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Micronutrients: What are They and Why Do They Matter?

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Micronutrients: What are They and Why Do They Matter?
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Knowing what food or nutrients your body needs may help you choose the right food, ensuring your physical well-being. Micronutrients are a set of nutrients that our body needs for different physiological functions. It includes a combination of vitamins and minerals that help with blood clotting, bone health, fluid balance, digestion, immunity, and several other bodily processes.

This article will discuss micronutrients and how they are essential for your health. We will also discuss how its deficiency or excess may impact your well-being. Let’s begin with a generic definition.

What are Micronutrients?

Micronutrients are substances that the body needs in small amounts to perform vital functions. They include vitamins, minerals, and trace minerals. Vitamins help regulate bodily processes such as metabolism and digestion while helping to maintain the health of nerves, bones, skin, and other organs.

Furthermore, minerals are essential for good nutrition because they provide the necessary components for metabolic processes, physical and mental growth, and healthy bones.

Similarly, trace elements are required for normal biochemical reactions in the body and may play a role in reducing the risk of certain diseases.

Together, micronutrients support essential bodily functions such as energy production, immune system functioning, digestion, nerve transmission, blood formation, and hormone balance.

Without sufficient micronutrients, individuals can develop deficiencies that can lead to serious health complications. For example, a lack of vitamin B12 can cause anemia, while an iodine deficiency can lead to goiter.

To ensure optimal health and well-being, it is crucial to understand the different types of micronutrients and have an adequate intake of them. A balanced diet containing various foods is the best way to ensure you get enough micronutrients. Additionally, multivitamins can be used to supplement dietary intake when needed.

Categories of Micronutrients & Their Functions

Micronutrients can be divided into four basic types: fat-soluble, water-soluble, macrominerals, and trace minerals. Let’s have an overview of each of them in detail.

Microminerals

Examples of microminerals include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, and potassium. These are essential for building healthy bones, maintaining muscle health, and regulating bodily fluids. Let’s dig deeper to know how each content contributes to the aforementioned physiological functions.

  • Calcium is necessary for bone and teeth formation and helps hold the structure. The micromineral also plays its role in ensuring proper muscle function and vessel contraction. So anyone with weak muscles, teeth, or bones should start having a calcium-rich diet. Its food sources are milk, broccoli, and all leafy green vegetables.
  • Magnesium plays a substantial role in blood pressure regulation and over 300 enzyme reactions in the body. Food rich in magnesium, such as black beans, almonds, and cashews, may ensure more stable blood pressure in people with bp issues.
  • Chloride: The body uses chloride to make digestive juices to strengthen one of the primary processes of the body and help you keep fit. It also works alongside sodium to balance fluids in the body. The food sources of chloride include celery, seaweed, and salt.
  • Sulfur: Every tissue of your body that is functional contains sulfur. The content is kept in the cysteine and amino acids methionine. Eggs, Brussels, onion, mineral water, and garlic are the most common food sources of sulfur.
  • Sodium is an electrolyte that helps the body maintain blood pressure and fluid balance so that your kidneys stay healthy. Canned soup, clams, and sunflower seeds are the best sources of sodium.
  • Potassium: Some of the noticeable contributions of potassium to your body include nerve transmission and muscle function. Since it is an electrolyte, it also helps maintain fluid balance. Foods such as bananas, potatoes, acorn squash, and lentils contain adequate potassium.
  • Phosphorus is vital for forming bones and cell membrane structures. They also help the body store energy for future use. Turkey, yogurt, and salmon are the best food sources for phosphorus.

Fat-Soluble Vitamins

Fat-soluble vitamins are the type of vitamins that can be stored in your body's fatty tissues and can be utilized later. So you do not need to consume them regularly as frequent intake can do the needful. Some of the commonly known fat-soluble vitamins include A, D, E and K.

  • Vitamin A is needed for a range of different aspects of one’s health. This covers clear vision, immunity, reproduction, and growth. Adequate amount of vitamin A intake may also prevent cancer and skin problems. Carrots, spinach, liver, dairy, sweet potatoes, and fish are the best sources of vitamin A.
  • Vitamin E is also an essential fat-soluble vitamin that protects your body from cell damage and boosts immunity. Wheat gram, almonds, and sunflower seeds are the best sources of vitamin E.
  • Vitamin D ensures normal calcium absorption while also contributing to normal brain function. Milk, salmon, tuna, sunflower seeds, and fish oil contains a high amount of vitamin D.
  • Vitamin K plays a major role in helping the blood clot. This can prevent excessive bleeding. There are two types of vitamin K; K1 & K2. Green leafy vegetables including collard and turnip greens, kale, spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and lettuces contain high amounts of vitamin K.

Water-Soluble Vitamins

Water-soluble vitamins must be consumed regularly to fulfill the body's needs, as they cannot be stored in the body. Some examples of such vitamins include B-complex and C.

  • Vitamin B-complex includes many vitamins, including B-1, B-2, B-3, B-5, B-6, B-7, B-9, ad B-12. These water-soluble vitamins have a list of functions, including maintaining the growth of red blood cells, brain function, digestion, eye-sight, energy levels, and more. Legumes, leafy greens, eggs, seeds, and dairy products are the best food sources for vitamin B-complex.
  • Vitamin C has several roles to play, and two of its primary functions are to create neurotransmitters and collagen. So it is essential for good skin and proper brain function. Oranges, kiwi, bell pepper, cabbage, tomatoes, and strawberries are the best sources of Vitamin C.

