Essential nutrients are components in foodthat your body can’t make on its own, andthat we need to grow, function, and stay healthy. So we must get these nutrients through ourdiets. There are six classes of essential nutrients. Carbohydrates are the main source of calories,or energy, in the diet. Fats also give us energy and help with normalgrowth and development, immune function, vitaminabsorption, hormone production, and more. Proteins, and the amino acids they are madeof, are major structural components of ourbodies’ cells, and are responsible for buildingand repair of tissues, and maintenance ofmuscle and lean body mass. There are 13 essential vitamins which haveimportant jobs such as keeping our nerveshealthy, helping us resist infection, assistingwith blood clotting, and keeping our metabolismrunning. Minerals are only needed in small amountsbut play a vital role in muscle contraction,fluid balance, food digestion, bone building,blood pressure regulation, and more. Water is also an essential nutrient that deliversother nutrients to cells, regulates the bodytemperature, acts as a shock absorber andlubricant, and helps in the removal of wastefrom the body. Bioactive compounds are not considered essentialbecause they haven’t been shown to lead todeficiencies if they’re missing in the diet. However, they may positively impact health. Bioactives are a big part of nutrition researchand scientists are trying to better understandand unlock their potential health benefits. Bioactives that you have likely heard of arecarotenoids. These colorful plant pigments found in brightred, yellow, and orange fruits and vegetables–act as powerful antioxidants and may helpprevent some types of cancer and heart disease,reduce the risk of eye disease, and enhancethe immune system and more. Resveratrol is another bioactive found inthe skin of grapes, blueberries, raspberries,and mulberries that may reduce the risk ofheart disease. Flavanols are a part of the flavanoid familythat are found in tea, red wine, and cocoaand may positively influence our cardiovascularhealth. Phytosterols are steroid compounds in plantsthat may lower cholesterol and improve cardiovascularhealth. Phytoestrogens, found in many plants includingsoy and other legumes, are also being studiedfor their potential in reducing the risk ofbreast cancer. Healthy eating is important at every age,but the amount of nutrients we need, and ourbodies’ ability to process them, can changeover time and depend on your personal healthstatus. As you age, you may need more Vitamin D andcalcium for bone health, more B12 for brainand blood health, and more fiber for a healthydigestive system. Some people may also need more water as theirsense of thirst declines. Your medical conditions, or the medicationsyou take, may also require you to adjust yourdiet. It’s important to talk with your health careteam when deciding the best nutrition planfor you. But most people can get the healthy nutrientsthey need from a well-rounded diet of nutrient-richfruits and vegetables, lean proteins, andwhole grains–such as those recommended inthe US Dietary Guidelines. Some people with deficiencies, certain diseasesand conditions, or with evolving nutritionalneeds at different stages of life, may considerdietary supplements to add missing nutritionto their diets. Supplements include vitamins, minerals, herbalsand botanicals, amino acids, enzymes, andbioactives. You may be one of the many adults that takesa dietary supplement of some kind, but doyou know enough about what is safe and whatyou can trust?Too often what’s popular one day, seems tomake headlines the next for being unsafe. The Food and Drug Administration that regulatesthe safety and effectiveness of drugs andmedical devices, also regulates dietary supplements. But supplements are not regulated as strictlyas drugs, because they have been consideredto be more like food than drugs. For example, companies don’t need to get approvalbefore producing or selling their supplementsand don’t have to provide evidence to supporttheir claims about the produce before marketingthem. There are many safe dietary supplement optionsout there that can help keep you healthy,and even improve your health, but there areothers that may not be safe for you. This makes being an informed consumer important. When choosing a supplement talk to your healthcare team about all the prescription and OTCmedications you are taking, AND all of thesupplements. They can advise you on their safety, as wellas how they might interact with your medications. Avoid mega-doses of supplements, which maybe more than your body needs, and even causeyou harm. Keep in mind that the term natural doesn’talways mean safe. And watch out for claims that seem too goodto be true. When searching for information on-line, turnto trusted sources. Look for authors who are academics, expertsin the field, government agency employees,and well-respected members of the medicalcommunity. Also look to see if the claims come from studiesthat have been reviewed by other experts inthe field. If you still have questions, ask someone fromyour health care team, or visit the Officeof Dietary Supplements at the National Institutesof Health. To learn more about what scientists are discoveringabout the role of nutrition in cardiovascularhealth, watch Heart Healthy Aging with Nutritionat www. agingresearch. org/nutrition.