeze of lemon, or infused water
  • Getting enough fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables can contain anywhere from 60 to over 90% water!
  • Milk or non-dairy milks
  • Fruit and vegetable juices. Aim for no more than one cup of 100% juice per day, as fruit juices do not contain as much fiber as their whole counterparts and can be calorically dense. 

Be wary of sodas, lemonades, and other drinks that may be hydrating, but contain added sugar. Alcoholic beverages should also not be used as a source of hydration.