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What is a nutrient?

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Quick Answer

A nutrient is a substance that is necessary to sustain life, according to National Geographic. A nutrient is an element crucial to the life and growth of people, animals and plants.

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As National Geographic describes, nutrients provide energy to living things. Water and soil give plants nutrients that they, in turn, use to create their own food, while humans and animals consume food and water to obtain their essential nutrients. Essential nutrients are nutrients the body cannot create on its own.

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, or NCDA&CS, explains that plants need a total of 16 nutrients to live and grow. The three non-mineral nutrients that plants need are hydrogen, oxygen and carbon, while the 13 other nutrients are divided into two categories. Macronutrients are needed in large quantities but are usually missing from the soil, while Micronutrients are needed in smaller quantities and can frequently be introduced from decomposing organic material.

National Geographic states that the essential nutrients necessary for human survival are grouped into the following categories: carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals. The recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans provide a rough idea of what nutrients, and in what quantities, humans should consume.

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