Nutrient Glossary

The human body is like a well-regulated machine that functions well when it receives the proper fuel. Nutrients provide the fuel the body needs to survive. The following are the most common nutrients that the human body requires.

Arsenic — Well known for its toxicity, there have been recent studies indicating the element arsenic may have certain benefits when consumed in small quantities. The exact part it plays in the human body is not yet known with certainty.

Biotin — Biotin is an important enzyme that carries carbon dioxide in the human body and helps to metabolize certain fatty acids. It is found in a wide variety of foods including fish, nuts, liver, sweet potatoes, egg yolks, and more.

Boron — This element plays an important role in the metabolizing of minerals like magnesium and calcium, and it also helps to activate vitamin D in human beings. It has promise as a treatment for bone diseases such as osteoarthritis.

Calcium — Calcium plays an essential part in building and maintaining healthy teeth and bones. Important sources of this mineral include milk and dairy products as well as dark green leafy vegetables.

Carbohydrates — Carbohydrates provide energy to the human body and are comprised of one or more sugars. Common carbohydrates include simple sugars such as glucose and more complex carbohydrates like maltodextrins. Grains, fruits, and vegetables are all important sources of carbohydrates.

Carnitine — Found naturally in many meats, carnitine is a chemical that is necessary for the body to efficiently use glucose, amino acids, and long chain fatty acids. Some nutritionists recommend carnitine supplements in parenteral nutrition.

Carotenoids — The yellow, orange, and red pigments found in plants are phytonutrients known as carotenoids. Including such nutrients as beta-carotene and lycopene, carotenoids are antioxidants that have been linked to a reduced risk of certain kinds of cancers.

Chloride — Chloride is a salt molecule that is composed of chlorine plus one other element. Its most common source is sodium chloride or table salt, which helps to regulate bodily fluids.

Choline — The nutrient choline plays a variety of roles in bodily processes, including brain and memory function, the health of the nervous system, and carrying nutrients throughout the human body. Pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding need to be particularly careful about consuming enough choline to ensure proper development of their baby’s brain.

Chromium — There are several trace elements that are essential to human nutrition, and one of them is chromium. This element is especially known for working with insulin to maintain proper glucose levels in the human body. Meats, eggs, apples, cereals, and peanuts are all good sources of chromium.

Copper — Copper is another trace mineral that is necessary for human health and survival. It helps in the production of hemoglobin, collagen, myelin, and the pigment melanin. Whole grains, dark green leafy vegetables, and chocolate are some of the more well-known sources of copper in the human diet.

Energy — Energy is the power that is required for the human body to maintain life while at rest plus the power required for physical activity. Human beings derive energy from food, and this energy is usually measured in calories.

Fiber — The non-digestible carbohydrates found in various foods, fiber helps lower cholesterol, maintain bowel health, and prevent diabetes. It is found in fruits, vegetables, and nuts, and occurs in soluble and insoluble forms, both of which are necessary for human health.

Fluoride — Because it plays a central role in guarding against tooth decay, many governments add fluoride to the local drinking water. Recent studies, however, have shown that too much fluoride can carry with it certain health risks for the human body.

Folate — Folate is a member of the B-Vitamin group and has been shown to reduce the likelihood of neural tube defects in newborn babies when pregnant mothers get a sufficient amount of the vitamin in their diet. It is also known in synthetic form as folic acid.

Iodine — Iodine is a mineral that is found in the human body and is absolutely essential for helping cells get energy from food. It also plays an important role in normal thyroid function. Most people acquire iodine today from iodized table salt.

Iron — Found abundantly throughout the world, the metal known as iron plays an important part in human nutrition by helping deliver oxygen to the body’s cells, and it is part of many enzymes and proteins. Foods that are rich in iron include chicken livers, oysters, beef, clams, and other meats, fish, and shellfish.

Lipids — Lipids are also known as essential fatty acids and anything that is derived from these fatty acids. Well-known lipids include substances like cholesterol. They are an important energy source for the human body as well as the basic components of various membranes throughout the body.

Magnesium — As one of the most abundant elements found in the human body, magnesium ions play a role in the proper functioning of scores of enzymes. Some of the most common food sources of magnesium include tea, cereals, coffee, and spices.

Manganese — Manganese is yet another mineral without which many enzymes in the human body could not function. It plays an important role in producing sex hormones and maintaining the overall health of the nervous system. Manganese is found in egg yolks, nuts, and other common foods.

Molybdenum — Although its exact function in the body is not yet well understood, scientists are sure that the mineral molybdenum is essential for the nervous system, kidney health, and more. Human beings do not require much molybdenum in their diets, and often get it from vegetables, nuts, and liver.

Niacin — Niacin, also known as vitamin B-3, has recently been shown to be key for increasing the amount of good cholesterol while lowering the amount of bad cholesterol in the human body. Dairy products, poultry, nuts, and grains are all important sources of this essential vitamin.

Nickel — Scientists are still working to understand the precise role of the element nickel in the human body, but it is known that it can inhibit or activate certain enzymes. Though required for proper functioning, the human body does not need much nickel and it is found in foods like oatmeal, chocolate, and dried peas and beans.

