Nutrients Definition in simple terms

Substances that sustain life and help organisms function and grow

What are Nutrients?

Nutrients can refer to the elements and compounds that provide nourishment used by organisms for energy so they can develop and perform the basic life functions for their survival, cellular growth and reproduction.  Nutrients are usually classified as micronutrients or macronutrients. Like all organisms, humans need certain quantities of nutrients to be healthy and prevent malnutrition. 

6 Essential Nutrients

The following 6 major nutrients that are considered essential for life are: proteins, carbohydrates (CHO), lipids (fats), vitamins, minerals, water.


 Proteins, carbohydrates (CHO),  and lipids (fats) are considered macronutrients because they are needed in greater quantities to provide energy and materials to perform basic body function.  The human body requires a substantial amount of macronutrients to maintain good health and prevent malnutrition. Water can also be considered a macronutrient because it is essential for life and needed in relatively large quantities. Unlike the other 3 macronutrients, water is not broken down to provide energy.


Vitamins & minerals are considered micronutrients because, although they are essential, they are generally not needed in as large quantities as the macronutrients. Vitamins help provide energy, help immune response, and cellular function.  Minerals provide structural growth like bone, hair, nails and skin. All the nutrients interact in order for the body to function properly.

Why are Nutrients Important?

The nutrients in our diet has a direct impact on how we look and feel. The health of our skin, hair, bones, blood, organs and bodily functions require proper nutrition. The absence of any essential nutrient for a long period of time can cause an unhealthy immune response and lead to malnutrition, disease, and/or other disruptions in bodily functions. The cause and reaction to many illnesses can often be related to diet and exercise.

Our choices would be better guided if we think of our bodies as a dynamic system that is functioning within the larger ecosystem of the earth.  Many innovations of agriculture, food delivery systems, housing, transportation, economies and more are being designed with this in mind. 

 A proper understanding of essential nutrients in our food can help us make better decisions about maintaining a proper diet and a healthy life. (See Nutrition Calculator)

A proper understanding of where our food comes from, how it is produced, how it is transported, and its impact on the environment can help us make better decisions for a healthy planet.

How else can we improve the food systems in order to achieve better health equity , food security and quality of life for all?