What Are Micronutrients?

Many of us have heard about macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat), but what are micronutrients and why do we need them?

Micronutrients are different to macronutrients and include vitamins and minerals. Although only needed in very small amounts, both vitamins and minerals play crucial roles in human nutrition, including the prevention and treatment of various diseases and conditions, as well as the optimisation of physical and mental functioning. Our bodies don’t make all of these micronutrients, so it’s crucial we supply them through our diet.

Vitamins are essential for overall health, normal cell function, growth and development. There are 13 vitamins that our bodies need to function, all with various roles and functions. These vitamins are divided into two categories, fat soluble and water soluble. Fat soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E and K, whereas water soluble vitamins include vitamin C, thiamin (B1), niacin (B3), riboflavin (B2), pantothenic acid, biotin, pyridoxine (B6), vitamin B12 and folate (B9). The main difference between these is that fat soluble vitamins can be stored in body tissue for long periods of time, while water soluble vitamins cannot. The only exception is B12, which can be stored in the liver. Vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K are found in a variety of foods, namely meat, fruit, vegetables, whole grains and dairy products.

Minerals, like vitamins, support our normal growth and development and are essential for keeping our hair, teeth and bones strong, assisting with blood, skin and nerve function as well as metabolic processes and maintaining normal levels of health. There are two kinds of minerals: macrominerals and trace minerals. Macrominerals, which are needed in fairly large amounts in the body, include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, sulphur and chloride. Trace minerals are needed in smaller quantities and include iron, zinc, manganese, copper, iodine, fluoride, cobalt and selenium. These are found abundantly in meat, fish, dairy products, leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes.

How do I make sure I am getting enough?

Consuming a variety of different food groups is the easiest way to ensure that all of these needs are met – that is why eliminating food groups from your diet can have harmful effects on your body. Use the 80/20 approach throughout the week. This means 80% of your calorie intake should come from whole, nutritious foods and the remaining 20% can be used for treats or more calorie dense foods. With fruits and veg it is best to aim for 2 serves of fruit per day and at least 3 serves of veg. While getting your micronutrients from whole foods is far superior, taking a multivitamin can assist in bridging some nutritional gaps.

How do I track micronutrients?

Tracking your micronutrients is a good idea if you are just starting out, or if you have been vitamin deficient in the past. The MyFitnessPal app tracks 6 micronutrients: vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, sodium and potassium. It is important to keep in mind, however that some entries aren’t always accurate and may and can overstate or overlook them. Therefore, the best way to ‘track’ your micronutrients is by eating variety of whole foods and taking the time to educate yourself on which foods contain which micronutrients. Here are a few examples:

  • Vitamin A – sweet potato, spinach, fish, milk, eggs, and carrots
  • Vitamin B6 – fish, beef, chickpeas and poultry
  • Vitamin B9 (folic acid) – dark leafy green vegetables, fruit, nuts, and dairy products
  • Vitamin B12 – animal products such as beef, fish, cheese, and eggs
  • Vitamin C – oranges, capsicum/peppers, blueberries, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, and bananas
  • Vitamin D – fatty fishes including swordfish, salmon, and mackerel, fortified milk, yoghurt and cereals
  • Vitamin K – dark green leafy vegetables
  • Zinc – beef, cashews, chickpeas, and turkey
  • Calcium – milk, yoghurt, dark leafy greens such as spinach, and sardines
  • Potassium – beans, dark leafy greens, potatoes, squash, yoghurt, fish, avocados, mushrooms, watermelon and bananas

Many people think that those who follow a flexible dieting approach are only focused on hitting their macro targets with poptarts, doughnuts and icre-cream but that is simply not the case. Flexible dieters follow this approach because they enjoy the balance between nutrient-rich foods and more calorie-dense “treat foods”. The focus, however, is always on optimising health while creating sustainability.

If you have any questions about how to get enough vitamins and minerals in your diet or you would like help creating a nutrition plan that prioritises these then feel free to contact me.