Everyone’s body is different, and your lifestyle mostly determines your nutritional requirements. People that exercise more frequently will need more nutrition, and will be able to eat more food without gaining weight. People that don’t get outside that much will need extra vitamin D compared to people that go outside more often. The nutritional requirements of your body depends on a lot of factors, some of these are age, gender, how active you are, your length and much more. On this page we will cover the nutrition your body needs, the amount you need to consume and how to get the right nutrition.
What does a human body require? We will cover the following topics:
What are proteins?
Proteins are molecules that consist of chained amino acid; these amino acids are chained by peptide bonds. Proteins have multiple roles in the human body. Few of which are the construction of cells, the replication of DNA and use as enzymes, antibodies and as a catalyst. Some of the amino acids can be produced by our own body, but some can’t. The amino acids we can’t produce are called ‘essential amino acids’, these we have to get from alternative sources: food. The ratio in which these amino acids occur in proteins differ from protein to protein, it depends on the source it is derived from. Protein from animal sources (meat, milk, eggs) tends to have a more complete amino acid profile than proteins derived from plants. If you are a vegan or a vegetarian it is therefore advised to consume a higher amount of protein, this way you can compensate for the lower amount of certain amino acids in your diet.
How many proteins do you need?
The amount of protein needed depends on quite some different factors; it is influenced by health, how active you are, pregnancy, age and type of diet. On average, 0.8g per kilogram of bodyweight is considered healthy (0.36g per pound). In some cases, a higher amount of protein may be beneficial:
Average adult: 0,8g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight (0.36g per pound)
Children: 1.1g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight (0.50 g per pound)
Vegetarians: 0.96g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight (0,44g per pound)
Vegans: 1,04g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight (0,47g per pound)
Athletes: 1.4-2.0g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight (0.64-0.91g per pound)
During pregnancy: 1.0g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight (0.46g per pound)
High protein diet
In some cases people use a high protein diet, during bodybuilding for example. Bodybuilders often eat up to 300g of protein per day. When on a high-protein diet, make sure to drink plenty water, as high amounts of protein can strain the kidneys.
Where can you get proteins?
Proteins are often found in meat, dairy products, fish, nuts, legumes and grains. Proteins occur in different types of food as well, but in much lower concentrations.
Chicken breasts, turkey breasts, beef and steak are examples of meat that are high in protein. For dairy products milk, yoghurt, cottage cheese, and cheese are relatively high in protein concentration. Most fish contains high amounts of protein, but salmon, tuna, sardines and herring are considered to be either the healthiest or the most readily available types of fish.
One of the best sources of plant proteins are nuts, nuts like peanuts, cashew, pecan and walnut are both high in protein and high in (healthy) fats. Legumes are relatively high in protein as well, peas, hempseeds, soy and beans are some good examples. Grains like oats, brown rice, rye and spelt contain relatively high amounts of protein for grains, but still contain a lower amount of protein than animal sources or nuts and legumes. Because of the different amino acids it is advised to consume protein from all the sources combined.
What are fats?
Fats are a group of organic compounds consisting of fatty acids, attached to a glycerol molecule. Depending on the types of fatty acids that are connected to the glycerol, the fats have different functions. There are a lot of different fats and each has their own effect on the body. Fats are often separated in three categories: saturated, unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Some important functions of fats are brain development, blood clothing, delivering energy, absorbing vitamins, regulating body temperature and for the production of hormones.
How much fat do you need per day?
In most cases the calories in a diet should consist of about 25-35% in fat, which has 9 kilocalories per gram. The amount of calories your body needs depends on your age, gender and how active you are. An average male adult needs 2,500kcals and an average female adult needs 2,000. So in this case the male adult has to consume 69-97 grams of fat and the female adult 56-78 grams of fat. (Male: 2,500kcals *25-35% divided by 9kcals per gram of fat; female: 2,000 * 25-35% divided by 9kcals per gram of fat).
When you are very active the requirements will be higher than average, and when you aren’t that active your requirements will be lower than average.
Next to the bulk of fats required there are a few fats that aren’t that common. For additional health benefits like brain development, joint health and decreased inflammation consuming Omega 3 fats is advised. Omega 3 is a special fat that is relatively uncommon and is mostly found in fish. To get the most out of the benefits of Omega 3 it is advised to consume 4g per day.
Where can you get healthy fats?
Some great sources of (healthy) fats are eggs, avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, seeds, nuts, nut butter and fat fish.
Omega 3 fats can be found in (fat) fish like tuna, herring, mackerel, trout, sardines and salmon (preferably wild salmon instead of farmed salmon). The fats can also be found in some nuts and seeds like walnuts and hempseed.
