What are Micronutrients? – A Breakdown of the Essentials

What are Micronutrients? – A Breakdown of the Essentials

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What are Micronutrients?

Micronutrients are small compounds needed in minimum amounts to enable the body to produce enzymes, hormones and other substances essential for healthy growth and development. Commonly referred to as vitamins and minerals, micronutrients include compounds such as fluoride, selenium, sodium, iodine, copper, and zinc. They also include vitamins such as vitamin C, A, D, E, and K, as well as the B-complex vitamins. Although we need less quantities of micronutrients compared to macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats), the consequences of their absence can be severe.

Micronutrients are vital to the proper functioning of all of the body’s systems. Sodium, for instance, is responsible for maintaining proper fluid balance in the body. It helps fluids pass through cell walls and regulates appropriate blood pH levels. Other ways micronutrients help maintain our body’s systems include:

  • Magnesium helps the heart maintain a normal rhythm and assists the body in converting glucose (blood sugar) into energy. It is also necessary for calcium and vitamin C metabolization.
  • Iron helps to produce red blood cells and lymphocytes.
  • Iodine supports thyroid gland development and function. It helps the body metabolize fats and promotes energy production and growth.
  • Chloride helps regulate water and electrolytes within cells, and maintains appropriate cellular pH.

nutrition - fruitHow to Get Enough Vitamins and Minerals

Luckily, getting adequate amounts of micronutrients can be as simple as eating a balanced diet that includes plenty of nuts, whole grains, leafy green vegetables, and colorful fruits and vegetables like cherries, grapes, bananas and carrots. In fact, the more colorful our diets are, the better chances we have in consuming essential micronutrients. A few quick tips include eating fruit for dessert instead of sweets, preparing vegetable-based homemade soups and salads, and adding two or more vegetable side dishes with each meal.

Common Micronutrient Deficiency Disorders

Micronutrient deficiencies can lead to serious health problems. According to the World Health Organization, micronutrient deficiency presents a substantial threat to the health of the world’s population. Most common micronutrient deficiencies include iodine deficiency, Vitamin A deficiency and iron deficiency.

Iodine deficiency is the world’s foremost cause of brain damage, and if presented during pregnancy, can result in stillbirth, miscarriage, or irreversible mental retardation. Fortunately, iodine deficiency can be easily prevented by consuming iodized salt. Vitamin A deficiency is a leading cause of blindness in children. In pregnant women, it can cause night blindness and increases maternal mortality rates. Iron deficiency is the most common deficiency in the world and is prevalent in developed countries. Over 30% of the world’s population suffers from iron deficiency anemia.

Consuming the proper amounts of micronutrients can support optimal health and prevent disorders associated with deficiencies. Following chart provides sources for most common micronutrients and their benefits.

Micronutrient

Dietary Source

Important for

Calcium

Sardines, salmon, turnip greens, kale, bok choi, broccoli

Older women, people with eating disorders, and vegetarians

Folate

Beef liver, spinach, asparagus, avocado, papaya, broccoli

Pregnant women and nursing mothers

Iron

Clams, oysters, organ meats, pumpkin and squash seeds, spinach, beef, sardines, duck, and lamb

Pregnant women or nursing mothers, ex-vegetarians

Iodine

Seaweed, cod, iodized salt, shrimp, eggs, tuna, prunes, apple juice, green peas, bananas

Pregnant women and people who do not use iodized salt

Magnesium

Almonds, spinach, cashews, potatoes, bananas, milk, raisins, halibut, and avocado

Diabetics, alcoholics, and anyone with chronic malabsorptive disorders

Phosphorous

Any kind of meat

Bulimics, people with chronic diarrhea, or people who use prescription diuretics or laxatives

Potassium

Sweet potatoes, beet greens, potatoes, clams, halibut, yellowfin tuna, and winter squash

Bulimics, people with chronic diarrhea, or people who use prescription diuretics or laxatives

Selenium

Brazil nuts, tuna, cod, turkey, chicken breast, chuck roast, sunflower seeds, and ground beef

Anyone with a chronic malabsorptive disorder

Vitamin A

Sweet potatoes, liver (beef or chicken), spinach, carrots, cantaloupe, red peppers, mangos, dried apricots, broccoli, herring, milk, eggs, squash, salmon, pistachios, and tuna

People with alcohol dependence

Vitamin B6

Beef liver, yellowfin tuna, sockeye salmon, chicken breast, turkey, banana, ground beef, and squash

Older adults, people with kidney problems, autoimmune disorders, or alcohol dependence.

