In a revolutionary health-crazed age, everyone seems to know everything about being fit and healthy. However, from fad diets to other health urban legends, many young women overlook the basics of nutrition. Food is not meant to be the enemy - it's meant to help your body work like it should! The basic building blocks of nutrition - water, carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals - are necessary in every diet plan. Why? Read on to find out just what’s so important about these six essential nutrients. You can either click and choose which essential nutrient you'd like to know more about from the items below, or you can read about all of them to ensure you really are a health-nut know-it-all.


   It’s no question that water is important. But why is it so vital to get eight glasses a day?  Because the body is made up of 60 percent water, and it makes use of every little bit. Water carries important nutrients throughout the body, removes waste from the body, and maintains body temperature. It acts as a lubricant around joints, and as a shock absorber for the body’s organs, helping our young and able bodies stay active and healthy.

   So, is the age-old rule of eight glasses a day true? In most cases, yes. However, alcohol consumption, physical activity, certain medications, vomiting or fever, weather and even forced-air environments like plane rides sway the amount of water you need. Also, water hydrates cells, including skin cells, so it’s important to consume water to maintain healthy, nourished skin. 

   According to Judith E. Brown Ph.D., University of Minnesota, bottled and tap water, milk, fruit and vegetable juices, and brothy soups are the best sources of water.  Caffeinated beverages can be hydrating to people who are used to drinking them. Otherwise they can increase urination and cause further hydration.


   Carbohydrates have developed a bad rep in recent years (Atkins, anyone?) but they’re actually quite necessary when maintaining a healthy body. You just need to know what types to eat. 

   There are two different types of carbohydrates- simple and complex. Both provide the body with short term energy and are a component of vital gene material. However, simple carbohydrates provide little or no other benefits and lack strong nutritional value, while complex carbohydrates provide other nutrients including most forms of fiber. 

   Fiber is not considered a source of energy because it cannot be broken down by digestive enzymes in the body. Because it cannot be broken down during digestion, it helps keep you feeling full longer.  According to Judith E. Brown Ph.D., University of Minnesota, “fiber may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer, including colon cancer.”

   You should aim for complex carbohydrates with high fiber content. Fruits and non-starchy vegetables like apples, grapefruit and broccoli are great sources of fiber. Whole grain breads and cereals like cooked oatmeal, as well as legumes are healthy carbohydrates. Foods to avoid are: candy, soda, snack/pre-packaged foods, white pastas and low fiber foods.


   Protein is an important building block in the body because it's responsible for supplying amino acids that are used to create and repair cells, tissues, hormones, enzymes, red blood cells, and antibodies. Proteins also maintain fluid balance and transport substances throughout the body. 

   There are nine essential amino acids that you need to get through your diet.  Foods that contain all nine essential amino acids are considered high quality proteins and are called "complete proteins." Animal products such as meat, eggs, cheese, and dairy products are all high quality proteins. Chicken, turkey, and fish are excellent sources of protein and are lower in fat than other sources, such as red meat.

   Plant sources, with the exception of soybeans, are considered low quality proteins because they do not contain all nine amino acids. However, you can combine different plant sources such as a grain with some sort of bean to create a high quality protein. The combinations of plant sources are also a more low-fat option to obtaining the daily protein you need.

   Consuming too much protein can result in kidney strain, dehydration and also excessive saturated fat and cholesterol. According to Judith E. Brown Ph.D., University of Minnesota, while protein deficiencies are rare they can result in weakness, muscle tissue loss, heart abnormalities and other problems.


   Most women know that fats in the form of fast food are bad, but some don’t realize that some fat is not only good, but is absolutely necessary in a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle. Fats provide the body with loads of benefits, including unlimited energy storage, padding to protect internal organs, and insulation to help with temperature control. Fats also assists in the transport of fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K.)

   There are two basic forms of fat – saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats should be avoided if possible because they increase LDL cholesterol levels in blood, which increases the risk of heart-disease. Saturated fats such as eggs, red meats, and dairy products also are sources of cholesterol. Unsaturated fats are the best fats to consume because they decrease LDL cholesterol levels in blood. 

   Trans fat, a third form of fat that's recently been causing lots of controversy,is the worst form of fat. Most commonly, trans fats are created during the process of partial hydrogenation of plant oils, in which the oils are solidified to improve baking quality and increase storage-life - think Crisco. This type of "man-made" fat does more damage to your health than saturated fats, including significantly increasing your risk of coronary heart disease, and should therefore be avoided entirely. Metropolitan cities like New York and Philadelphia recently passed legislation banning trans fats, and others, including Chicago, are taking steps to do the same.

   You should try to obtain fat through monounsaturated and polyunsaturated sources, which are: vegetable oils, olives, nuts, avocado and olive/nut/canola oil. Avoid saturated fats such as: animal fats (bacon, sausage, steak, cheese, etc.) and coconut/palm oil.

   It also is important to make sure you consume enough of the essential fatty acids, which include Omega-3, and Omega-6. Omega-3 is found in leafy vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds. Omega-6 can be found in tuna, salmon, trout, walnuts, and soybean/canola oil.


