You have probably heard of macronutrients, fats, proteins and carbs, but you may find self a little hazy when it comes to micronutrients. Don’t get me wrong, the topic of macronutrients can be just as bewildering but it my experience we hear a great deal more about the macronutrients than the micronutrients and in my opinion it is the micronutrients that do the majority of the heavy lifting when it comes to keeping our bodies running optimally.
I am going to do my best to break down the topic of micronutrients to give you a better understanding of what they are, why we need them, and where to find them. This is by no means an exhaustive guide and I don’t consider myself an expert when it comes to nutrition. I do consider myself an enthusiastic enthusiast and I have been exploring aspects of living a healthy lifestyle since my teens. There may be things you come across in this post that will warrant further investigation but I hope that this post will act as a good starting point to help you understand the role that micronutrients play in our lives.
What are micronutrients and what do they do?
Micronutrients are an important group of vitamins and minerals that the body needs to properly support the many complex functions of the body. These functions include the conversion of the macronutrients to fuel for energy, keeping our immune system armed to fight infections, maintaining bone health, building and maintaining muscle, tissue repair… the list goes on!
Basically, everything that your body does requires micronutrients, vitamins and minerals, in varying amounts.
Vitamins and minerals can be broken down further… here we go!
Vitamins fall into two categories, water-soluble and fat-soluble.
Water-soluble vitamins are easily dissolved in water in the body and are not stored. Any excess is eliminated through our urine. Since we can’t store these we need a regular supply. Vitamins B (the lot of them), and C fall into this camp.
Fat-soluble vitamins, however, can be stored away in the body’s fat stores for use later. Consuming these vitamins with a fat source can help with absorption, fortunately these vitamins are usually found in foods with fat. Because we can store them away we don’t need to consume them as regularly as the water-soluble vitamins. Vitamins A, K, E and D are fat-soluble.
For minerals, we have the macro minerals, and the trace minerals. Macro minerals are generally required in relatively larger proportions to ensure they can do their designated jobs properly. In this category we have the electrolytes (calcium, phosphorous, sodium, potassium, and chloride) and sulphur. We only require small amounts of the trace minerals which includes iron, manganese, cobalt, iodine, zinc, copper, fluoride, and selenium.
Each micronutrient serves a vital role, often multiple roles, in maintaining a healthy body and mind.
Where do micronutrients come from?
There are two ways that we can get the micronutrients we need. One way is through supplementation, but the ideal way is through eating good quality food. Think of the food we eat as ‘containers’ for micronutrients. Supplements are useful but seek out whole food options first and use supplements as a top up if needed. I take Magnesium supplements because I seem to need a lot of it and as far as minerals go it is an important one.
Not all food is created equal, just to complicate matters even more. In order for the food we eat, whether it be fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy, or meat, the plant or animal has had to have a good ‘diet’ with access to sufficient micronutrients to adequately support its own growth and metabolic functions – otherwise they become ’empty’ containers for micronutrients.
For plants, this means that the soil that they are grown in must be high in nutrients at the right pH so the plants can access the nutrients, and for animals this means that they have been fed a quality feed. Choosing food that comes from farms that incorporate organic practices, whether certified or not, is a great start for ensuring that what you’re eating, whether plant or animal, has had a good life.
To wrap up…
Micronutrients are important for the unhindered functioning of our brilliant bodies. Deficiencies over the long term in a particular micronutrient could lead to disease, illness, or a range of other symptoms that may start off mildly but increase in severity over time. To keep our bodies in top shape we need to ensure that we are eating high quality whole foods that have a greater chance of containing a range of vitamins and minerals.