Micronutrients: What are they and why are they important?
What are micronutrients?
Micronutrients is the term used to describe the vitamins and minerals that your body needs in very small amounts in order to function correctly.
As micronutrients are not produced in your body, they must be obtained through your diet. Their importance is critical, and a deficiency in any of them may lead to potentially life-threatening conditions.
Nobody needs life-threatening conditions, so go on, read on, and learn how you can prevent them with some jazzy little life-preserving micronutrients.
What is the difference between vitamins and minerals
Vitamins are the organic substances that are made by plants and animals. They are essential for normal cell function, repair, growth, and development.
Minerals are the inorganic substances that are found in water and soil, which are absorbed by plants or eaten by animals. They are essential for building and strengthening bones, producing hormones, while supporting brain function, muscle health, as well as heartbeat regulation.
It’s important to know that when we say animals, we are not referring to humans. Unfortunately, humans do not have the ability to synthesise vitamins (except for vitamin D and very small amounts of vitamin B3), nor do we tend to eat soil for our essential mineral needs…
This heightens the importance of a varied diet in order to reach those daily micronutrient requirements.
Just like macronutrients, micronutrients are pretty simple to understand.
As mentioned before, micronutrients are vitamins and minerals.
Before we continue, keep in mind that ‘essential’ means necessary for survival or correct bodily function.
There are 13 essential vitamins and 15 essential minerals.
These can be broken down into two main types of vitamins and two main types of minerals:
- Water-soluble vitamins
- Fat-soluble vitamins
- Major minerals
- Trace minerals
Water-soluble vitamins examples
Water-soluble vitamins are used immediately in your body when consumed. As water-soluble vitamins cannot be stored in your body, they need to be consumed on a regular basis.
- Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
- Vitamin B3 (niacin)
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
- Vitamin B7 (biotin)
- Vitamin B9 (folate)
- Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)
Vitamin B12 is a little bit of an exception. Yes, it is a water-soluble vitamin, however, it’s the only water-soluble vitamin that can be stored in your body (the liver specifically) for many years!
Any leftover water-soluble vitamins that are not used by your body at the time will be excreted in your urine, and back into the water for someone/something else to use.
A circle of life kind of thing.
Fat-soluble vitamins examples
Fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed into your bloodstream more easily when consumed with dietary fat. They can be stored in the body’s fat tissues and liver for later use too!
- Vitamin A (retinol)
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E (tocopherol)
- Vitamin K
Any leftover fat-soluble vitamins will be stored, however, as they’re not excreted in the urine, there is a higher chance of toxicity if consumed in excess.
Examples of major minerals
Major minerals are given this name because their importance demands a salute.
We’re kidding. Kinda. They’re pretty important. In fact, major minerals are given this name because they are the minerals that we need to consume in larger amounts.
Also known as macrominerals, the 7 major minerals include:
Major minerals are stored in your body, mostly in your liver and bones. However, unlike vitamins that are stored as more of a nutrient reserve, minerals are stored for metabolism function and structure.
Examples of trace minerals
Trace minerals are the essential minerals that are needed in smaller amounts. But remember, they’re just as vital to good health as the major minerals.
The 8 trace minerals include:
Like major minerals, trace minerals are stored in your body for a plethora of functions that include hormone and enzyme production.
Why are micronutrients important?
As mentioned, micronutrients are not only important, they’re absolutely essential for survival.
But aside from preventing an early shuffle off your mortal coil, do they provide any significance when considering your fitness goals?
The shortest answer is yes.
The longest answer would fill quite a large amount of pages, so we’re going to find a happy middle ground by using just a few examples.
If weight loss is your goal, you’d be interested to know that iodine and manganese regulate your metabolism, while zinc is responsible for turning our food sources into energy.
Vitamin K promotes good bone structure as well as aids protein synthesis, allowing your muscles the ingredients they need to recover from activity.
If muscle gain is your goal, keep in mind that vitamin C not only strengthens your immune system, but it also helps develop cartilage and the tendons between muscles.
Vitamin B6 specifically helps break down amino acids and glycogen, helping you develop and build lean muscle mass. Iron has been shown to not only aid red blood cells production and prevent fatigue, but to also build and strengthen muscles and bones.
What happens if we don’t get enough micronutrients?
Nobody wants to be micronutrient deficient, however numerous studies have shown that up to 92% of the US population suffers from some form of micronutrient deficiency.
In a world where junk food lines the pantry shelves, people just aren’t getting enough of what they truly need.
Broken down by thebiostation.com:
- 9 out of 10 Americans are deficient in potassium
- 7 out of 10 are deficient in calcium
- 8 out of 10 are deficient in vitamin E
- 50 percent of Americans are deficient in vitamin A, vitamin C, and magnesium
- More 50 percent of the general population is vitamin D deficient, regardless of age
- Approximately 70 percent of elderly Americans are vitamin D deficient
Of course, micronutrient deficiency can lead to a number of consequences depending on the exact micronutrients lacking from your diet. There is no need to list every single consequence here, but keep in mind that the list is long and unpretty! Some of the common ‘unpretty’ standouts include cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, anaemia, cancer, and scurvy.
How to get enough micronutrients
In a world in which the local supermarket provides you with everything you need to reach your own micronutrient targets; it’s actually pretty simple.
Back in our hunter, gatherer days, not so much…
As micronutrients are either produced, absorbed, or consumed by plants and animals, it’s important to eat a varied diet containing both plant and animal products (if you’re vegetarian or vegan, read on, we’ve got you covered too!).
When we say ‘varied diet’, what we mean is a diet containing a wide range of multi-colored fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, pulses, lean meats, and fresh seafood.
Check out our quick list below!
Some example foods containing water-soluble vitamins include: citrus fruits, bell peppers/capsicums, dark leafy greens, whole grains, eggs, fish, and lean meats
Some example foods containing fat-soluble vitamins include: cantaloup, leafy greens, carrots, soybeans, almonds, sweet potatoes, cheese, and whole milk.
Some example foods containing major minerals include: avocados, bananas, dairy products, black beans, lentils, cocoa, and fish.
Some example foods containing trace minerals include: leafy greens, cashews, sunflower seeds, organ meats, and oysters.
Take note: many prepared foods such as baked goods, cereals, milks and snacks are fortified with nutrients. Check out the nutrition label on the package to find out what’s included in each.
If following a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, the use of supplements may be helpful for partly replacing the various vitamins and minerals found in animal products. As previously mentioned, certain micronutrients are stored in the body (such as vitamin B12) and therefore do not have to be consumed on a daily basis.
It should be noted that supplements have not been proven to be a 100% effective replacement, although not fully understood, this might be due to the reduced bioavailability of micronutrients in supplement form.
It is generally recommended that you take supplements with a meal to help improve the absorption of these nutrients.
We hope to have shown you the importance of aiming to consistently eat micronutrient-dense foods on a daily basis.
While focusing on your calorie and macronutrient intake is most essential for your fat loss and muscle-building goals, micronutrients still play a vital supporting role in reaching these goals. However, where they truly come into play is your long term health and fitness.
For this reason, our macro meal planner always guarantees a return of micronutrient dense recipes. Ensuring that not only will your diet be optimal for your overall fitness goals, but also for your long-term health and well-being too.