Micronutrients 101

Micronutrients (micros) consist of both vitamins and minerals, and are required in small amounts in the body compared to macronutrients. Your micronutrient density in your diet, or the quality of food you consume, determines your health. Micros are extremely important for maintaining optimal health, and can also enhance athletic performance. 

Imagine you are on a construction site. Macronutrients are equivalent to the building material: bricks, wood, and nails. Micronutrients are the construction workers that get things done and (metaphorically) create homes, office buildings, and skyscrapers.

Micronutrients can affect things such as our energy levels, our sleep, mood, immune system, bone and joint health, eye and skin health, wound healing, and much, much more. 

The best source of vitamins are whole, nutrient dense foods, such as whole food protein sources as well as fruits and vegetables with some legumes mixed in. Additionally, variety in our diet is important, as it exposes us to a range of nutrients. If we only ate broccoli and chicken every day of the year, we would become deficient in other micronutrients that are absent from those foods.  

Vitamins

Vitamins A, D, E, and K must all be consumed with dietary fats to be absorbed in our bodies.

VITAMIN A is involved in immune function/wound healing and vision, eye pigmentation and embryonic development.

Good sources of Vitamin A include: red, orange, and yellow vegetables and fruits like carrots, pumpkin, winter squash, oranges, sweet potatoes, beets, melons; dark leafy greens like spinach, collards, kale, and mustard greens; egg yolks, liver, and milk.

B VITAMINS are a complex of vitamins that help the body convert food into fuel, amongst many other important functions. One important B vitamin is B9 (folate), which supports a healthy pregnancy. Deficiency of B Vitamins can cause fatigue, feeling faint, breathlessness, and headaches.

Good sources of Vitamin B include: red meat, milk, eggs, dark green vegetables, beans and legumes, almonds, sunflower seeds, tahini, soybeans, mushrooms, almonds, eggs, shrimp, and beef liver.

VITAMIN C (ASCORBIC ACID) is an antioxidant that boosts our immune system. It also is involved in wound healing, aids in the absorption of iron, and helps form and maintain collagen. Diets deficient in Vitamin C can cause scurvy.

Good sources of Vitamin C include: colorful fruits and vegetables (especially dark leafy greens) and animal livers. However, Vitamin C is quickly destroyed by cooking, so eating raw fruits and vegetables is the best way to obtain your Vitamin C.

VITAMIN D is a steroid hormone synthesized by the exposure of the skin to UVB light. Vitamin D contributes to bone health, boosts our immune function, reduces depressive symptoms, reduces inflammation, and helps protect against chronic diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. The color of your skin affects how efficiently you make Vitamin D. If you have darker skin and live in an area with limited sunlight, you may be at risk for Vitamin D deficiency. Symptoms of deficiency include fatigue, muscle weakness, and achy joints. Vitamin D deficiency can also lead to rickets in children and osteoporosis in adults. 

VITAMIN E acts as an antioxidant, which helps protect cells from damage and the body from inflammation.

Good sources of Vitamin E include: nuts and seeds, dark leafy greens, avocado, broccoli, kiwi, mango, tomatoes, sweet potatoes.

VITAMIN K helps with blood clotting and bone formation. Deficiency can lead to severe bleeding.

Good sources of Vitamin K include: leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, asparagus, cheese, egg yolks, chicken, duck, goose liver, beef, and dairy.

Minerals

IRON makes hemoglobin and red blood cells, and is also used for oxygen transport around the body. Females require more iron than males. There are both plant and animal sources of iron; animal sources have a higher absorption rate. Symptoms of deficiency include fatigue, tiredness, dizziness, and paleness, and may possibly lead to anemia. This is one of the most common deficiencies seen in women and athletes – but men do experience it too. 

Good sources of Iron include: red meat, spinach, quinoa, turkey, legumes, tofu, oysters, shellfish, broccoli, lentils, pumpkin seeds, navy beans, sardines, and dark chocolate (>80%).

CALCIUM is required for bone health, helps our blood clot, and regulates our muscle contractions. Deficiencies may cause muscle spasms, confusion, brittle nails, and easily fractured bones. 

Good sources of Calcium include: cheese, yogurt, sardines with bones, salmon, whey protein, beans and lentils, tofu, edamame, collard greens, kale, spinach, almonds, fortified foods, bok choy, chia seeds, milk, and white beans. 

ZINC supports testosterone production, boosts our immune systems, and helps make digestive enzymes. Deficiency may cause diarrhea as well as impaired growth, immune function, and cognitive function.

Good sources of Zinc include: Oysters, beef, crab, eggs, pork, chicken, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, hemp seeds, cheese lentils, and dark chocolate (>80% cacao). 

MAGNESIUM is a natural muscle and nerve relaxer. It also activates enzymes involved in protein synthesis, regulates DNA, and affects cell growth and reproduction. Deficiency may cause weakness/fatigue, higher blood pressure, and muscle cramps.

Good sources of Magnesium include: pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate (>80% cacao), wild caught fish, swiss chard, spinach, avocados, almonds and cashews, sprouts, and seaweed.

SODIUM is an electrolyte that regulates fluid balance in our bodies. It is also essential for nerve and muscle function, as well as maintaining stable blood pressure. Both low and high sodium intakes are associated with increased mortality. Individuals consuming a high fat diet or those exercising extensively or who are working in the heat may need to supplement with sodium. Those consuming a diet high in processed foods and leading a sedentary lifestyle likely are consuming too much sodium. 

Additional minerals include: potassium (fluid balance), phosphorus (bone formation), sulfur (liver function), chloride (aids in digestion and helps regulate blood pH), fluoride (bone structure), copper (supports iron metabolism), selenium and iodine (can support thyroid function), chromium (helps metabolize glucose), sulfur (helps with digestion), manganese (supports growth and bone health), molybdenum (detoxifies chemicals), and boron (affects hormones and enhances bone strength).

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