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How Carbs, Protein, Fat, Fiber, Vitamins and Minerals Work: Nutritional education in the United States has a long history of being inadequate and ineffective, and there are undoubtedly quite a few people who make it to adulthood and still have misconceptions or an incomplete grasp of how healthy eating actually works. Fortunately, it's not that hard to get caught up on the fundamentals. Click Here to see your Daily Values


Carbs have become demonized due to the popularity of extreme carb-restricting diets. If you're not trying to lose a lot of weight as quickly as possible, however, carbs are not your enemy and shouldn't be eliminated from your diet. In fact, the FDA recommends that you get the majority of your daily food intake in the form of carbs.

Carbs are a vital fuel source for daily energy, but the issue with them is that if they aren't burned soon after taking them in, they tend to convert to stored body fat quickly. Simple carbs, like sugar, are the worst offenders. However, complex carbs digest more slowly and are less of a risk to cause blood sugar spikes (which can in turn contribute to the development of Type II diabetes). You can get complex carbs from a wide range of produce as well as beans, oats, brown rice, all different types of potatoes (including sweet), quinoa and whole wheat.


Protein is important because it's the only source of the nine "essential amino acids," or those you can only get from food. That means everyone needs adequate protein, and it's doubly important for vegetarians and vegans to ensure they're getting their essential aminos every day.

Different sources of protein have varying amounts of these amino acids. If a protein source contains all nine of the essential aminos, it's considered "complete." Some sources are missing one or two, and these are considered "incomplete." For example, most animal flesh is a complete protein, but peanuts (and peanut butter) are incomplete because they lack one essential amino -- methionine. Incomplete protein sources can be combined to create a complete source, with the most famous example being the combination of beans and rice.


Fat is the most complex of the basic dietary needs, as there's conflicting evidence about the effect it has. We do know for sure that you need some amount of it as part of your daily diet, and it can be roughly divided into two types: saturated and unsaturated.

The stock advice on saturated fat is to limit it as much as possible, as it can raise the "bad" type of cholesterol. However, there's a paradox seen in certain cultures that eat certain types of diets high in saturated fat, namely the standard diet of France and the traditional diet of the Inuit people, who rely heavily on fatty foods like whale blubber. These cultures don't show a higher rate of cardiovascular problems, raising some questions about exactly how bad for us saturated fat really is and what other factors might come into play. Regardless, the FDA still currently recommends limiting saturated fat to no more than 20 grams per day, or about the content of two modestly sized cheeseburgers. In general, animal flesh and dairy are heavy in saturated fat.

Unsaturated fat is divided into two further categories: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. The FDA currently regards both as relatively healthy and important parts of the daily diet. However, there are some schools of dietary thought that suspect polyunsaturated fat should be limited, as it is prone to cause damaging inflammation. The best polyunsaturated fats are those that are balanced in terms of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid content.

One final consideration about fats: even the healthy kind is very dense in calories as compared to carbs and protein, so it's important to watch your intake so as to not overshoot your total daily caloric needs.


You need varying amounts of the various lettered vitamins each day. In general, you can't overdo it accidentally with vitamins, as the toxic doses for each are extremely high and the body automatically eliminates excess through urine (you might note that some multivitamin pills or drinks turn your pee a very bright color; that's a large amount of excess vitamins being passed). One exception to watch is the "fat soluble" vitamins, or those that are stored in body fat when there is excess. These are vitamins A, D, E and K. Read about how you can supplement your daily intake by taking Dietary Supplements.


As with vitamins, there's a range of minerals you need to take in daily. These include calcium, iron, copper, potassium, zinc and manganese. If you plan to take a vitamin supplement, it's best to avoid those that contain the metallic minerals, as these can be toxic if you overdo it with them. Daily mineral requirements are generally low and easy to get from diet alone.

Dietary Fiber

Dietary fiber actually isn't digestible, but you need some each day for a couple of reasons. One is that it adds bulk to stool (by drawing in water) and makes it easier to pass. The other is that it's a needed food source for the bacteria that live in your gut and help you digest your meals.

Other Compounds

There are quite a few other compounds found in foods that appear to have some benefit, but aren't dietary requirements and/or need further study to determine exactly what they do. One popular example is the resveratrol found in grapes and some berries. It may have a range of benefits, but needs further study for confirmation.

Fitness, Nutrition and Wellness

Note: Articles not intended to Diagnose, Treat, Cure or Prevent Diseases.