What Are Micronutrients? The Big Picture on Small Nutrients

If you’re a regular 8fit article reader or are already familiar with basic nutrition, then you’re likely well-acquainted as to what macronutrients are. But what are micronutrients? Micronutrients are defined as “micro” because you only need small amounts of each one.

But, don’t be fooled — micronutrients are still quite important. Imagine these nutrients acting like symphony conductors, waving their batons to orchestrate and guide the music that makes your body function — producing enzymes, hormones, and other substances that aid in your body’s growth and development. Even though you require these nutrients in small amounts, the absence of them can have a significant impact and can lead to certain health conditions or diseases down the line.

Nutrient deficiencies pose a severe dilemma in the health and development of populations around the world, particularly in low-income households or developing countries that may have restricted access to food or a limited variety of local produce. Even citizens of wealthier countries such as the United States are also at risk for nutrient deficiency due to food processing and the low-quality soil in industrialized farming.

The processing of foods results in the loss of nutrients. Many of these foods will then be fortified, but they still may miss some essential nutrients. The truth is the world we live in is one of industrialized and mass-produced foods to meet the consumption needs of growing populations. This means that to a large extent, most of us don’t have much influence on the quality of food we can access. Despite this, we can explain how you can maximize your micronutrient intake.

 

Macronutrients vs micronutrients

Before we dive into the magical world of micronutrients, let’s distinguish the difference between macronutrients and micronutrients. Micronutrients have no caloric value and include vitamins and minerals which your body requires in small amounts for normal metabolic function, growth, and health. Macronutrients, on the other hand, are needed in much larger quantities and provide our bodies with calories — including protein, carbohydrates, and fat.

What are micronutrients?

Micronutrients are nutrients predominantly obtained from food as the body produces only a very few. Even though your body only requires small amounts, when compared to macronutrients, they’re still vital for healthy bodily functions. Micronutrients are exclusively vitamins and minerals.

Vitamins

If you don’t get enough vitamins, disorders rooted in nutrient deficiency will occur. As science is continually on the cusp of discovery, we’re still uncovering new vitamins. Each vitamin has a specific function in the body and found in a variety of foods. Vitamins are organic and can be broken down by heat, air, or acid.

Did you know…
You can also nourish your body with non-food based micronutrients. Your gut bacteria produce vitamin K, while vitamin D radiates into your system from the sun, and iron (mineral) can even be obtained by cooking foods in cast-iron pans.

Minerals

These nutrients are essential for vitality and well-being. They include macrominerals and microminerals called trace minerals. You only require a tiny amount of microminerals (as the name indicates) while more of the macrominerals.

Micronutrients list

Vital vitamins

Vitamins come in two forms, water-soluble and fat-soluble. Water-soluble vitamins are easily lost through bodily fluids and need to be replaced every day. They include B-complex vitamins and vitamin C. Fat-soluble vitamins accumulate in your body and do not need topping up as frequently, in fact, in some cases it can be toxic to ingest too. If you’re taking any supplements, be careful when it comes to fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Vitamin A:

  • Assists: Plays a key role in vision and a healthy immune system
  • Sources: Sweet potato, carrots, spinach, broccoli, milk, and organic eggs

Thiamin (Vitamin B1):

  • Assists: The release of energy from protein and carbohydrates
  • Sources: Wholemeal bread, pork, brown rice, nuts, beans, and lentils

Riboflavin (Vitamin B2):

  • Assists: The release of energy from fat, carbohydrates, and protein; Involved in antioxidant enzymes
  • Sources: Organic eggs, chicken, almonds, grass-fed beef, cheese, and broccoli
chicken_with_apple_lentil_spinach_salad

Vitamin B6:

  • Assists: A variety of metabolic processes and supports neurotransmitter and DNA production as well as influences hormones
  • Sources: Turkey, chicken, wholemeal bread, potatoes, wild fish, unsalted nuts, and beans

Vitamin B12:

  • Assists: The release of energy from fat and protein as well as red blood cell production required for nerve function
  • Sources: Crab, wild salmon, dairy milk, cheese, organic eggs, chicken, and turkey

Biotin (Vitamin B7):

  • Assists: The release of energy from fat, carbohydrates, and protein as well as glucose production
  • Sources: Organic eggs, wild salmon, wholemeal bread, pork, and cheese

Vitamin C:

  • Assists: In collagen, serotonin, and adrenaline production and is a powerful antioxidant that helps immune cell function
  • Sources: Bell peppers, kiwi, strawberries, oranges, kale, spinach, broccoli, and tomatoes
History fact!
Centuries ago, British sailors learned that living for months without fresh fruits or vegetables, caused their gums to bleed. This condition called scurvy is caused by a vitamin C deficiency which comes from fresh fruits and vegetables!

