With all the talk about macronutrients, I thought that micronutrients deserved some attention. As you probably know, macronutrients (carbs, protein, fats) are the body’s source of energy (calories) to fuel life processes. Many health conscious people count their macros to either lose weight or to stay on track with healthy eating. Micronutrients, as defined by the World Health Organization, are the “magic wands” needed in small amounts that enable the body to produce enzymes, hormones, and other substances essential for proper growth and development.
Micronutrients consist of vitamins, minerals, and water. When we get the right amounts, it leads to optimal health and function.
Vitamins are substances that your body needs in order to develop and grow normally. There are 13 different vitamins that are essential. We can get all of these through food with the exception of vitamin D, which we can self-produce with sun exposure and vitamin K and biotin, which can be made by normal intestinal flora (bacteria that live in the intestines).
The best way to get all the necessary vitamins is to eat a well balanced diet with a variety of foods. In some cases, you might need to take a supplement, but it’s best to ask your medical provider. High doses of some vitamins can be harmful and cause problems!
Vitamins are divided into 2 categories: water- soluble and fat-soluble. Water-soluble vitamins (with the exception of B6 & B12) cannot be stored in the body, so it’s necessary to maintain a consistent daily intake. Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the liver or fat tissue and can be stored in the body for a long amount of time.
Here are the 13 different vitamins that we need and the best sources:
- thiamin (B1): fortified cereals and oatmeal, whole grains, meat, liver
- riboflavin (B2): whole grains, leafy greens, organ meat, milk, eggs
- niacin: fish, poultry, meat, peanuts, potatoes, eggs, dairy products
- pantothentic acid: lean meats, whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits
- folate: green leafy vegetables, organ meats, dried peas, beans, lentils
- B6: fish,poultry, lean meats, banana, prunes, dried beans, avocado, whole grains
- B12: meats, milk products, seafood
- biotin: cereal/grain products, yeast, legumes, liver
- vitamin C: citrus fruits, berries, vegetables (especially peppers)
- vitamin A: yellow or orange fruits & vegetables, leafy greens, liver, dairy
- vitamin D: sunlight, fortified milk, fish, eggs
- vitamin E: nuts, wheat germ, leafy greens, multigrain cereals
- vitamin K: green leafy vegetables, fruit, dairy, grains
Minerals are crucial for human life. Our bodies use minerals to keep our bones, muscles, heart, and brain working accordingly. Minerals are also important in making hormones and enzymes. There are two categories of minerals: macrominerals and microminerals (trace minerals). We need larger amounts of macrominerals and smaller amounts of trace minerals.
Macrominerals and best sources:
- calcium: leafy green vegetables, dairy products, fortified tofu
- phosphorous: fish, meat, poultry, eggs, grains
- magnesium: nuts, beans, green vegetables, whole grains
- sodium: table salt
- potassium: leafy greens, root vegetables, fruits
- chloride: table salt, sea salt, seaweed, olives
- sulfur: onions, garlic, eggs, meat, dairy
- iron: liver, legumes, dried fruits, eggs
- iodine: seafood, iodized salt
- zinc: beef, pork, nuts, whole grains, legumes
- selenium: vegetables, brazil nuts, fish, grains
There are various other minerals but they do not have an established dietary reference intake (DRI).
We might not think much about water, but it is considered a micronutrient! Water provides no calories but it’s necessary to consume daily. Water makes up 50-70% of body weight and performs many important jobs such as, regulating body temperature through perspiration, protecting vital organs, provides a driving force for nutrient absorption, and keeps a high blood volume for optimal athletic performance.
If we fail to get enough water throughout the day, we can become dehydrated due to our body fluids being out of balance. How much water we need is different for everyone. It is dependent upon age, weight and activity level. Certain medical conditions can also determine your water needs.
As you can see, getting the proper amount of micronutrients is extremely important for a healthy body. Of course, it’s not as easy to track micros as it is to track your macros. The best way to insure we are getting all our vitamins and minerals is to consume a balanced diet with a variety of foods.
Most studies have shown no significant connection between vitamin supplementation and improved health. There are a few exceptions such as folic acid during pregnancy and calcium in the prevention of recurring precancerous colon polyps. Of course, if you have a deficiency that was confirmed by your doctor, it’s important to get to the appropriate levels to help prevent medical problems.
*References: ACE’s Essentials of Exercise Science; MedlinePlus.gov*
Do you track Macros?
What do you do to insure you’re getting all of your micronutrients?