Vitamin B12

Clams, liver, trout, salmon, tuna, haddock, beef, milk, ham, and eggs

People with malabsorptive disorders and vegetarians

Vitamin C

Red peppers, oranges, kiwifruit, green peppers, broccoli, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, grapefruit, cantaloupe, cabbage, cauliflower, potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, and green peas

Smokers and people with chronic malabsorptive disorders

Vitamin D

Swordfish, salmon, tuna, sardines, beef liver, and egg yolks

People who get little or no sun exposure on a regular basis, diabetics.

Vitamin E

Sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, olive oil, spinach, broccoli, kiwifruit, mango, and tomatoes

(deficiency of Vitamin E is rare)

Vitamin K

Kale, spinach, turnip greens, collard greens, Swiss chard, mustard greens, parsley, romaine lettuce, green leaf lettuce, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage

People on antibiotics

Unfortunately, consuming enough micronutrients by eating a healthy diet doesn’t always guarantee proper absorption of nutrients in the body. The body is able to use only a portion of the nutrients it consumes – a principle called “bioavailability.” Vitamins, minerals, and various phytochemicals (including carotenoids) vary greatly in their bioavailability. Many factors influence how much of a given nutrient the body can absorb, including the source, combination and preparation of food. Vitamins and minerals interact in complex, often unpredictable ways. After nutrients are digested, the amount absorbed and retained depends on your body’s needs, which are largely determined by age, sex, health, and the level of nutrients already in the body. For instance, a healthy man absorbs less than 1 percent of the iron consumed in a balanced diet, but a woman with anemia will absorb as much as 35 percent of iron consumed.

While it’s always best to consume micronutrients through a healthy diet, in some circumstances supplementation of vitamins and minerals may be required. Supplements can have great benefits for our health so long as the product is sourced responsibly and micronutrients are absorbed properly. Common reasons why micronutrients in supplements are not absorbed adequately include:

Disintegration Downfalls

In order for our body to utilize vitamins and minerals, they must be released into the body in a timely manner, meaning if taken in pill form, capsules must disintegrate quickly. A recent study examined 49 well-known commercially available tablet or capsule multivitamins to determine if they could release their contained micronutrients within a 20-minute time period (the amount of time required for potential absorption). Results showed that 25 out of the 49 multivitamins tested did not disintegrate.

Bulking Bombs

Many supplements contain binders, fillers or flow agents that can be used to either make the ingredients stick together, bulk up products to a convenient size, or allow formulas to run smoothly through manufacturers’ machines. These can contribute to the poor disintegration rates for supplements in tablet or capsule form.

Wax Washouts

Some companies coat their micronutrient tablets with a shiny film of shellac, wax, or hydroxypropylmethylcellulose, which keeps moisture out to enable a longer shelf life. While this may be good for a supplement company’s bottom line, coatings may not be good for general consumption. Coatings can decrease tablet or capsule solubility, which may reduce its ability to readily disintegrate.

Sugar and Corn Syrup

Some manufacturers add sweeteners to supplements to make them more appetizing, especially those in chewable, gummy and liquid forms. These sweeteners are often genetically modified and can cause insulin spikes leading to weight gain. They can also block micronutrients from being absorbed into the body: high fructose corn syrup contributes to deficiencies in chromium, magnesium, zinc, and copper, while processed sugar blocks the absorption of Vitamin C, calcium and magnesium.

The Solution?

If your doctor or nutrition coach recommends supplementation, toss the tablet and pick a powder. Investigate the ingredients to make sure you avoid products that contain sugar, corn syrup, binders, fillers, excipients, artificial colors and preservatives like BHA or BHT.

When choosing supplements, investigate the company to ensure it is comprised of a reputable team of researchers, nutritionist, physicians and other experts that provide guidance. Many companies also use third-party testing facilities to test products in an independent lab for verification. Companies that have passed certain standards have a Consumer Lab, Pharmacopeia or National Sanitation Foundation seal.

Contact us for more information on micronutrients or to schedule an appointment with a nutrition coach.

 

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