Vitamin D:

  • Assists: Maintenance of calcium and phosphorus balance, promotes bone health and healthy immune function, also helps cell growth and development
  • Sources: Wild fish (salmon, tuna, herring), organic eggs, fortified foods like unsweetened soy milk

Vitamin E:

  • Assists: Protection of immune cells and is a potent antioxidant that supports nerve function
  • Sources: Olives and olive oil, almonds, avocado and sunflower oil

Folate (Vitamin B9):

  • Assists: Plays a key role in metabolism and production of proteins, including the formation of red blood cells, and synthesis of DNA
  • Sources: Organic eggs, dairy, asparagus, dark leafy greens, beans, and fortified foods

Vitamin K:

  • Assists: Blood clotting and bone metabolism
  • Sources: Leafy greens (kale, chard, broccoli), cashews and naturally fermented foods
sauerkraut_salad_with_bread_and_cottage_cheese

Niacin (Vitamin B3):

  • Assists: The release of energy from fat, carbohydrates, and protein
  • Sources: Organic chicken, turkey, wholemeal bread, grass-fed beef and peanuts

Pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5):

  • Assists: The release of energy from fat, carbohydrates, and protein, cholesterol, and steroid hormones
  • Sources: Yogurt, lentils, peas, wild fish, organic eggs, and chicken

Minerals

Minerals, just like vitamins, come in two forms: macrominerals and microminerals. Microminerals are only required in trace amounts, whereas we require macrominerals in larger doses.

Microminerals

Copper:

  • Assists: Energy production, neurotransmitter synthesis and tissue structure
  • Sources: Oysters, crab, sunflower seeds, kale, lentils, and mushrooms

Iodine:

  • Assists: The production of hormones, cognitive and brain development
  • Sources: Seaweed, seafood, and iodized salt

Iron:

  • Assists: Transportation of oxygen throughout the body (enzyme reactions in certain tissues prevents iron deficiency anemia)
  • Sources: Red meat,poultry, fish, leafy greens, lentils, and chickpeas
roasted_chickpeas_and_peanuts

Manganese:

  • Assists: Bone development, helps break down glucose and protein and is part of antioxidant enzymes
  • Sources: Brown rice, almonds, wholemeal bread, beans, and peanuts

Selenium:

  • Assists: Thyroid hormone function and is a component of antioxidant enzymes
  • Sources: Crab, salmon, pork, wholemeal bread, and unsalted nuts

Zinc:

  • Assists: Wound healing, reproductive function, growth, and cognitive and motor function
  • Sources: Liver, organic eggs, unsalted nuts, seafood, and fortified cereal

Chromium:

  • Assists: Insulin action
  • Sources: Organic chicken, grass-fed beef, green beans, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and broccoli
easy_baked_salmon_with_lentils_and_broccoli

Fluoride:

  • Assists: Structural component of bones and teeth
  • Sources: Fluoridated water, crab, beans, cereal and wild fish

Molybdenum:

  • Assists: Metabolism of proteins, DNA, drugs, and toxins
  • Sources: Beans, lentils, peas, grains and unsalted nuts

Macrominerals

Calcium:

  • Assists: Structural component of bones and teeth, required for nerve transmission and muscle contraction, influences blood pressure
  • Sources: Dairy (yogurt, milk, plant-based alternatives), spinach, sardines and canned salmon

Magnesium:

  • Assists: Structural component of bones, helps with enzyme reactions, nerve conduction and muscle contraction
  • Sources: Pumpkin seeds, unsalted nuts, beans, peanuts, and cocoa powder

Potassium:

  • Assists: Maintenance of fluid and electrolyte balance, required for nerve conduction and muscle contraction, lowers blood pressure
  • Sources: Potatoes, bananas, spinach, tomatoes and beans

Sodium:

  • Assists: Maintenance of fluid and electrolyte balance, required for nerve conduction and muscle contraction, increases blood pressure
  • Sources: Table salt, baked goods, processed meat, canned soup, cheese (note that these aren’t considered healthy foods, most of us already have too much sodium in our diets)

Chloride:

  • Assists: Functions as an electrolyte and helps create digestive enzymes
  • Sources: salt, seaweed, olives, celery

Phosphorus:

  • Assists: Energy production and storage as well as being a structural component of bones, teeth, DNA, and cell membranes
  • Sources: Milk, yogurt, wild salmon, lentils, grass-fed beef, peanuts beans, organic eggs. and unsalted nuts

Sulfur:

  • Assists: Creation of antioxidants and amino acids, which improve hair, skin, and connective tissue health
  • Sources: Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower), dairy, organic eggs. and garlic
healthy app recipe smoothie red

Nutrient balance

No single food contains all of the vitamins and minerals that we need. Hence why it’s so important to have a balanced, varied diet. The most effective way to get vitamins and minerals by eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats. Not sure if your diet equips you with enough micronutrients? Then sign up for the 8fit app to get access to delicious recipes with meals that are designed to nourish your body all the nutrients you need to lead a happy, healthy life.