Trace Minerals

Trace minerals are an essential category of micronutrients that are vital for maintaining good health. They are needed in minimal amounts, most of which can be obtained through food sources or dietary supplements.

Some of the many body functions they help you with include faster metabolism, energy production, cell growth and development, muscle and nerve functioning, hormone regulation, and immunity. Here is a list of trace minerals.

  • Chromium: Vital for fat and sugar metabolism, chromium enhances insulin sensitivity and promotes the metabolism of lipids, proteins, and carbohydrates. Grapes juice, turkey breast, and green beans are the best sources of chromium.
  • Copper is a basic need for the proper function of the nervous system. It also promotes normal brain functioning and the formation of connective tissues. Cashews, crabs, and liver are the best source of copper.
  • Fluoride is an essential content for teeth as it reduces cavities. It is also helpful for bone growth. The best fluoride source is black tea, coffee, raisins, and oatmeal.
  • Iodine is essential for thyroid regulation; hence, it contributes to metabolism, brain development, heart rate, and more. Egg, beef liver, chicken, and fish are the best iodine sources.
  • Iron carries oxygen to different muscles and produces hormones. The best iron sources are tofu, oats, dry fruits, and nuts.
  • Manganese carries out processes to metabolize amino acids, cholesterol, and carbohydrates. The best manganese sources are beans, nuts, brown rice, and spinach.
  • Molybdenum is required to break down toxic substances and process genetic material like DNA and proteins. Its best food sources are whole grains, black-eyed beans, potatoes, and bananas.
  • Selenium plays its role in preventing oxidative harm and also contributes to reproductive functioning and thyroid health. Its best food sources include seafood and organ meat.
  • Zinc is essential for healing wounds and building protein in the body. It is also responsible for supporting the immune system and cell growth. Its best food sources include meat, avocado, blackberries, pomegranate, and seafood.

What are Some Other Types of Micronutrients?

In addition to minerals and vitamins, several other micronutrients have essential functions in the body, including omega fatty acids, amino acids, coenzyme Q10, choline, and flavonoids.

Omega fatty acids are essential in maintaining heart health, while amino acids are necessary for building proteins. Coenzyme Q10 produces energy, and choline helps with cognitive function. Finally, flavonoids are beneficial antioxidants that help protect the body from oxidative damage.

Deficiency of Micronutrients & How to Overcome It

The body's inability to absorb these essential nutrients or lack access can lead to deficiency-related conditions such as anemia, growth stunting, and cognitive delays.

To combat this issue, it is crucial to increase the availability of fortified foods that provide essential micronutrients and ensure that dietary guidelines are accessible and culturally appropriate.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, dairy products, and other protein sources as the best approach for combating global micronutrient deficiencies.

Eating a variety of colors, textures, and flavors will ensure that the body receives adequate amounts of essential vitamins and minerals. In addition to dietary changes, supplementation can be beneficial in some instances.

Supplements can help fill gaps and provide additional micronutrients that may not be available from food sources alone. It is essential to consult a doctor or nutritionist to determine the safest and most effective supplementation program.

In addition to dietary changes, governments and organizations can also play an important role in reducing micronutrient deficiencies globally. Fortifying staple foods with essential vitamins and minerals is one way of providing access to these nutrients for those who may not have access to a variety of healthy foods.

Ensuring that fortification techniques are culturally appropriate and accessible to all is essential for reducing nutrient deficiencies. Governments can also help by promoting health education and providing access to clean drinking water and other nutritional resources.

The most effective way to combat micronutrient deficiencies is through a comprehensive approach that includes dietary changes, supplementation, food fortification, education, and access to essential resources.

Governments, organizations, and individuals all have an essential role in ensuring that micronutrient deficiencies are addressed worldwide. By increasing access to essential nutrients and educating people on proper nutrition, micronutrient deficiencies can be reduced significantly. With the right interventions, global health can be improved for everyone.

Conclusion

It is crucial to ensure that you get adequate minerals and vitamins in your diet to maintain optimal health. Eating various foods from all food groups can help you meet your micronutrient needs. Additionally, taking a daily multivitamin can help supplement any dietary shortcomings.

With all that said, it’s essential to speak with your healthcare provider before taking any supplements, as taking too much of certain micronutrients can be harmful. This is especially true for pregnant women and those with existing medical conditions. A balanced diet rich in micronutrients is the best way to ensure optimal health.

FAQs

1. What micronutrients do I need daily?

Our bodies require water-soluble vitamins regularly as we do not store them. These include Vitamin B-complex and Vitamin C.

2. What are the micronutrients and minerals related to the immune system?

The micronutrients and minerals related to the immune system are Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and Zinc.

Vitamin A helps support both the innate and adaptive immune systems. It also plays an essential role in maintaining healthy cells that help protect against infection and disease.

Vitamin C is a critical antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage caused by free radicals and is essential for supporting the body’s natural defense system.

Zinc helps to activate specific proteins that help protect against infection and can also help support healthy inflammatory responses.

All three nutrients are essential for proper immune function and should be included in a balanced, nutrient-dense diet. Regular physical activity and adequate sleep are also crucial for a healthy immune system.

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