Organic vs Inorganic Nutrients: Differences & Importance

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  • 0:01 Nutrients
  • 1:13 Organic Nutrients
  • 3:43 Inorganic Nutrients
  • 4:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

The presence or absence of carbon is what differentiates organic nutrients from inorganic nutrients. Carbohydrates, lipids, proteins and vitamins have carbon in their structure, making them organic. Water and minerals do not, so they are inorganic.


Let me start this lesson by discussing what it is not about. This lesson is not about foods grown without chemicals vs. grown with them. If it was, we would be discussing organic foods vs. non-organic foods. This is a whole different topic. In this lesson, we will talk about nutrients, not foods.

Nutrients are defined as substances found in foods that allow your body to make energy, build and maintain tissues and regulate bodily processes. As you can see, nutrients are very important to your body's health, and we can obtain six classes of nutrients from the foods we eat. These classes include carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, vitamins, minerals and water.

While all these nutrients are needed by your body, they have different chemical structures that allow us to group them into two categories: we can call them organic nutrients if they contain carbon or inorganic nutrients if they do not contain carbon. Let's take a look at which categories our nutrients fit under and why they are important.

Organic Nutrients

Let's start our conversation by taking a look at organic nutrients. The term 'organic' refers to life, and we learned that organic nutrients contain carbon. Carbon is an important element not only in organic nutrients but for all of life on Earth. In fact, it might help you recall the importance of carbon in organic nutrients if you refer to carbon as the element of life. The organic nutrients include carbohydrates, lipids, proteins and vitamins. When we look at their basic chemical structure, we see that they all contain carbon, usually shown as a 'C.'

Now, if there's one thing you need for life, it's energy, and when we consider the importance of organic nutrients, the word 'energy' should come to your mind. Carbohydrates, lipids and proteins that come from the foods you eat directly provide your body with energy because they contain calories. In fact, these three nutrients are collectively referred to as the energy-yielding nutrients.

Vitamins do not contain calories, so they do not directly supply your body with energy, but they are indirectly linked to it. This is because certain vitamins are necessary for energy metabolism, which means they help your body convert calorie-containing nutrients into energy. Vitamins serve other roles as well, such as maintaining your vision, protecting your cells from damage and helping your blood clot.

When we look at the three energy-yielding nutrients individually, we see that carbohydrates are considered as the most important nutrient for immediate energy. This is because carbohydrates are easily converted to energy. Lipids, which are also referred to as fats, are important energy nutrients as well. In fact, lipids are the most energy-dense of the three energy-yielding nutrients. We see that each gram of fat contains nine calories, whereas each gram of carbohydrate or protein contains four calories.

The high storage of energy in lipids make them a great source of stored energy. Proteins do contain calories, which means they can be burned for energy; however, your body doesn't like to use them because they are important for growth, development and tissue repair. If proteins were a primary source of energy, they would be unavailable for these other life-sustaining functions.

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