We hear plenty about carbohydrates, fat, and protein. These 3 are macronutrients. Consuming the correct number of macronutrients can do wonders for your body and help you to achieve your best physique.
However, we hear very little about micronutrients. Micronutrients are needed in smaller amounts, but they are still important. In fact, many physiological processes depend on micronutrients. Micronutrients have a dramatic impact on health and well-being.
Vitamin C, a micronutrient, is involved in collagen synthesis. When we get an inadequate amount of vitamin C it causes our gums, joints and skin to become weaker. Likewise, sodium and potassium regulate blood pressure and keep our heart beating at a consistent clip. Even small adjustments to blood levels of these minerals can be harmful.
WHAT ARE MICONUTRIENTS?
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. They are needed in much smaller quantities than macronutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrates), but support a variety of physiological functions. Some micronutrients, like vitamin D, can be synthesized by our bodies under the right conditions. The rest need to be obtained through food.
THE ROLE OF MICRONUTIENTS
Vitamins and minerals are responsible for many reactions including:
- Turn on/off genes
- Transform nutrients into energy
- Form new tissues
- Clean up free radical damage
- Maintain organs and systems
There are two types of vitamins: water soluble and fat soluble.
Water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water and are excreted through urine.
Water-soluble vitamins include:
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
- Pantothenic acid
- Vitamin C
Fat-soluble vitamins dissolve in fat and are stored in the liver. They can be toxic in excessive quantities.
Fat-soluble vitamins include:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
Minerals are grouped into two categories: macrominerals and trace elements.
Macrominerals are needed in larger quantities than trace elements.
Minerals such as sodium and potassium are electrolytes that are vital for nerve and muscle function, and fluid balance.
MAXIMIZE YOUR MICRONUTRIENT INTAKE
EAT THE RAINBOW
Add three vegetables at every meal, and vary your choices from day-to-day and week-to-week. Consider eating what is in season for assortment.
RULE OF 4
Stick to these 4 food groups: fruit and vegetables, whole-grain carbohydrates, lean protein, and plant-based fat. Eat a combination of these types of foods at every meal to receive different nutrients!
KEEP YOUR MENU FRESH
Add some new meals to your weekly rotation. Eat a combination of raw and cooked produce. Nutrients are lost through cooking, so eating a combination is your best bet to maximize your micronutrients.
OPT FOR WHOLE FOODS OVER SUPPLEMENTS
Do not rely solely on supplements to help you to achieve your health and fitness goals. Supplements are not food, they are supplements—-which only supple your diet.
Some supplements contain massive micronutrient doses which could put you at greater risk for toxicity.
Go for food first, and only supplement when you absolutely need to.
PAIR FOODS TOGETHER WISELY TO MAXIMIZE NUTRIENT ABSORPTION
- Iron-rich foods + vitamin C rich foods
- Calcium-rich foods + vitamin C rich foods
- Fat-soluble vitamins + plant-based oils
FOCUS ON THESE MICRONUTRIENTS
Here is a list of specific micronutrients people tend to fall short on:
Choline is important for brain function, fat metabolism and cell integrity. Research suggests most people consume less than the adequate amounts of choline, which appears to impact the liver, heart and neurological system.
Food sources: Beef, eggs, soybeans, chicken, fish, mushroom, potatoes and wheat germ.
Vitamin D increases calcium absorption from the gut and is an important nutrient for bone health and immunity. Vitamin D is hard to find in food but can be synthesized internally from sunlight exposure and cholesterol. The problem is many of us don’t get enough sunlight to meet our vitamin D requirements, particularly during the winter. As a result, many people (unknowingly) have low vitamin-D levels.
Food sources: Cod liver oil, salmon, sardines, egg yolk, vitamin-D fortified milk and yogurt.
Calcium is well-known for its bone-building benefits, but that’s not all it does. It’s also important for heart and muscle function. Many people have ditched dairy in favor of plant-based options, however, not all plant-milks are fortified with calcium. Consequently, many people fall short of the daily calcium recommendations.
Food sources: Milk, yogurt, cheese, fortified plant-based dairy alternatives, tofu made with calcium, sardines, kale and Chinese cabbage.
PLANT-BASED DIETDS & MICRONUTRIENTS
Thinking of going plant-based? Perhaps you already have. Going vegetarian or vegan can be a nourishing, wholesome way to eat, however, there are a few additional micronutrient considerations when animal products are removed from your diet:
Vitamin B12 only occurs naturally in animal products. Plant-based eaters should consume fortified foods like cereals or nutritional yeast to achieve adequate intake. B12 deficiency can lead to neurological damage, changes in behavior and mood, and fatigue, among other things.
Iron is found in some plant-based products like legumes, spinach and tofu. This type of iron tends to be less bioavailable than that found in meat. Iron deficiency anemia can dramatically impact energy levels and immunity.
Zinc is found in some plant-based foods like beans and nuts, however, like iron, zinc in plant-based food tends to be less bioavailable than zinc in animal products. Zinc is a catalyst for many enzymes. It is involved in immunity, wound healing and cell division. Vegetarians and vegans should eat zinc-rich plant foods most days of the week.
Vegetarians who avoid dairy along with vegans need to incorporate a wide variety of calcium-rich plant foods like kale, fortified cereals, fortified plant milk, tofu made with calcium, broccoli and Chinese cabbage to meet their calcium needs. Inadequate calcium intake can impact bone health, particularly as we get older.