Everything you need to know about Micronutrients and how they impact your health
Nutrition seems simple enough, but when we start to delve into the specifics of nutrition, we find that it is quite complex. What we call nutrients—the basic compounds which feed and fuel the body—these break down into different categories. Nutrients consist of macronutrients and micronutrients.
Macronutrients are things like proteins and carbohydrates. These are largely chemical compounds that we frequently find in our most common foods. Meats, for example, are basically complex proteins and fats. These are macronutrients. On the other hand, micronutrients are those nutrients that the body requires in smaller quantities but are nevertheless essential for our health and wellness.
Micronutrients are as common as macronutrients, but they may not be as clear when it comes to making choices about what to eat and how much to eat. As we will see below, micronutrients break down even further into other more specific categories.
While we often pay close attention to macronutrients, we may not be as aware of micronutrients when making choices for healthy diets. Most of us know to get plenty of protein, watch our carb intake, and be selective when it comes to the types of fats we eat. We may not be as careful where micronutrients are concerned.
What are micronutrients? What are the various types of micronutrients? And what are the benefits of micronutrients? This guide will give you all the information you need to understand and get the most out of micronutrients.
What are micronutrients?
Micronutrients really refer to all the vitamins and minerals necessary for good health. This is opposed to macronutrients which consist of things like proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Our bodies require specific quantities of both macronutrients and micronutrients in our diets since the human body cannot produce these things. This is why both micronutrients and macronutrients are commonly called essential nutrients.
Vitamins are organic compounds produced by plants and animals that can be converted into essential organic compounds in the body. Minerals, on the other hand, are inorganic compounds. Many of these exist in soil and water but are concentrated in plant and animal sources.
Since the micronutrient concentration in any given dietary source is different, we need to eat a variety of foods in order to obtain all the micronutrients we need and in the correct quantities.
Each micronutrient plays a specific role in the body. Vitamins and minerals are vital for natural functions like the immune system, brain development, and basic metabolism. Everything from fighting disease to the fundamental composition of our blood depends on micronutrients.
Types of micronutrients
Micronutrients can be divided into four categories: water-soluble, fat-soluble, microminerals, and trace minerals. No matter the category, micronutrients are absorbed by the body in similar ways and each interacts with the body on multiple levels.
Most vitamins are water-soluble. For this reason, they are not easily stored in the body since they flush out of our system as easily as they are absorbed. Each of the water-soluble micronutrients provides specific benefits, but these benefits overlap with each other in many ways.
Most water-soluble micronutrients are crucial for producing energy, but many of them perform other important functions.
Fat-soluble micronutrients do not dissolve in water. They are absorbed with and in fats. Most fat-soluble micronutrients are stored in the liver and fatty tissues in the body for later use.
Macrominerals trace minerals are similar. The real difference is that macrominerals are simply larger and come in higher concentrations.
Trace minerals are small quantities of certain types of elements the body needs only in micro-quantities. These are rarer but no less essential.
Health benefits of micronutrients
All micronutrients are essential for our bodies. To that extent, the benefits of micronutrients begin with the fact that we will not survive without them. In order to stay healthy, fight disease, and maintain the basic functions of the body, we need specific levels of micronutrients in our diet every day.
Some micronutrients are natural antioxidants. The main role of these micronutrients is to absorb and help eliminate free radicals and reduce the physiological conditions that produce inflammation. Antioxidants are also known to protect against cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and heart disease.
Specifically, vitamins A and C lower your risk of some types of cancer. Vitamin A is also known to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Vitamin E helps reduce the onset of neurodegeneration that leads to Alzheimer’s disease.
Some minerals are also useful to prevent certain types of disease. Selenium, for example, can decrease your risk of heart disease by as much as 24 percent.
Other studies have shown that increasing your intake of calcium can also reduce your risk of heart disease.
The bottom line on the health benefits of micronutrients is that they maintain our bodies at the most elemental levels. Every natural system in the body requires micronutrients to function properly. As we will see, not getting enough of certain micronutrients leads to health problems and some of these problems can be quite serious.
Micronutrient food sources
With such a wide variety of compounds that make up the category of micronutrients, there are many food sources for each of the main micronutrients. A list of the most notable micronutrients and the best sources from foods is below:
Vitamin A (retinol)
Beef liver, fortified cereal, eggs, butter, fortified milk.
Vitamin B1 (thiamine):
Fortified cereal, bread, pork, enriched white rice, brown rice, peas, macadamia nuts, sunflower seeds, beans, lentils, cantaloupes.
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin):
Milk, fortified cereal, bread, eggs, almonds, clams, spinach, chicken, beef, asparagus, salmon, cheese, broccoli.
Vitamin B3 (niacin):
Fortified cereal, bread, fish, light-meat chicken and turkey, beef, mushrooms, peanuts, avocados.
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid):
Avocados, yogurt, chicken, sweet potatoes, milk, lentils, eggs, peas, mushrooms, fish, broccoli.
Turkey, chicken, fortified cereal, bread, potatoes (with skin), fish, prunes, bananas, hazelnuts, walnuts, pork, beans.
Vitamin B7 (biotin):
Beef liver, eggs, salmon, avocados, yeast, whole-wheat bread, pork, cheese.
Vitamin B9 (folate):
Beans, lentils, asparagus, spinach, peanuts, peas, corn, chicken, orange juice Folic Acid enriched rice or products made with enriched flours, such as cereal, pasta, or bread.
