What Are Nutrients? Differences Between Vitamins, Minerals & Proteins

Nutrients are molecules in food that all organisms need to make energy, grow, develop, and reproduce. Nutrients are digested and then broken down into basic parts to be used by the organism. There are two main types of nutrients, macronutrients and micronutrients. The three main categories of macronutrients include carbohydrate, protein, and fat. The two types of micronutrients are vitamins and minerals, and these are extra molecules that cells need to make energy. Let's take a look at the three groups of macronutrients we mentioned.

Types of Nutrients

In general, there are two types of nutrients:

  • Macronutrients
  • Micronutrients

Above nutrients could be obtained from the environment. Macronutrients provide energy to a living being for the function of the metabolic system. They provide massive energy has it is converted used to obtain energy.  Macronutrients include fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.

Micronutrient provides essential components for metabolism to be carried out. They also build and repair damaged tissues in order to control the body process. Micronutrients include calcium, iron, vitamins, iron, minerals and vitamin C.


Important Nutrients in Food

There are several nutrients that cannot be synthesized by the body and have to be taken externally through food. These are vital for the proper functioning of the body. The important nutrients and their functions include are mentioned below:


It is one of the main sources of energy for human beings. It comprises of three types of carbohydrates and they include fibre, sugar, and starch. They are usually low calories and thus help in maintaining a healthy diet.


It is a mineral that is vital for building strong bones and teeth. In very fewer quantities it is also needed to our nerves, muscles work and heart. Sources of calcium include pudding, milk, yoghurt, tofu, canned fish, and fresh leafy green vegetables. Lack of calcium leads to a disease called Osteoporosis.


It is essential for the brain, nerves, and development of cells. It plays an important role in the forming of enzymes and hormones. Foods include cheese, milk, chicken, beef, and fish.


It is one of the most important sources of calories. One gram of fat consists of 9 calories. It is almost twice of calories that we get from carbohydrates and proteins.  Fat is usually found in foods that we use in cooking, as spreads on bread and it also found in snacks, pastries.


It is a constituent of our red blood cells. Its function is to carry oxygen from our lungs to organs, muscles, and cells. Food sources include spinach, soybeans and other leafy vegetables.


They are made of amino acids. We can obtain protein in foods such as nuts, lentils, beef, rice, chicken, beef etc.


Foods like milk and fresh vegetables contain sodium. Lack of sodium might lead to high blood pressure.


Functions of Nutrients

The important functions of nutrients include:

  • They are the main source of energy for the body.
  • They help in building and repairing body tissues.
  • Increases the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
  • Helps in the synthesis of collagen.
  • Provides proper structure to the blood vessels, bones and ligaments.
  • They also help in maintaining the homeostasis of the body.


Differences Between Vitamins, Minerals & Proteins

Food contains nutrients that are made from proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, water and other substances. A deficiency of any one of these nutrients can increase your risk of diseases, disorders and other medical conditions. A balanced diet of foods and nutrients may enhance your health and prevent disease. Consult your doctor or nutritionist to determine your nutritional needs and plan a diet and supplement program that is right for you.

Carbohydrates and Fats

Nutrients can be divided into two groups. You need macronutrients, such as carbohydrates, fats and proteins, in large amounts and micronutrients, such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, in small amounts. A balanced diet provides 45 to 65 percent of calories from carbohydrates, 20 to 35 percent from fats and the remainder of calories from proteins. Carbohydrates, such as starches and sugars from grains, legumes and fruit, provide energy to your cells and tissues. Fats, such as polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, omega-3 and saturated fatty acids, from vegetable oils, olive oil, fish and animal products, respectively, are a concentrated form of energy that help you body absorb certain vitamins and maintain the structure and function of cell membranes and produce hormones and other substances. Unhealthy fats, such as saturated and trans fats, can increase your risk of heart disease.


Vitamins are essential nutrients that regulate metabolic functions throughout your body. Vitamin A stimulates vision and growth of cells. The B vitamins assist enzymes throughout your body. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that stimulates your immune system and protects your cells from environmental toxins. Vitamin D is essential for bone growth. Vitamin E slows down your aging process and protects cellular membranes from degradation. Vitamin K stimulates blood clotting. Vitamins are found in all food groups and are highly concentrated in fruits and vegetables. The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you consume between 1 ½ to 2 ½ cups of fruit and 2 ½ to 4 cups of vegetables daily, depending on your age.



Minerals are chemical elements found in food that have various functions in your body. Calcium and magnesium are vital for building and maintaining healthy bones and teeth. Iron is a vital part of hemoglobin, the molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to cells throughout your body. Phosphorous is essential for cellular energy metabolism. Zinc, copper, manganese and selenium are trace minerals that you need in tiny amounts. Zinc is involved in tissue growth and repair. Copper and manganese work with enzymes in many types of chemical reactions. Selenium is an antioxidant that protects your cells from toxins and harmful chemicals.


Proteins are essential for the growth, development, structure and function of cells, tissues and organs, antibodies, enzymes and nucleic acids. Protein is also part of some hormones. Amino acids are the building blocks for proteins and are found in foods, particularly animal products, such as meat and dairy, fish, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains.