As integral members of the healthcare team, nursing assistants need to have a basic knowledge of nutrition and hydration in order to provide acceptable care to their patients. Nutrition is defined as the the manner in which the foods that a person consumes affects the body. Likewise, a nutrient is a compound in food that is essential to life and good health, providing individuals "with energy, the building blocks for repair and growth and substances necessary to regulate chemical processes" (Australian Government Department of Health, 2013).
There are six essential nutrients: water, protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. The human body needs these six essential nutrients in predetermined quantities to remain in good health. Out of all the nutrients, water is the most essential because humans can live an average of only three days without it before dying. Every body cell must be bathed in water to stay alive; in addition, water is active in many chemical reactions and carries other nutrients, regulates temperature, and helps eliminate wastes (LinksNorth, n.d.).
Protein is needed by the body for growth, ongoing maintenance and repair of cells, tissues and organs. The muscles and immune system are comprised of proteins. Animal sources of proteins include meats such as beef, chicken, pork and lamb, as well as dairy products like milk and eggs. Plant-based protein sources include foods such as nuts, beans, peanut butter and soy milk. Also, bread, pasta and rice are considered plant-based sources of protein.
Fats, also called lipids, are needed by the body to maintain optimal health. Dietary fats make certain fat-soluble "vitamins available for use in the body, they cushion vital organs, they comprise part of all body cells, and they help maintain body temperature" (LinksNorth, n.d.). Fats also tend to minimize feelings of hunger when consumed since meals that contain plenty of dietary fat promote fullness and remain in the stomach longer than other energy sources.
Carbohydrates, known as 'carbs' for short, are required by the body as a main source of energy. Carbohydrates are broken down during the process of digestion and go into the bloodstream as glucose. Blood glucose is better known as blood sugar. The human brain needs a constant supply of blood glucose to stay healthy. If an individual's blood glucose level remains too low for too long, permanent brain damage can happen. Therefore, carbohydrate is an essential nutrient.
Vitamins are a group of organic "substances that are needed for normal cell function, growth, and development" (MedlinePlus, 2020). There are 13 essential vitamins that the human body cannot produce on its own, each with very specific functions in the body. For instance, vitamin K is needed for the blood clotting process, and vitamin C is important for wound healing, immunity, body tissues, skin health, proper iron absorption, and healthy teeth and gums.
Minerals are a group of inorganic substances that assist the human body with growth, development and maintenance of good health. A multitude of different minerals exist. Examples of well-known minerals include calcium and iron. Calcium is crucial to multiple bodily processes such as blood clotting, muscle contraction, heart function and bone formation. Iron is necessary for helping the red blood cells and the muscles of the body to properly store, carry and utilize oxygen.