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Essential Nutrients for our body

Nutrients that we obtain through food have vital effects on physical growth and development, maintenance of normal body function, physical activity and health. Nutritious food is, thus needed to sustain life and activity. Our diet must provide all essential nutrients in the required amounts. Requirements of essential nutrients vary with age, gender, physiological status and physical activity. Dietary intakes lower or higher than the body requirements can lead to undernutrition (deficiency diseases) or overnutrition (diseases of affluence) respectively. Eating too little food during certain significant periods of life such as infancy, childhood, adolescence, pregnancy and lactation and eating too much at any age can lead to harmful consequences. An adequate diet, providing all nutrients, is needed throughout our lives.

Macronutrients Proteins

After the first macronutrient viz., Carbohydrates (which we learnt about in the previous 2 issues), we come to the second most important macronutrient – proteins.

Essential nutrients are substances that must be obtained from foods because the body cannot synthesize them. Proteins are therefore one of the essential nutrients for the body.

Proteins are fundamental structural and functional elements within every cell of the body and are primary component of most cells and are involved in a wide range of metabolic interactions. For example, muscle, connective tissues, and skin are all built of protein.

All cells and tissues contain protein; therefore, protein is essential for growth and repair and the maintenance of good health. Protein provides the body with approximately 10 to 15% of its dietary energy and it is the second most abundant compound in the body, following water. A large proportion of this will be muscle, with significant proportions being present in skin and blood.

The main functions of proteins in our body are:

  • Growth (especially for children, teens and pregnant women) and repair (preserving the lean muscle mass)
  • Improve immunity
  • Production of Hormones and enzymes
  • Tissue Repair
  • Supplying energy when carbohydrates are not available

Proteins consist of units called amino acids, strung together in complex formations. Because proteins are complex molecules, the body takes longer to break them down. As a result, they are a much slower and longer-lasting source of energy than carbohydrates.

Amino acids are organic compounds composed of nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen and oxygen- which are the building blocks of proteins. Our body needs 20 different amino acids to grow and function properly. Of these 20, 9 amino acids are not produced in the body and are to be provided by food. This is where the intake of proteins are very important in our lives.

Nutrients that we obtain through food have vital effects on physical growth and development, maintenance of normal body function, physical activity and health. Nutritious food is, thus needed to sustain life and activity. Our diet must provide all essential nutrients in the required amounts. Requirements of essential nutrients vary with age, gender, physiological status and physical activity. Dietary intakes lower or higher than the body requirements can lead to undernutrition (deficiency diseases) or overnutrition (diseases of affluence) respectively. Eating too little food during certain significant periods of life such as infancy, childhood, adolescence, pregnancy and lactation and eating too much at any age can lead to harmful consequences. An adequate diet, providing all nutrients, is needed throughout our lives. The nutrients must be obtained through a judicious choice and combination of a variety of foodstuffs from different food groups.

Dietary sources of Protein


Adults need to eat about 60 grams of protein per day (0.8 grams per kilogram of weight or 10 to 15% of total calories). Adults who are trying to build muscle need slightly more. Children also need more because they are growing. People who are limiting calories to lose weight typically need a higher amount of protein to prevent loss of muscle while they are losing weight.

Animal foods like milk, meat, fish and eggs and plant foods such as pulses and legumes are rich sources of proteins. Animal proteins are of high quality as they provide all the essential amino acids in right proportions, while plant or vegetable proteins are not of the same quality because of their low content of some of the essential amino acids. However, a combination of cereals, millets and pulses provides most of the amino acids, which complement each other to provide better quality proteins. Vegan diets therefore provide the necessary proteins when taken in the right combination!

Happy eating!!!

…… to be continued

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