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Nutrients

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What are nutrients?

 

Find out even more about why eating well is important for our health.



Here’s the technical stuff if you want to delve a little deeper into why getting cooking is such a great way to improve your diet.

 We get energy and nutrients from our food to help us function and to stay well. We need large amounts of some of these nutrients, and these are called macronutrients. We need smaller amounts of other nutrients, and these are called micronutrients.

 

Macronutrients

 

Nutrient
Carbohydrate

Why it's important
This should be our main source of energy – the main part of every meal, making sure we feel ready for anything. 

Where it comes from
There are two sources of carbohydrate: starchy foods, and sugars. The best sources of carbohydrate are all types of bread, rice, pasta, noodles, potatoes, yam, oats, cassava, couscous, breakfast cereals, wheat grains like bulgar wheat, lentils, red kidney beans and black eye beans. These sources keep us feeling fuller for longer. There are two types of sugars: naturally occurring sugar (found in fruit, vegetables and milk – no need to limit these foods), and added sugar (found in foods like cakes, biscuits, fizzy drinks, chocolate and sweets. Best to limit these because we use the energy in these much more quickly - leaving us feeling tired or hungry again).


Nutrient
Protein

Why it's important
We need this to grow and repair tissues in the body, like muscles. This is particularly important for children because they’re growing fast.

Where it comes from
Meat, fish, milk, cheese, eggs, yoghurt, nuts* and seeds, red kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, cereals and meat alternatives like tofu


Nutrient
Fat

Why it's important
First things first: we do need some fat in our diet. It provides essential fatty acids, which our bodies need to work normally. But we need to choose the right types of fat, because there are two forms: saturated and unsaturated. Go for unsaturated fats and oils wherever you can, as these are better for us. Fat is also a concentrated source of energy - giving us more than twice the calories we’d get in the same weight of carbohydrate. That’s why eating lots of foods with a high fat content can leave us gaining weight we don’t need.

Where it comes from
You’ll find unsaturated fats in vegetable oil, sunflower oil and olive oil, oily fish and avocado. Saturated fat – the ones to avoid as much as you can – are found in butter, lard, chips and other deep-fried food, potato waffles, garlic bread, pastries, cakes, biscuits, creamy puddings, meat and meat products like pasties.


Micronutrients

 

This is where vitamins and minerals come in. We only need small amounts of them, but they’re essential to keep us healthy. Read about the key ones below.

 

Most of us should get all of the vitamins and minerals we need simply by eating a varied and balanced diet. However, if you’re pregnant or if you have young children, the NHS gives advice on extra vitamins and minerals that you will need.

 

A great tip to remember is that what you eat and drink can actually help your body to absorb vitamins and minerals. For example, vitamin C helps us to absorb iron – so having foods or drinks which are high in vitamin C alongside good sources of iron and zinc is one of the best ways to get everything you need.

 

Vitamin
Vitamin A

Why it's important
We need this for growing and repairing tissues, good eyesight and our immune system.

Where it comes from
Oily fish, eggs, cheese,butter and milk. Yellow, orange and red coloured fruits and vegetables like oranges and mango, carrots during the winter months, butternut squash in autumn, and peppers, and tomatoes in the summer.


Vitamin
Vitamin C

Why it's important
We need this for healing wounds and healthy blood vessels and skin. It also helps to protect us from infections and disease by preventing damage to cells, and helps our bodies to absorb iron from foods.

Where it comes from
Fruits, especially oranges, lemons and limes, grapefruit, berries like strawberries, blackberries and raspberries and kiwi fruits. Vegetables, especially broccoli, green and red peppers and sweet potatoes. 


Vitamin

Vitamin D

Why it's important

We need this to help our bodies use the calcium in food. Even if we get enough calcium from the foods we eat, if we don't get enough vitamin D our bodies aren't able to use it. A lack of vitamin D can cause rickets, which means that bones don't form properly and are weak.

Where it comes from

Most of our vitamin D comes from sunlight but it is still important that we get enough vitamin D from the food we eat. A healthy diet gives us about 10% of what we need. Vitamin D is found in oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines and pilchards as well as fortified margarine and cereals. 


Vitamin
Folate

Why it's important
We need this for healthy blood cells,the nervous system and to prevent anaemia – when the body can’t produce enough red blood cells. This is particularly important in the early stages of pregnancy as it helps to protect the baby from defects like spina bifida.

Where it comes from
Orange juice, green leafy vegetables(e.g. spinach), green beans, beetroot, chickpeas, black-eye beans, broccoli, peas and brown rice. Breakfast cereals are often fortified with folate too.


Mineral
Calcium

Why it's important
We need this for strong bones and teeth, especially during childhood and adolescence when the skeleton is growing.

It’s also important for our muscles and nerves, as well as for blood clotting.

Dairy products like milk, cheese and yoghurt – remember to choose low fat varieties. These provide just as much calcium as full fat versions, without the saturated fat.

Where it comes from
Meat, fish and alternative sources of protein like tofu, red kidney beans, chickpeas and soya beans, and canned fish with bones like salmon and pilchards.
Fruit and vegetables like dried fruits, broccoli and cabbage.
White and brown bread - these are fortified with calcium.


Mineral
Iron

Why it's important
We need this for making sure that oxygen is carried around the body through our blood cells. It also helps to maintain healthy cells, skin, hair and nails.

Where it comes from
Red meat e.g. beef and lamb. Liver is also very rich in iron but should not be eaten during pregnancy. Nuts and seeds, especially pumpkin seeds. Beans and pulses e.g. red kidney beans, lentils and chickpeas.  Dark leafy greens e.g. cabbage and broccoli. Many people think spinach is a good source of iron, but spinach also contains a substance that makes it harder for the body to absorb the iron from it.


Mineral
Zinc

Why it's important
We need this for the growth and repair of tissues in the body, healing wounds and a strong immune system.

Where it comes from
Red meat, offal (especially liver and kidney), eggs, fish, milk and other dairy products, cereals, red kidney beans, soya products, lentils, chickpeas and nuts.


Mineral
Sodium

Why it's important
We need this to maintain fluid balance in the body and for nerve and muscle function.

Where it comes from
Mainly from salt, and most of us are already getting more than enough salt from our diet anyway. Eating foods high in salt (sodium chloride) can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease and kidney problems.
Most of the salt in our diets is in processed foods like ready-made sauces, soups and stocks, condiments like tomato ketchup, gravy granules and meat products such as burgers, sausages and chicken nuggets.  So it’s not always easy to tell when we’re having lots of salt.

Let’s Get Cooking at Home is part of Let’s Get Cooking, the national programme aiming to get everyone eating more healthily through basic cooking skills.

Let’s Get Cooking has created the country’s largest network of cooking clubs for children and adults, and research shows more than half of those taking part eat a healthier diet as a result. Let’s Get Cooking is run by the Children’s Food Trust, the national charity which protects every child’s right to eat better and, so, to do better.