What the heck are micronutrients?!
Updated: Nov 25, 2019
Howdy friends! Now that we've got a basic understanding of water and the macronutrients, it's time to talk about our final two nutrients: vitamins and minerals. Micronutrients do not provide energy (calories) but give us vibrancy and color. They also fill our plates with color hence the phrase "eat the rainbow."
Maybe you know vitamins as the chalky or gummy pill in the cupboard, or maybe you’ve heard that carrots are good for eyesight and citrus prevents scurvy. Vitamins are a small component of nutrition which play a huge role in keeping us well. Without them we become susceptible to deficiency diseases and poor function. A common example of this is little red bumps on the backs of your arms. Though harmless, these are vitamin A bumps and appear when your body isn't absorbing enough vitamin A!
There are two categories of vitamins -- water-soluble and fat-soluble. When consuming foods or supplements, excess water-soluble vitamins are flushed out naturally, whereas excess fat-soluble vitamins are stored in body fat, so too much can cause toxicity.
The fat-soluble vitamins are A, D, E, and K; and they are best assimilated and used by the body when taken with a quality fat source. So back to our friend vitamin A, as a fat-soluble vitamin, you must consume vitamin A with a quality fat (and be able to digest fat!) in order to use it. This means that even though you're eating lots of yellow and orange veggies, if you're not eating them with a grass-fed butter or high-quality oil, you're probably not getting all those nutrients! Not to mention you'll get bonus Vitamins E or K from that oil or butter. Win-win! ;)
A few roles of vitamins include:
Support digestion, elimination, and immune function
Support metabolic processes
Prevent deficiency-caused diseases
Vitamins are found in whole-food sources of carbohydrates, fat, and protein! They’re found in different amounts in different foods which is why it's important to vary your diet by ~ eating the rainbow ~ including the occasional skittle if you're into that. #modernhealth :)
Minerals tend to seem a bit more mysterious than vitamins. We see cereals and other boxed foods are fortified with them, but what do they actually do? Minerals are the spark which give our bodies (as machines) life. They support muscle contraction and relaxation, bone density, metabolism, and more.
**PSA** Minerals are not produced by the human body which means they're essential and must be taken in daily via food or supplements. Research suggests that our soils are less abundant in minerals now than ever in history, so targeted mineral supplementation can be helpful. Talk to a functional health professional (such as myself) for help on this though.
An example from my life is tachycardia/arrhythmia. For years I had episodes where my heart would beat really quickly or be noticeably out of whack at random. After a scary trip to the hospital, the doctor recommended I take magnesium to help regulate my heartbeat. Magnesium is a superhero nutrient (it does SO MUCH), and one of its roles is muscle relaxation. Sure enough after including magnesium, my heart episodes came to an end, and I noticed I was sleeping more soundly among other things. Someone get that mineral a cape! :)
A few roles of minerals include:
Co-factors for enzyme reactions
Minerals are also found in high-quality carbohydrates, fats, and proteins as well as salt. Bone broth is an amazing source of minerals and nutrition. Don't fear high-quality salt! It's a great source of minerals. I recommend Himalayan pink salt rather than sea salt to avoid microplastics, though those are getting to be inescapable. Table salt is highly refined and doesn't include a full spectrum of minerals. If your blood pressure is high, talk to your medical professional about salt intake.
**PSA** Something to take into consideration when looking at nutrition is the difference between structure and function. Humans have evolved to consume and thrive from real, whole foods. When we take man-made vitamins and supplements, we’re not necessarily getting the real deal!
Imagine you have two watches which are structurally and functionally exactly the same. If you hit one with a hammer, you still have all the pieces to make two watches, but will they function the same? The answer is NO. In a pinch, vitamins and supplements can be extremely helpful; however, they’re not optimal nor necessary when you’re regularly eating wholesome foods and your body is functioning well.
Do you take supplements? Are you afraid of salt? I avoided salt like the plague for years -- it was surprising to learn good quality salt is actually nutritious and important.
Are you curious about any specific nutrition topics? Let me know! <3