A Basic Guide to Micronutrients
Updated: Jan 30, 2019
Micronutrients are the under appreciated, underrated, not- talked- about- enough powerhouses in the food we eat. Everybody requires micronutrients to survive, and optimal amounts, combinations and sources to thrive.
But, first things first, what are they?? Let’s break down the basics so that you can be equipped with knowledge and empowered to choose a diet with your best health in mind.
Micronutrients are nutrients that we need small (micro) amounts of, as opposed to macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats), in which we need large (macro) amounts of.
Micronutrients do not supply our bodies with any calories, whereas macronutrients do. This does not, however, undermine their role in nearly every metabolic process in the body.
Micronutrients can be broken up into 3 classifications: vitamins, minerals and other phytochemicals.
Let’s briefly review each:
Vitamins are carbon containing compounds that can be activated, deactivated, and structurally altered depending on exposure to heat, oxygen, light, digestion and chemical processing. They are classified into 2 subgroups: fat soluble and water soluble.
1. Fat Soluble.
Fat soluble vitamins are vitamins that are dissolved in fat. In fact, when digested, they must be in the presence of fat in order to be adequately absorbed. These vitamins are stored in the liver and fat tissue for when blood reserves are low. Here are the 4 fat soluble vitamins and top sources of each:
Vitamin A (liver, sweet potato, egg yolk, spinach, carrots)
Vitamin D (skin exposure to UVB sun rays, fatty fish, liver, fortified dairy)
Vitamin E (sunflower seeds, almonds, vitamin E, avocado)
Vitamin K (collard greens, parsely, spinach, broccoli, brussels sprouts)
PRO TIP: Always consume a serving of healthy fat at each meal to optimize absorption of fat soluble vitamins. Examples: ⅓ avocado, ¼ cup nuts or seeds, 1 -2 tbsp quality oil or dressing.
2. Water Soluble.
Water soluble vitamins are those that are dissolved in water during the digestive process. These vitamins are not stored in the body, and thus are excreted in the urine if consumed in excess. Here is the breakdown for Vitamin C and the B Complex Vitamins:
Vitamin C (bell pepper, kiwi, citrus, broccoli, strawberries)
(B1) Thiamine (nuts and seeds, oats, eggs, beans)
(B2) Riboflavin (milk, yogurt, chicken)
(B3) Niacin (chicken, anchovies, pumpkin)
(B4) Pantothenic Acid (fish, avocado, shiitake mushrooms)
(B6) Pyridoxine (potato with skin, tuna, chickpeas)
(B7) Biotin (egg yolk, sunflower seeds, sweet potato)
(B9) Folic Acid (dark green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, beans)
(B12) Cobalamin (beef, sardines, fortified cereals and nutritional yeast)
Choline. Not technically a B vitamin, however it functions similar to one, therefore is often grouped into the B Vitamin class (egg yolk, beef, chicken breast)
DID YOU KNOW? Several energy drinks and supplements have an abundance of B vitamins in them and claim that they will “give you energy.” B vitamins, however, do not directly provide energy, rather they help us extract the calories in our food and utilize it as energy.
Minerals are compounds in their simplest form, and therefore can all be found on the periodic table of elements. They are found in food in the same form as they are found within our body. The two categories of minerals are: macrominerals and trace minerals.
Macrominerals are minerals that are needed in relatively larger amounts compared to trace minerals. Here are the 6 most important macrominerals and top sources of each:
Calcium (collard greens, dairy products, beans)
Magnesium (dark chocolate, avocado, almonds)
Phosphorus (pepitas, sunflower seeds, tempeh)
Potassium (winter squash, sweet potato, white beans, banana)
Sulfur (kale, seafood, egg yolk)
Chloride (salt [NaCl], tomatoes, green leafy vegetables)
2. Trace Minerals
Trace minerals, while they absolutely hold immense importance in the human body, they are not needed in as much quantity as macrominerals. Here are the 9 most important trace minerals and top sources of each:
Iron (lentils, dark leafy greens, red meat [heme iron])
Zinc (oysters, pepitas, dark chocolate)
Copper (kale, sunflower seeds, oysters)
Iodine (seaweed, sod, shrimp)
Selenium (brazil nuts, tuna, shrimp)
Manganese (clams, wheat germ, sweet potato)
Chromium (broccoli, barley, oats)
Molybdenum (lentils, beans, oats)
Phytochemicals are compounds that are found in plants. These compounds are not considered to be essential for the human body, however research shows them to have extremely valuable health protective qualities. These compounds include: flavonoids, other antioxidants, carotenoids, anthocyanins, sulfides and more.
PRO TIP: Eat the rainbow! Consuming a spectrum of vibrant fruits and vegetables will ensure that you get a variety of these beneficial phytochemicals.
The bottom line:
Micronutrients are vital to the structure, integrity, function, efficiency and optimization of the human body.
The best way to optimize your diet with micronutrients is to diversity the diet. Include a variety of fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes, healthy fats and lean proteins. These whole, unprocessed foods are where these beneficial micronutrients are waiting.
Understanding the basics of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals is an important launching point into understanding the benefits and specific actions they can have, and how to include them in the diet to optimize your specific body.