Vitamin A (Beta Carotene and Retinol)

   Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin, meaning that it doesn’t need to be consumed daily. It’s also an antioxidant, protecting cells that are highly exposed to oxygen by keeping the membrane strong. Antioxidants are believed to help combat heart disease, cancer, macular degeneration, and premature aging. This awesome antioxidant is responsible for night vision and the formation of skin tissue, mucous, epithelial cells, bones, and teeth. It also promotes normal cell development. 

    Women should consume 700 mcg/day of Vitamin A to prevent deficiencies like night blindness, impaired bone growth, easily decayed teeth, and dry eyes.

   Vitamin A Retinol is only found in animal products while Vitamin A Beta-Carotene is found in fruits and vegetables. You should try to consume both foods with retinol and beta-carotene.

   Good choices are: beef liver, salmon, carrots, sweet potatoes, fortified milk and spinach. You want to look for fruits and vegetables in a deep orange and green color.


Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)

   Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps build collagen and promotes the absorption of iron, helping to make healthy gums, teeth, and blood vessels. Vitamin C is vital, especially in a college atmosphere, because it helps to boost your immune system.

    Women should consume 75 mg/day. Are you a smoker? If so, you need even more Vitamin C - an esitmated additional 35 mg/day. Consuming an excess of Vitamin C when you’re sick will help your body to combat the infection and speed healing time. Vitamin C deficiencies cause impaired wound healing, scurvy, loosening of teeth, and hemorrhages.

   Citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwis, melons, baked potatoes, peppers, and Brussels sprouts are foods rich in Vitamin C.


Vitamin E (Tocopherol)

   Vitamin E is commonly found in lotions and body creams because it is said to help maintain healthy skin - but, it also plays a vital role in the rest of the body. It’s responsible for nerve development, improving the immune system, and protecting cells from damage.

   Vegetable oils and nuts are the best sources for obtaining Vitamin E.  Wheat germ, and many of the “good fats” mentioned above are also rich in Vitamin E.

Folate (Folic Acid)

   Folic Acid is responsible for redblood cell tissue growth and repair and is also a coenzyme in new cell synthesis. Folate also helps to prevent anemia, depression, and neural tube defects. Most young women aren’t concerned with their Folate up-keep, partly because it’s benefits don’t take full effect until down the road – during pregnancy, when its presence becomes very crucial.
   The recommended daily intake for women is 400 mcg/day, though during pregnancy women are recommended to increase their Folic Acid intake to 600 mcg/day because of the extensive organ and tissue growth. Increasing the intake of Folate also helps to combat birth defects.
   Organ meats, leafy green vegetables, whole grains, oranges, legumes, and bananas are all foods rich in Folic Acid.



   Everyone’s heard about calcium and knows that it’s important, but most don’t realize that not consuming the recommended daily intake (RDI) of calcium can lead to permanent damage. 
   Calcium is the principle mineral in bones and teeth. It also plays a role in muscle contraction and nerve functioning, and it prevents blood from clotting.       
   According to Judith E. Brown Ph.D., University of Minnesota, 1200 mg a day of calcium can help to reduce PMS symptoms, such as cramps, depression, anxiety, and irritability. 
   Calcium is most important during adolescence and young adulthood because the body has the greatest capability of absorbing calcium, which creates bone density and reduces the lifetime risk of fractures. National data states that most female adolescents don’t consume the RDI of calcium. Calcium deficiencies can lead to stunted growth, weak bones, and even osteoporosis, which is irreversible.  This makes calcium a necessity now.
   Adults ages 19-50 should consume 1000 mg/day of calcium. Some find it difficult to consume enough calcium just through foods, so calcium supplements are an excellent substitute. 
   Milk is the greatest source of calcium, especially now because most is fortified with Vitamin D, which is necessary for calcium absorption. Dairy products are the next best options when trying to consume calcium.
   Other sources rich in calcium are: bony fish, greens, sardines, almonds, tofu and legumes


   Iron is the only mineral that women need to consume in greater quantities than men, because it’s an important component of hemoglobin, the oxygen carrying component in red blood cells and myoglobin, a muscle protein. It brings oxygen into blood and helps to metabolize energy.
   Not consuming enough Iron can lead to the disease Anemia, characterized by low levels of oxygen in the blood. Anemia can cause impaired growth and development, fatigue, a weakened immune system, and decline in physical performance.
   According to Judith E. Brown Ph.D., University of Minnesota, iron-deficiency anemia is the most common deficiency in adolescence. It’s important to consume the RDI of iron in order to prevent this completely preventable disease. Women ages 19-50 should consume 18 mg/day.
  Heme sources, or foods with high-quality iron absorption, are found in animal products, such as red meat, poultry, and fish.  Non-heme sources, or foods that are rich in iron and need vitamin C to be absorbed by the body, are found in animal and plant-based foods, like legumes, dark greens, whole grains, and dried fruit.