What are the classes of nutrients

Nutritional information - nutritional ingredients

  1. Nutrition tips
  2. General nutritional information
  3. Nutritional components

What are the nutritional components?

Not only the adequate daily energy intake and the total energy content of the food, but also its composition play an important role in keeping the body healthy.

Foods are either of animal or vegetable origin and contain a different distribution of nutrients.

In addition to the energy content, the nutrient content is decisive for the evaluation of a food.

The nutrients include:

  • protein
  • fat
  • carbohydrates
  • Fiber
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Trace elements
  • (Ultra trace elements)

Other food components include:

  • water
  • Colors, aromas and flavors
  • cholesterol
  • Purines

For information on recommended levels of nutrient intake, see the Nutrient Intake Recommendations page.

Nutrients in detail

Each nutrient has to fulfill very specific tasks in the body as well as in metabolic processes. Water is not a nutrient in the strict sense of the word, but it is absolutely necessary for the metabolism and is therefore also listed below.


Proteins from food supply the body with amino acids and nitrogen. An amino acid is the smallest building block of protein. If more than 100 amino acids are linked together, one speaks of a protein. A total of 20 different amino acids are required to build up the body's own protein.

These 20 so-called proteinogenic amino acids are divided into eleven dispensable (formerly: non-essential) and nine indispensable amino acids (formerly: essential). The human organism cannot produce essential amino acids. Therefore, regular intake of these amino acids with food is necessary. (see table)

However, under certain circumstances (e.g. premature birth or new birth, phenylketonuria, liver disease or other disease-related metabolic changes), other amino acids classified as dispensable can be vital and are therefore also referred to as conditionally indispensable (previously: semi-essential).

Classification of proteinogenic amino acids
indispensable amino acids (formerly: essential)Histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, valine
conditionally indispensable amino acids (formerly: semi-essential) under certain pathophysiological conditionsCysteine, glutamine, tyrosine, and possibly arginine
dispensable amino acids (previously: non-essential)Alanine, arginine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamine, glutamic acid, glycine, proline, serine, tyrosine

Source: D-A-CH reference values ​​for nutrient intake, 2nd edition, 3rd updated edition 2017

Proteins fulfill important, central functions in our body (see role of nutrients). The protein metabolism is subject to constant build-up and breakdown. In addition, amino acids cannot be stored for later building up of proteins. Thus, a need-covering protein supply with indispensable amino acids is important in order to prevent a protein deficiency.

The recommended protein intake for a healthy adult is 0.8 to 1.0 g / kg body weight. The consideration of the protein quality (biological value) is at least as important as that of the quantity. If an indispensable amino acid is consumed in too small a quantity in relation to the requirement, it limits the protein structure. It is called the "limiting" amino acid.

Since animal protein is more similar in its structure (amino acid composition) to that of the human body, it usually has a higher biological value than protein from plant-based foods

However, foods that provide animal protein usually also contain nutrients such as fat, purines and cholesterol, which in large amounts can be detrimental to health. The daily diet should therefore contain a mixture of animal and vegetable proteins. The animal protein enhances the biological value of the vegetable protein.

Good protein suppliers are:

Animal sources:

  • Lean meat, offal, fish, and eggs
  • Cheese, milk and dairy products

Vegetable sources:

  • Legumes e.g. soy, lentils, peas
  • Mushrooms
  • Bread, cereals and cereal products


The term fats (lipids) is understood to mean various compounds. The most common lipids found in dietary fat are "neutral fats" (triglycerides). These three fatty acids are attached to one particle of glycerine. The triglycerides can be determined in the blood. In addition, fats include a number of other ingredients, such as. B. cholesterol, which is only found in animal fats. Fats are carriers of fat-soluble vitamins and also of flavor and aroma substances.

How much of which fatty acid is in a fat molecule (triglyceride) determines the properties of the fat and its importance for the human body.

One distinguishes between:

  • saturated fatty acids,
    English: Saturated Fatty Acids (SFA)
    z. B. the palmitic acid, stearic acid, occurrences u. in meat and sausage
  • Recommendation: around 10% energy
  • monounsaturated fatty acids,
    English: Monounsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFA)
    z. B. the oleic acid, occurrence u. in rapeseed or olive oil

Recommendation: more than 10 energy%

  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids,
    English: Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA):
    • z. B. linoleic acid, found e.g. in sunflower and rapeseed oil,
    • the linolenic acid in linseed, rapeseed and walnut oil,
    • eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in fish oils

Recommendation: around 7% energy, of which 2.5% linoleic acid, 0.5% linolenic acid

Fats ingested with food serve to supply energy and to store energy. The body is able to convert excess energy into fat in the liver and then store this as depot fat in the subcutaneous fatty tissue or as organ fat. Depot fat in a small amount is necessary for the body. In large quantities, especially as organ fat, it is a burden on the heart and circulation (cf. high blood pressure) and can lead to diabetes and other metabolic diseases via the development of obesity.


To evaluate your body fat distribution, you can use our WHR calculator use.

Some polyunsaturated fatty acids such as linoleic acid and linolenic acid, and arachidonic acid in infancy, are essential for the body. He cannot build it up himself and has to take it in with food. The essential fatty acids serve inter alia. the structure of cell membranes. Furthermore, they can be converted into hormone-like substances (eicosanoids) within the framework of the eicosanoid metabolism. These substances have various effects on blood clotting, blood pressure and the immune system.


Carbohydrates are also known as saccharides (Greek sakkharon: sugar). They are composed of the elements carbon (C), hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O). Based on the number of building blocks involved, the carbohydrates can be divided into different groups. In addition to the simple, the double sugars and the oligosaccharides (three to nine sugar components) there are also the multiple sugars, which consist of at least ten components.

Plants produce sugar through photosynthesis with the help of solar energy. They then build starch from the sugar molecules. Like animal glycogen, starch consists of numerous interlinked glucose building blocks. Animal foods contain much lower amounts of carbohydrates than vegetable foods because animals, like humans, mainly store their energy in the form of fat. In addition to the glycogen that the body stores in the muscles and the liver, there is also a carbohydrate in milk: lactose - milk sugar.

In the body, carbohydrates are mainly used as energy suppliers, energy stores and as components of DNA / RNA. In their function as an energy supplier, they have different effects on the blood sugar level depending on the duration of their intake. Long-chain, complex carbohydrates can be classified as healthier than the single or double sugars, as they cause the blood sugar level to rise more slowly and the energy they contain cannot be broken down and utilized as well. The glycemic index or the glycemic load can be used as a measure of the rate of increase in blood sugar due to the uptake of carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates such as starch, glycogen and fiber also have a strong satiating effect.


Dietary fibers are carbohydrates that can hardly or not at all be broken down in the small intestine and thus reach the large intestine undigested. There they bind water, provide, among other things. for a sufficient filling of the digestive tract and accelerate the time of the intestinal passage through an increased stool volume. As a result, the intestines come into contact with possible toxins for a shorter period of time, which promotes intestinal health. Bacteria that reside in the large intestine can break down water-soluble fiber. This means that they are available to the intestinal cells to a limited extent as a source of energy. Fiber is only found in plant-based foods, primarily in grains and whole grain cereal products, vegetables, fruits, and legumes. Further information on dietary fiber can be found in the chapters "Disorders of lipid metabolism" and "Whole food".

Monosaccharides (Simple sugar)Glucose - grape sugar
Fructose - fruit sugar
easily soluble; are absorbed into the blood very quickly; taste sweetComponents of multiple sugars; Glucose and fructose are found in fruits and honey
Disaccharides (Double sugar)Sucrose - table sugar
Maltose - malt sugar
Lactose - milk sugar
are readily soluble; are quickly absorbed into the blood; taste slightly sweet to sweetSucrose comes among other things. in sugar beet before; Maltose et al. in germinating barley; Lactose et al. in milk
Oligosaccharides (Sugar with
up to nine sugar components)
well soluble; only split bacterially in the large intestine; mostly cuteRaffinose in sugar beet, stachyose in butterflies and cucurbits
Polysaccharides (Polysaccharide)Strength
must first be split; go slowly into the blood; don't taste sweetStrength comes among other things. found in cereals, vegetables and potatoes; Glycogen is a "storage carbohydrate"; Found in the liver and muscles
Polysaccharides (Fiber)Cellulose
are only partially digestible; increase stool volume; bind toxinsDietary fiber is found in plant-based foods (grain, fruit, vegetables, legumes, etc.), inulin in artichokes, chicory, Jerusalem artichokes


Vitamins are basically divided into water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins. They are found in both animal and plant foods. Without them, almost nothing works in the human body, because vitamins work as co-enzymes with enzymes and in this way regulate many metabolic processes.

As essential nutrients, vitamins must be taken in with food. The body can better absorb fat-soluble vitamins in combination with fat. Humans can convert some vitamins from a preliminary stage, the so-called provitamins (e.g. ß-carotene to vitamin A).

An insufficient intake of vitamins can lead to vitamin deficiency diseases. With some vitamins, usually fat-soluble rather than water-soluble vitamins (e.g. vitamin A), an excessive intake can be harmful and cause illnesses.

Vitamins are very sensitive to water, heat and light. Fruit and vegetables should therefore be bought at short notice, stored in a dark, dry and usually cool place and prepared in a short time, because this kind of procedure is gentle on sensitive vitamins.

More about fat-soluble vitamins

More about water-soluble vitamins

Minerals / trace elements / ultra-trace elements

Minerals and trace elements are inorganic components of our food. They are also vital, with a wide range of tasks for growth and metabolism.

Based on the amount supplied, a distinction is made between:

  • Bulk elements (e.g. calcium, potassium, magnesium)
  • Trace elements (e.g. iodine, selenium, zinc)
  • Ultra trace elements, of which only the smallest amounts are likely to be significant

More information on set elements

More about trace elements

Ultra trace elements

These elements are sufficiently supplied through the diet, which is why there is no known deficiency. The body probably only needs them in the smallest amounts. There is evidence from animal experiments that they are essential. In higher quantities, however, the substances listed here have a toxic effect and harm people.

This includes: Aluminum, antimony, arsenic, barium, bismuth, lead, boron, bromine, cadmium, cesium, germanium, lithium, mercury, rubidium, samarium, silicon, strontium, thallium, titanium, tungsten.


At over 60%, water makes up the largest proportion of the human body. As a solvent, water is of central importance for the transport and excretion of substances. It is also involved in many important metabolic processes. In addition to beverages - experts recommend around 1.5 liters per day - and foods that contain more or less large amounts of water, enzymes also release water when the main nutrients in the body are broken down. The body uses these sources to replace the water it loses, because around 2.5 liters of water are lost every day through breathing, sweat and urine. A diet rich in protein and salt, diarrhea, fever and warm temperatures also increases the (drinking) requirement.