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Unlocking the Power of Micronutrients: Why Your Diet Needs Them


unlocking the power of micronutrients

What are micronutrients?


Micronutrients are essential nutrients required by the human body in small quantities for optimal functioning. They include vitamins and minerals, which are necessary for various physiological processes and overall health.


Why are micronutrients important?


To maintain good health and prevent disease, micronutrients are crucial. They are involved in processes such as metabolism, growth, development, immune function, and energy production. While macronutrients like carbohydrates, proteins, and fats provide energy, micronutrients are necessary for the conversion of energy into usable forms (1). When our bodies don’t absorb enough micronutrients, it can lead to deficiencies and health problems we'll discuss next.


Common Micronutrient Deficiencies


A. Iron


Iron is essential for the production of hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to body tissues. One of the most common deficiencies globally, insufficient iron intake can lead to iron-deficiency anemia, characterized by fatigue, weakness, pale skin, and impaired cognitive function (2).


Iron-rich foods: shellfish, spinach, organ meats (3)


B. Iodine


Iodine deficiency affects a large population globally, particularly where iodized salt is not widely available. Inadequate iodine intake can cause goiter, hypothyroidism, impaired cognitive function, and developmental abnormalities, especially during pregnancy (4).


Iodine-rich foods: fish, dairy, iodized salt (4)


C. Zinc


Zinc is involved in numerous enzymatic reactions and plays a vital role in immune function, wound healing, DNA synthesis, and growth. Zinc deficiency can impair immune function, delay wound healing, cause hair loss, lead to skin problems, and affect growth and development, particularly in children (5).


Foods containing zinc: oysters, beans, nuts (6)


D. Vitamin A


Vitamin A is crucial for vision, immune function, cell growth, and differentiation. Inadequate intake of vitamin A can result in night blindness, dry eyes, increased susceptibility to infections, and impaired growth and development, especially in children (7).


Foods with Vitamin A: leafy greens, orange and yellow vegetables (7)


E. Vitamin D


Vitamin D is unique as it can be synthesized by the body through exposure to sunlight. It is essential for bone health, as it promotes calcium absorption. Inadequate vitamin D levels can lead to weakened bones, increased risk of fractures, muscle weakness, and increased susceptibility to certain diseases (8).


Vitamin D-rich sources: sunshine, cod liver oil, vitamin D-enriched beverages (8)


F. Vitamin B12


Deficiency in vitamin B12 can lead to megaloblastic anemia, fatigue, neurological disorders, and cognitive impairments. It is primarily found in animal-based foods, so vegans and vegetarians are at a higher risk of deficiency (9)


Vitamin B12-rich food sources include: meat, fish, eggs, and dairy (10)


G. Folate


Folate, also known as vitamin B9, is essential for DNA synthesis, red blood cell formation, and proper fetal development during pregnancy. Inadequate folate intake can lead to megaloblastic anemia, neural tube defects in newborns, and increased risk of cardiovascular diseases (11).


Folate-rich foods: asparagus, beets, mangoes, legumes (12)


The Benefits of Micronutrients


Reduced Risk of Chronic Diseases


Heart disease and cancer have been the top two leading causes of death in the U.S. for over a decade, so it’s time to take a serious look at how we can prevent these terrible outcomes for our population (13). Micronutrients play an integral role in combating chronic disease by reducing oxidative stress, inflammation, helping to repair DNA damage, boosting the immune system, and inhibiting the growth of cancer cells (1).


With diabetes afflicting a startling 37.3 million Americans and notoriously high prices for insulin, it’s imperative that we take a closer look at how to battle this debilitating and costly disease (14). Micronutrients like magnesium, chromium, and vitamin D play important roles in glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity, which can not reduce the risk of developing type-2 diabetes but also help to manage blood sugar levels in individuals with the condition (15).


Improved Cognitive Function


Micronutrients such as B12 and folate mentioned above are essential for brain health and cognitive function. They support production and functioning of neurotransmitters, promote neuronal communication, reduce inflammation in the brain, and protect against oxidative stress. This results in improved memory, concentration, and mood (16).