What are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are molecules consisting of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms, in which the hydrogen and oxygen atoms are present in a 2:1 ratio respectively. In plants carbohydrates are synthesised from carbon dioxide and water. Carbohydrates provide energy in humans and animals and are one of the most important nutrients. The difference in carbohydrates consists primarily in the difference in complexity of the molecule. Carbohydrates are often separated in two categories, simple or complex. In general it is assumed that the more complex a carbohydrate, the longer it takes to digest. Sugar is an example of a carbohydrate, and is absorbed by the human body rather quickly.
How many carbohydrates do you need?
Carbohydrates are the main source of energy in our body. A regular diet should therefore contain a fairly large amount of carbohydrates (when trying to lose weight this might differ). The amount of carbohydrates that your body requires depends mostly on how active you are and your bodyweight. When you have a higher bodyweight, you will use slightly more energy during activities, raising your energy-requirement somewhat. As carbohydrates are a form of fuel, your body’s requirement increases heavily when you attend a very active or intense sport.
In a regular diet carbohydrates should provide 45-65% of the calories you consume. As 1 gram of carbohydrates provides 4kcals, you should divide 45-65% of your total calorie-requirement by 4. An example; an average male should consume 2,500 kcals a day. 50 per cent of the calorie-requirement is 1,250kcals. 1,250kcals divided by 4 is 312,5 grams of carbohydrates a day. So in this example this man should consume about 312 grams of carbohydrates a day.
When you are very active your daily calorie-requirement will end up higher, therefore increasing the amount of carbohydrates needed. When you aren’t that active it would turn out lower. As women have a lower calorie-requirement their carbohydrates-requirements are lower as well.
Where can you get carbohydrates?
There are a lot of sources for carbohydrates. Some of the healthiest sources of carbohydrates are whole grains, (brown) rice, low fat yoghurt/cottage cheese, oats, oatmeal, fruits like bananas and berries, whole grain breads and pasta, vegetables like potatoes and corn. When choosing a carbohydrate-source take the complexity of the carbohydrate into account. Some carbohydrates, like sugar, increase blood sugar-levels significantly. Whole grains tend to have a lower effect on blood sugar-levels than simple carbohydrates like sugar, as the carbohydrates in whole grains are more complex.
What is fibre?
Fibres are parts of plants that are indigestible by the human body. Fibres have a lot of different functions, ranging from aiding the gut microbiota to lowering blood sugar. Fibres are often separated into groups of insoluble and soluble fibre. In some cases the classification fermentable/non-fermentable is used.
How much fibre do you need?
The amount of fibre we need depends on both age and gender. It is generally assumed that adults need 28-38 grams of fibre per day. On average women need less fibre than males, so the fibre requirement of women tends to be at the lower end of the spectrum. Furthermore it depends on the type of diet, when on a high fat diet, a higher fibre intake is advised.
Where can you get fibre?
Most foods that are derived from plants contain a lot of fibre. Some great sources of fibre are whole grains, potatoes, bananas, green vegetables, carrots, nuts and oats. Because of the two types of fibre, soluble and insoluble, sources differ. Vegetables and fruits tend to have more soluble fibre, and whole grains and nuts contain a higher concentration of insoluble fibre.
What are minerals?
A mineral is a chemical compound with a crystal-like structure. Minerals are often found in nature, resembling crystals or as a part of a rock. These minerals get in our food by plants and animals, often in tiny amounts. There are a lot of different minerals, each with their own function in our body. Minerals are often only needed in small amounts, and they regulate various processes in the body, ranging from the regulation of fluid balance to the ability to contract muscles.
How many minerals do you need?
Because there are a lot of different minerals the most important ones have been put in an overview:
Where can you get minerals?
Sodium - Table salt, breads, vegetables, unprocessed meats
Chloride - Table salt, breads, vegetables, unprocessed meats
Calcium - Dairy products, vegetables, legumes
Magnesium - Vegetables, legumes, seeds, nuts
Potassium - Meat, dairy products, whole grains, vegetables, fruits
Phosphorus - Meat, fish, dairy products, eggs
Iron - (Organ) meats, eggs, fish, fruits, vegetables
Zinc - Meat, fish, vegetables, grains
Copper - (Organ) meats, legumes, seeds, nuts, grains
Iodine - Bread, dairy products, table salt with added iodine
Selenium - Meat, grains
Chromium - Liver, yeast, dairy products, grains, nuts
Manganese - Foods derived from plants, deficiency is very rare
Fluoride - Water, fish, tea
Molybdenum - Vegetables, dairy products, liver, legumes, grains
What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are a group of chemicals that inhabit the effects of oxidation in other molecules. Oxidation is a process in which a substance releases electrons to another substance. During the oxidation process certain molecules called ‘free radicals’ can be produced. Free radicals are atoms, molecules or ions that are able to react with other molecules. Free radicals are considered to do damage in the human body. Antioxidants counter the oxidation process, therefore reducing the amounts of free radicals in the body.