Clams, mussels, crab meat, salmon, beef, rockfish, milk, cheese, eggs, chicken, turkey, fortified cereal.
Chili peppers, sweet peppers, guavas, kiwifruits, strawberries, oranges, kale, spinach, broccoli, grapefruit, potatoes, tomatoes.
Fish (especially salmon, tuna, herring, sardines, and mackerel), eggs, fortified soy milk, fortified orange juice, fortified milk, fortified cereal. Vitamin D is also derived from sunlight.
Olive oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, spinach, carrots, avocados.
Kale, chard, parsley, broccoli, spinach, watercress, leaf lettuce, cashews, peas, soybean oil, canola oil, olive oil, mayonnaise, naturally fermented food.
Milk, yogurt, cheese, tofu (calcium set), fortified beverages, fortified cereal, rhubarb, spinach, almonds, white beans, bok choy, kale, pinto beans, red beans, broccoli.
Broccoli, grape juice, sweet potatoes, orange juice, beef, turkey, chicken, apples (with peel), green beans, tomatoes, bananas.
Beef liver, oysters, crab meat, clams, sunflower seeds, kale, cashews, lentils, beans, mushrooms, cocoa powder, raisins, peanut butter.
Cod, iodized salt, potatoes (with skin), milk, shrimp, turkey, navy beans, tuna, eggs, seaweed.
Beef, fortified cereal, beans, oysters, molasses, lentils, firm tofu, kidney beans, cashews, spinach, potatoes (with skin), shrimp, light tuna, eggs, tomatoes, dark meat chicken and turkey, raisins, prunes.
Pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews, beans, spinach, milk, figs, brown rice, cocoa powder, molasses, peanuts, pineapple, okra, milk, bananas.
Beans, potatoes (with skin), prunes, raisins, acorn squash, bananas, spinach, tomato juice, artichokes, molasses, tomatoes, oranges.
Baked goods, processed meat, restaurant food, pizza, canned soups, table salt.
Oysters, beef, crab meat, dark-meat chicken and turkey, pork, yogurt, milk, cashews, chickpeas, almonds, peanuts, cheese.
There are other trace micronutrients, but these are found in many of the food sources listed above. Sodium is an important micronutrient. However, many people consume too much sodium which can lead to dangerous health problems like hypertension.
Effects of Micronutrient deficiencies
Since the body requires micronutrients to function properly, a deficiency of any micronutrient will necessarily lead to health problems. Some micronutrient deficiencies are more common than others. Some of the most common micronutrient deficiencies include:
Iron deficiency is the most common micronutrient deficiency in the world It affects about 25 percent of the world’s population. Anemia happens when your red blood cells decrease and your blood cannot carry sufficient oxygen. The most common symptom of iron deficiency is anemia. This causes tiredness, weakness, a weakened immune system, and impaired brain function.
Iodine is crucial for the proper functioning of the thyroid which produces hormones. Thyroid hormones are necessary for growth, brain development, and bone health. Thyroid hormones also help regulate your metabolic rate. Iodine deficiency can lead to an enlarged thyroid gland, also called goiter. This leads to increased heart rate, shortness of breath, and weight gain. Iodine deficiency in children can cause mental retardation and developmental abnormalities.
Vitamin D deficiency:
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble micronutrient that functions as a steroid. It is produced from cholesterol when sunlight interacts with the skin. People who live a regions furthest from the equator tend to be the most likely to develop vitamin D deficiency. Many foods today are fortified with vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency develops over time. It can lead to bone loss, bone fractures, and soft bones (Ricketts).
Vitamin B12 deficiency:
Vitamin B12 is essential for blood formation, as well as brain and nerve function. A deficiency of vitamin B12 can cause impaired brain function and a blood disorder that enlarges red blood cells. B12 absorption is more complex than that of other vitamins because it's aided by a protein known as an intrinsic factor. Some people are lacking in this protein and may thus need B12 injections or higher doses of supplements.
Calcium is necessary for bone development and healthy teeth. The most common symptom of calcium deficiency in adults is soft and fragile bones, a condition known as osteoporosis.
Vitamin A deficiency:
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin necessary for healthy skin, teeth, bones, and cell membranes. Vitamin A deficiency can cause eye damage which can lead to temporary or even permanent blindness.
Magnesium is needed for healthy bones and teeth. It is also important for over 200 enzyme functions. Magnesium deficiency contributes to the development of type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and osteoporosis.
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It is safe to say that most of us know something about vitamins and minerals. These are the things that maintain wellness and that all of us look for in the foods we eat. What we may not be aware of is that vitamins and minerals are just two features of the broader category we know as micronutrients.
Micronutrients are just as essential to our health as the big macronutrients like protein and carbohydrates. While many of us lock into things like proteins, carbohydrates, and fats as features of our diets, especially if we are health conscious, we may not be as aware of micronutrients as we should. There are real consequences to not getting enough of all the important micronutrients.
What is more, even the healthiest diets and exercise programs will ultimately fail if we are not paying attention to micronutrients Many of the micronutrients are crucial to a properly functioning metabolism and for building muscle.
Thankfully, all micronutrients can be obtained from dietary sources. Most of these micronutrients are plentiful in just about any healthy diet. Should you need a supplement for micronutrients, Spartan Detox provides a full line of healthy vitamin and mineral supplements to help you get all the micronutrients you need to stay healthy.