Enhanced Athletic Performance


It’s no coincidence that high-performing professional sports teams tend to have a nutrition specialist on staff! Micronutrients help to optimize performance, reduce fatigue, support muscle growth and repair, and improve endurance and strength (17).


Healthier Skin, Hair, and Nails


Vitamins A, C, E, biotin, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids are major players when it comes to the health and appearance of our skin, hair, and nails. They help maintain proper hydration, promote collagen synthesis, protect against oxidative damage, support tissue repair, and reduce inflammation (18).


Common Myths About Micronutrients


"I Can Get Everything I Need from My Diet" - This may not always be true. For example, iron deficiency is more likely in women of reproductive age because of menstrual blood loss and can lead to anemia, which often needs to be rectified with supplementation.


"Supplements are Always Safe and Effective" - Unfortunately, not all supplements are created equal. The quality, purity, and dosage of supplements can vary, and some may contain contaminants or interact with medications. It’s also important to note that excessive intake of certain micronutrients through supplements can lead to toxicity and adverse effects. Consult with a healthcare professional before starting any supplement regimen and invest in brands that adhere to quality standards (19).


"More is Better" - It's important to note that excessive intake can have adverse effects. It's best to obtain micronutrients through a balanced diet rather than relying solely on supplements, unless recommended by your healthcare professional (19).


Frequently Asked Questions ABOUT MICRONUTRIENTS


How do I know if I am getting enough micronutrients?


Blood tests are the most accurate way to assess specific nutrient levels in your body. Monitor your overall health, energy levels and the appearance of specific new symptoms, as they may provide indicators of a potential deficiency.


What is the best way to consume micronutrients?


Enjoying a varied and balanced diet that includes a wide range of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy products is the best way to maximize your micronutrient intake (20). A diverse diet full of variety is truly the key - since each food has its own unique micronutrient profile. Sometimes dietary supplements may be recommended under the guidance of healthcare professionals to address specific deficiencies.


Can supplements replace a healthy diet?


The mantra is always: food first! Supplements should not be viewed as a complete replacement for a healthy diet. They don’t provide the same synergistic effects and health benefits that whole foods offer. Whole foods contain a variety of nutrients, fiber, and other beneficial compounds that work together to support optimal health.


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With everything you’ve learned above, you’re ready to unlock the power of micronutrients in your diet and your cooking. Though not visible to the naked eye, these microscopic marvels are essential to us living a fulfilling, healthy life. They help us thrive in our day to day by facilitating physiological processes, boost our immune function when our body is fighting off infection, and level-up energy production when we’re exerting ourselves in physical activities.



References



2) Micronutrient Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/micronutrient-malnutrition/micronutrients/index.html


3) Iron-Rich Foods. Nourish by WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/diet/iron-rich-foods


4) Iodine Fact Sheet. National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-Consumer/


5) What are the benefits of zinc? Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263176#_noHeaderPrefixedContent



7) Vitamin A: Fact Sheet for Consumers. National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-Consumer/


8) The Nutrition Source: Vitamin D. Harvard School of Public Health. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamin-d/


9) Vitamin B12 Deficiency. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441923/



11) Folate Fact Sheet. National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/


12) Foods Rich in Folate. Prenatal Health and Wellness. https://prenatalhealthandwellness.com/foods-rich-in-folate/


13) Leading Causes of Death. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm


14) The Stats, Facts and Impacts of Diabetes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/library/spotlights/diabetes-facts-stats.html#:~:text=Key%20findings%20include%3A,t%20know%20they%20have%20it.


15) Association of vitamin D and magnesium with insulin sensitivity and their influence on glycemic control.National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9850798/



17) The power of vitamins in athletics. Training & Conditioning. https://training-conditioning.com/article/the-power-of-vitamins/


18) The 7 Best Vitamins for Healthy Hair, Skin and Nails in 2023. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/do-hair-vitamins-work#bottom-line


19) Common Myths about Vitamins and Minerals. Medicine Shoppe. https://www.medicineshoppe.ca/en/article/common-myths-about-vitamins-and-minerals#section4




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