How many antioxidants do you need?
There are over 4,000 substances in food that function as an antioxidant, not all of those are required for your body to function properly. Because of the high variety in both substances and functions there is no established recommended daily intake available for antioxidants. Several health organisations advise to consume a diet with no less than 5 fruits or vegetables a day, and a minimum of 6 portions of whole grains per day in order to make sure you get enough antioxidants in your diet.
Where can you get antioxidants?
Lots of antioxidants are present in all types of food, of which some contain significantly more. When you are trying to raise the amount of antioxidants in your diet you could add some of the following foods to your diet: Fruits, vegetables, fish, tea, nuts, whole grains and berries.
What are vitamins?
Vitamins are micronutrients that are used in organisms as co-enzyme. A co-enzyme is a small organic molecule that is required for an enzyme to properly function. Vitamins are only required in tiny amounts. The human body can only produce a few of the required vitamins (like vitamin D), therefore most of the required vitamins have to be obtained with the food we eat.
How many vitamins do you need?
Because there are a lot of different vitamins there are a lot of different requirements as well. For an overview of a couple of the most important vitamins see the table below:
Where can you get vitamins?
Vitamin A - Liver, fish, milk, butter, synthesized in body
Vitamin B1 - Pork, grains, milk, rice, potatoes
Vitamin B2 - Dairy products, meat, fruits, vegetables, grains
Vitamin B3 - Meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, grains, synthesized in body
Vitamin B5 - Meat, fish, eggs, potatoes, dairy products, fruits, vegetables
Vitamin B6 - Meat, fish, eggs, grains, potatoes, legumes
Vitamin B8 - Eggs, milk, soy, nuts
B9/Folic Acid - Green vegetables, fruit
Vitamin B12 - Meat and other animal products
Vitamin C - Vegetables, fruits, potatoes
Vitamin D - Sunlight, fatty fish, eggs, liver, mushrooms
Vitamin E - Oils derived from plants, grains, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruit
Vitamin K - Green vegetables, oils, synthesised in body
What is water?
Water (H2O) is a molecule consisting of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. In nature water occurs in three different states: as a solid, a liquid and a gas. Water is used as a diluent in living organisms. In our body water is used to transport nutrients and oxygen to different parts of the body. Without water we wouldn’t be able to live. Water has a lot of other different uses as well, like regulating body temperature, lubricating the joints, and detoxing our body. Water can be consumed either by drinking it or by eating food that contains water.
How much water do you need?
The amount of water you need depends on a lot of factors as well, just like most of the other nutrients. It depends on age, weight, temperature, length and how active you are. In general it is assumed that 2.0 litres of water is a healthy amount to drink each day.
Things that increase your water requirements:
- Being ill, especially when you have diarrhoea or vomit frequently).
- High temperatures and living in a hot climate.
- Having a high bodyweight
- Males tend to have a higher requirement
- Being active or exercising, it may increase by 0.5 litres (moderate exercise) to 2.0 litres (marathon-level).
- Being pregnant, when pregnant it is advised to drink about 2.3 litres of water per day; 3.1 during breast-feeding.
Things that decrease your water requirements:
- Eating lots of fruits
- Having a low bodyweight
- Having a shorter than average body
- Females tend to have a lower requirement
Where can you get drinkable water?
Water is often only available in about four forms: tap water, bottled water, purified/filtered water and in foods. Whether drinking tap water is healthy or not mostly depends on the area you live in. In most first world countries water is filtered in such a way that it is perfectly drinkable. When using tap water make sure it doesn’t contain too much fluoride or chloride, as this can be poisonous when consumed over a long period. The quality of water varies from city to city, so make sure you check the tap water quality frequently when consuming significant amounts. The government often has certain standards, which are set to make the water drinkable, and these standards can be checked.
Bottled water is available in most countries, and on average of good quality. It is questioned whether the plastic it is stored in is harmful to the human body. Water bottled in glass jars are quite uncommon, but will eliminate the plastic issue. In general it is assumed that the quality of the water is high enough to justify the risk of additional plastic exposure, but it is recommended to limit the exposure to plastics as much as possible.
Because of the risk of plastics in water and the risk of fluoride and chloride exposure some people make use of a water purifier to get their water. There are different water purification systems with different uses. Some use UV radiation to kill viruses and bacteria, while others use osmosis to purify water. Purifying your own water ensures you get the same quality of water over time.
A source of water that is often neglected is food. Some foods like vegetables and fruit contain up to 96 per cent of water. A few products that are high in water content are:
Cucumber – 96%
Lettuce – 96%
Broccoli – 96%
Potato – 79%
Tomato – 94%
Apple – 84%
Banana – 74%
Grapes – 81%
Pear – 84%
Watermelon – 92%