Other Trace Elements — Research is presently underway to determine if other trace elements like cobalt and tin play an important part in human nutrition. Experiments are difficult to conduct in this area, so it may be several years before anything can be determined conclusively.

Pantothenic Acid — Also known as vitamin B-5, pantothenic acid assists in the digestion of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. It is soluble in water and is found in foods including broccoli, cabbage, milk, and potatoes.

Phosphorus — Phosphorus is an element that human beings typically acquire through eating different plants. It forms part of DNA and RNA in human cells, and it is also important in the construction of cell membranes.

Phytochemicals — There are a wide variety of phytochemicals that have been discovered to play an important role in reducing the risk of heart disease, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and in slowing down aging and fighting blood clots and certain allergies. Lycopene and many other carotenoids are important phytochemicals.

Potassium — Nutritionists have discovered that potassium is one of the most important minerals for the human body. Without it nerves cannot send messages across the body, nor will the body be able to maintain consistently the right amount of fluids. Bananas, white beans, trout, orange juice, tomato juice, and more all provide potassium.

Protein — Proteins are the basic material components of human cells and include such things as hormones, enzymes, nutrient storage compounds, and much more. They are made up of twenty different amino acids, nine of which the body cannot produce on its own. Meats, fish, and poultry are all good sources of protein, and legumes and nuts are also a good source as well, provided they are eaten in the right combinations.

Riboflavin — Riboflavin is also commonly known as vitamin B-2, a water-soluble vitamin that is important for producing red blood cells and breaking fat down into usable components. Human beings can get riboflavin from eggs, kidney, cheese, almonds, beef, and other high protein foods.

Selenium — The element selenium activates an enzyme that neutralizes toxic molecules that the body produces when it is metabolizing fat. Selenium is also thought to play a role in treating some cancers and has an overall beneficial effect for the human immune system. Brazil nuts, whole grain, yeast, and seafood are common sources of this element in the human diet.

Silicon — Silicon is a trace element that strengthens bones, makes joints more flexible, and increases the benefit of calcium and vitamin D in the human body. Hair and nail health is also tied to proper amounts of silicon in the diet, and fruits and vegetables will be the primary food source of silicon for most people.

Sodium — Though it is an essential mineral for the proper functioning of nerves and muscles and for absorbing other nutrients, too much sodium is not good for blood pressure. Avoiding salty, processed foods is the best way to avoid getting too much sodium in one’s diet.

Thiamine — Thiamine is also known as vitamin B-1, and like the other B-complex vitamins it is water soluble. It plays a key role in several enzymes, the production of acids for digestion, electrolyte flow, and many other areas. Thiamine is found in oranges, seeds, whole grains, fortified flours, nuts, and other foods.

Vanadium — Deficiency of the mineral vanadium is almost unheard of in human diets, although the lack of this element has been associated with growth and reproductive problems in animals. Scientists are not yet sure what role vanadium plays in human health, but the element is found in parsley, dill, mushrooms, and more.

Vitamin A — Without sufficient amounts of vitamin A, the immune system does not work as efficiently, reproductive cycles do not function properly, and vision can suffer. Fortunately, vitamin A is present in liver and other animal products, and the human body can synthesize it from carrots and other dark-green or dark-yellow fruits and vegetables.

Vitamin B-12 — Vitamin B-12 is a vitamin produced by bacteria and ingested by many animals. It is necessary to prevent nerve damage, to help in growth, and it helps people to avoid depression, confusion, dementia, and other mental problems. Fish and other forms of seafood are important sources of vitamin B-12, but it can be found in other meats and animal products like milk and eggs.

Vitamin B-6 — The body uses ?vitamin B-6 to help digest protein and to enable muscles to use energy, among many other functions. Depression, skin problems, and immune deficiencies are all possible results of insufficient B-6 amounts in the body. Organ meats and cereals can provide most of the vitamin B-6 that the human body needs.

Vitamin C — Vitamin C or ascorbic acid is essential to forming connective tissues in the human body and it prevents diseases like scurvy. The most well-known sources of vitamin C ?are the various citrus fruits, although tomatoes, green peppers, and other vegetables can provide the nutrient as well.

Vitamin D — Today it is understood that vitamin D is not a true vitamin. Nevertheless, it is an important part of human nutrition and a deficiency in vitamin D has been linked to different cancers, birth defects, diabetes, and more. Human beings actually produce their own vitamin D when their skin is exposed to sunlight, but fortified milk is an important source as well.

Vitamin E — Another of the fat-soluble vitamins, vitamin E is an important antioxidant that plays a key role in preventing tissue breakdown. It is found in eggs, vegetable oils, almonds, peanuts, asparagus, and other foods.

Vitamin K — Vitamin K plays an essential role in blood clotting, and a deficiency can lead to bleeding or hemorrhaging. The best sources of vitamin K in the human diet include spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, and soy beans.

Zinc — The element zinc is one of the more important nutrients required by the human body as it is present in many enzymes and works in the brain to help people learn and retain information. Nearly every kind of bodily process will use zinc in some way. Red meats, poultry, dairy, and shellfish are all good sources of zinc.


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