What are Micronutrients?
By Sharon Irish
What are Micronutrients? Where can we find them and why do we need them? Find out the answers to these questions by reading this post.
Micronutrients are so called because you need them in smaller (micro) amounts in your body than you need the macronutrients discussed in my last post:
So what are Micronutrients?
Micronutrients are Vitamins and Minerals
Lets break Micronutrients down to explain their role and where you can find them:
When you hear the word ‘vitamins’ you may automatically think of vitamin supplements. There are countless boxes of little pills that claim to give you all the vitamins your body needs. Those are called ‘supplements’ because actually you should be getting your vitamins from the food you eat. Supplements should be used as they are described, to supplement your diet, not to provide your only source. Eating a healthy and varied diet should be all you need to get enough vitamins naturally.
Vitamins are needed for many processes taking place in your body and though you only need them in small amounts, they are vital.
Your body does not produce many of them naturally and that is why you need to get them from the food you eat. If you do not get enough of these vitamins you will be susceptible to disease and illnesses.
This doesn’t mean that you need to go overboard with vitamins though and start taking endless tablets and vitamin supplements. Taking too many vitamins can actually be very harmful and is called toxicity.
Eating a varied and healthy diet is all you should need to ensure your body is getting the right amount of vitamins.
There are so many different vitamins and they are taken in and used by your body in many different ways so I am not going to go through them all individually, but here is a list of the most important ones (this is not an exhaustive list!):
- Vitamin B Group – Sources: organ meats, rice and pasta, wholegrains, green leafy vegetables, milk, eggs, peas, beans, lentils, fish, nuts.
- Vitamin C – Sources: Citrus fruits, berrie, vegetables (especially peppers).
- Vitamin A – Sources: Liver, dairy products, oily fish, egg yolk, yellow and orange fruits and vegetables, dark green leafy vegetables.
- Vitamin D – Sources: Oily fish, meat (especially liver), eggs and dairy products, sunlight.
- Vitamin E – Sources: Vegetable oil, fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds.
- Vitamin K – Sources: Green leafy vegetables, rapeseed, soybean and olive oils.
Minerals are also micronutrients as you need them in small amounts. Along with vitamins, minerals play an important role in your body.
Minerals are essential for most bodily functions.
I am going to go into a little bit of detail about the three main minerals and come back to the others at a later date.
The three major minerals are: Calcium, Sodium and Iron
Calcium as you will probably know helps you to keep your bones and teeth strong. You may not know that it also helps your heart to keep a regular rhythm and it helps to transmit nerve impulses.
If you don’t have enough calcium you could have stunted growth and may get brittle bones or osteoporosis in later life.
Calcium can be found in milk and dairy products, fish with soft bones, nuts, green leafy vegetables and pulses. It can also be found in white bread and breakfast cereals although these are refined and the calcium has been fortified (more on that in another post!) and so they are not natural sources.
Some vitamins and minerals are best when they work together, and vitamin D helps your body to absorb calcium. Sources are oily fish, eggs, meat (particularly liver), dairy products and sunlight.
Sodium is found in salt and is needed to ensure that your body has the correct amount of fluids and that these amounts are balanced. Sodium has an influence on how our muscles contract and release.
You need to keep the sodium level in your body low in order to avoid high blood pressure and cardio vascular disease.
Sodium although necessary for your body is found in many processed foods in high levels and so you need to be careful to limit this type of food. Sodium is high in meats such as bacon and ham and so these should also be eaten less regularly. Not adding salt to meals is a good way to cut back on sodium as well as eating fresh wherever possible.
Iron is very important for red blood cell production, your red blood cells carry oxygen around your body which is a major function that we cannot live without.
The amount of iron you need in your body will vary depending on your sex, your age, whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Iron can be found in:
- Organ meat
- Lean meats
- Lean poultry
The Iron in these foods is easily absorbed.
Some iron containing foods need to work with vitamin C in order for your body to utilise the iron.
These foods are: Nuts, Eggs, Wholegrain bread, Baked beans, Dried beans, Dark green leafy vegetables.
Surprisingly, some calcium rich foods can affect the absorption if iron and so it is important not to eat them together too often if you want to increase your iron levels.
These foods are: Eggs, Spinach, Kale, Strawberries, Beetroot, Nuts, Chocolate, Cocoa, Coffee, Beans, Peas, Lentils.
So you can see that there is a lot more to getting the right micronutrients than just picking a bottle of pills up from your local pharmacy.
I hope this post was useful to you and gave you a better of understanding of vitamins and minerals.
Some Products I would recommend:
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Don’t forget to have a look at the other posts in the nutrition section of the site if you would like more information.
Let me know in the comments section of you would like a post on any particular topic and I will try to get the information up as soon as possible.
See you next time!