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Nutrition 101: The Importance of Micronutrients

Welcome to the fourth of five blogs, as part of the series: Nutrition 101!

Next Saturday will be the last article in the series, so make sure to check back at taylorwhisman.com so you don’t miss it.  A full list of the topics covered can be found here.  Each article is published in a specific order, so make sure that you don’t miss out!  Subscribe (on the right if you’re on a computer and at the bottom if you’re on a smartphone) to get notified of new posts and to support the spread of easy-to-digest (pun intended) health information.

We have covered a lot so far – energy, metabolism, calories, macronutrients. Today we are talking about micronutrients.  

What exactly are micronutrients and why do you even need them? Can’t we just skip the salad?

Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals that your body needs in very small quantities, microgram amounts – hence, “micro.” Micronutrients are extremely important to keep your metabolism running smoothly and properly. You need to ingest macronutrients (macros) to fuel your body; however, without micronutrients, you can develop disorders or diseases.

Macros are like the gas you put in your car, but micros are like the oil that keeps your engine running over the lifetime of your vehicle!

Micros are absolutely necessary to maintain a well-functioning metabolism and overall good health.  Vitamins and minerals are involved in cellular and enzymatic processes that are important for keeping you alive.  They are also important in maintaining antioxidants, thyroid function, immune function, the list goes on.  I do not have the time or energy to go into every single detail of each vitamin and mineral, including how much you should be consuming (there are way too many micros for this!); however, I will give you a birds-eye view of what you need to know and how to eat to get enough in your diet! 

Vitamins

Vitamins are essential… remember what that means?… and they are found in both animal and plant food, and they can be broken down into two categories – water-soluble and fat-soluble.  Many of the water-soluble vitamins are critical for metabolic processes, and while deficiencies are rare, they can result in diseases like beriberi, dermatitis, or anemia. Fat-soluble vitamin deficiencies are more common and also more serious.

Here is a list of the water-soluble vitamins:

  • Thiamine (B1)
  • Riboflavin (B2)
  • Niacin (B3)
  • Pantothenic acid (B5)
  • Vitamin B6 – consists of several molecules – pyridoxine, pyridoxal, and pyridoxamine
  • Biotin (B7) – cumulative research does not support benefits of supplementation, sorry hair, skin, and nail folk (you’re probably peeing it out)
  • Vitamin B12

Here is a list of the fat-soluble vitamins:

  • Vitamin A – retinoid compounds
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K

Minerals are a little bit different than vitamins and are usually needed in even smaller quantities. Minerals include calcium, chromium, copper, iodine, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, sodium, and zinc.  There are minerals that make their way into the human diet that are nonessential, like fluoride and mercury.  Fluoride can prevent cavities, but mercury can be toxic if too much is consumed.  To avoid consuming too much mercury, try to stay away from overfished species.   

These facts are well and good, but are we supposed to track our micros now too?  How do we eat for optimal health and no deficiencies?  Here is a list of foods to eat on a daily to weekly basis to make sure that you are getting all of your micros in:

  • Lean animal meats or byproducts (daily)
  • Leafy, green or brightly colored vegetables (daily)
  • Variety of fruits (daily)
  • Variety of nuts and seeds (weekly)
  • Whole grains and legumes (daily)
  • Both fatty and lean fish (weekly)

As a nutrition coach, I understand that this is not possible for many of you to eat like this all of the time.  There are flexible options to getting all of your micros that match your lifestyle!  While I don’t have time to discuss all of the ways, know that next week’s blog will be about being successful with your nutrition, no matter what your special dietary restrictions are!  


Is taking a supplement in place of getting vitamins from food acceptable?

Something to keep in mind here is bioavailability.  Bioavailability refers to the extent to which a nutrient is absorbed by the body.  Have you ever taken a multivitamin but then your pee turned fluorescent green?  That’s because your body does not absorb 100% of the nutrients you put into it.  There are variables that affect the bioavailability of a nutrient, which are the solubility (a fat-soluble vitamin may not be absorbed as well without fat), the type of micronutrient, how it is bound in the food, and how you consume it (co-ingestion may lead to better absorption or competition with another micronutrient).

Keeping the above in mind, supplementing with a vitamin should be done with discretion.  Supplementation is supposed to be just that – a supplement, not a substitution.  I will pull the coach card here and say “ask your doctor or dietitian before taking a supplement.”  If you are deficient in a nutrient, you might be prescribed a certain supplement to co-ingest with another supplement to help it get absorbed more efficiently.  Also, if you have a certain disease, supplementing with a vitamin may help reduce symptoms associated with that.

 *I am neither a dietitian nor a doctor, but I do not recommend replacing healthy, wholesome foods with a multivitamin, whether you are disease-free or not.*  These micronutrients exist in foods for a reason.  Our bodies need micros to survive and function properly, so you might as well consume them in their original form when the bioavailability is maximized.  

If you’re in your twenties or younger, and you’re finishing this blog, thinking “I can still skip the fruits and veggies and whole grain nonsense,” then you are doing your future self a giant disservice. Chances are, you won’t feel the effect of your negligence until you are older. I know people my age who flat out refuse to consume “healthy” foods because they don’t taste as good as fast food. Unfortunately, your health is an investment. It’s not an instant gratification thing. Remember, micros are to your body as your oil is to your car. Would you just let the oil in your car run dry? (I’m talking to non-Japanese car owners here.. lol)


Again, if you have questions or concerns with this week’s blog, please reach out to me.  I am very receptive to constructive criticism because it helps me improve!  

Next week’s blog is going to be the final cherry on top of our Nutrition 101 series – learning how to be successful with your nutrition.  Stay tuned, and make sure to subscribe to get notified when it is posted!

If you appreciate my free content, follow me on Instagram to see more, or buy me a coffee, which helps me to keep learning, studying, and educating you guys!


References:

Shils, M. E., Shike, M., Ross, C. A., Caballero, B., & Cousins, R. J. (Eds.). (2006). Modern nutrition in health and disease (10th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Pawlak, R., Lester, S. E., & Babatunde, T. (2014). The prevalence of cobalamin deficiency among vegetarians assessed by serum vitamin B12: a review of literature. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 68(5), 541–548.
Office of Dietary Supplements. (2018). Vitamin B12. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-HealthProfessional/
Office of Dietary Supplements. (n.d.). Nutrient Recommendations: Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI). Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/Health_Information/Dietary_Reference_Intakes.aspx
Huskisson, E., Maggini, S., & Ruf, M. (2007). The Role of Vitamins and Minerals in Energy Metabolism and Well-Being. The Journal of International Medical Research, 35(3), 277–289.

Food and Agricultural Organizations of the United Nations, & World Health Organization. (2002). Human Vitamin and Mineral Requirements. Bangkok, Thailand. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/3/a-y2809e.pdf   

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

3 comments

  1. Taylor    Just wanted to say how much I have enjoyed and appreciated all the info you’ve shared on your blog. I’ve learned a lot and you’ve confirmed many things that I knew and practiced. Looking forward to tomorrows post, sorry it’s the last.   Thank you so much for all you’ve done!Love you bunches.  Aunt BethSent via the Samsung Galaxy S7, an AT&T 4G LTE smartphone

    Liked by 1 person

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