What are Micronutrients, Exactly?

Perhaps you’ve heard the term micronutrient before and aren’t quite sure what it means. Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals that our bodies need in a smaller quantity. In a previous blog post, we discussed macronutrients and how they are needed in larger amounts from our diet. Similarly, micronutrients are required because our bodies cannot produce them on their own so they need to be consumed through food. In an individual with an eating disorder especially, risk of a micronutrient deficiency can be a serious problem. We will be going into more depth of various vitamins and minerals, their functions, what foods they can be found in and if supplementation is required.

Vitamin A: helps with normal growth and development, maintenance of healthy eyes, skin and immune system. Vitamin A can be found in milk and alternatives (milk, yogurt, cheese, soy milk) and fruits and vegetables.

B Vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12): help make red blood cells, maintain healthy nervous system and help the body use energy from food. The B vitamins can be found in milk and alternatives, meat and alternatives (meat, poultry, fish, tofu, beans) and grain products (bread, rice, cereal, oats).

Vitamin C: helps maintain healthy gums, helps to heal cuts and wounds, helps with formation and repair of blood, bones and other tissues, role as an antioxidant and increases absorption of iron. Vitamin C can be found in fruits and vegetables.

Vitamin D: helps the body absorb calcium, works with calcium to maintain bone and teeth health, helps with proper functioning of muscles, nerves, and immune system. Vitamin D can be found in milk and alternatives and is synthesized in the skin by exposure to the sun.

Side note: the B vitamins and vitamin C are water soluble while vitamins A, D, E and K are fat soluble. Fat soluble vitamins must be consumed with fat in order to be absorbed properly. An individual who restricts fat in their diet may be at risk for developing a deficiency in any of the fat soluble vitamins. This is just one of the many important functions fat has in the body – fat should not be feared!

Zinc: maintenance of healthy immune system and promotion of normal growth and development. Zinc can be found in milk and alternatives, meat and alternatives and grain products.

Calcium: formation and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth, helps with proper functioning of heart, muscles and nerves. Calcium can be found in milk and alternatives.

Iron: component of hemoglobin which transports oxygen throughout the body, helps cells release energy, red blood cell production and maintenance of a healthy immune system. Iron can be found in meat and alternatives and grain products.

Magnesium: helps control blood pressure and the maintenance of healthy bones, muscles and nerves. Magnesium can be found in milk and alternatives, meat and alternatives, grain products and fruits and vegetables.

Potassium: maintenance of healthy bones, nerves, muscles and kidneys. Potassium can be found in milk and alternatives, meat and alternatives, grain products and fruits and vegetables.

Micronutrient deficiencies are not quite as common in North America as they are in developing nations. There have been many advances in reducing micronutrient deficiencies, particularly with B vitamin fortification in grain products. In addition, vitamins and minerals can be found in a wide range of food so deficiencies are less likely if one is consuming a well-balanced diet. However, avoidance of certain foods can lead to deficiencies in vitamins and minerals that are plentiful in those food groups. For example, if an individual chooses not to consume dairy and does not compensate with fortified soy beverage or other calcium-rich foods, they may be at risk for calcium deficiency. Similarly, if an individual does not eat meat or is lacking other sources of protein in their diet, they may be at risk for a B vitamin or iron deficiency.

The best way to get vitamins and minerals is from food as it provides other beneficial nutrients that supplements cannot, such as fiber, essential fatty acids, and energy. There is no substitute for a well-balanced diet. However, in some cases vitamin or mineral supplementation may be necessary if quantities of micronutrients are not sufficient from diet alone. If you think you may be at risk for a micronutrient deficiency contact your doctor or a dietitian and consider supplementation.


References

What You Need to Know About Vitamin A – Unlock Food. (n.d.). Retrieved November 5, 2018, fromhttp://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Vitamins-and-Minerals/What-You-Need-to-Know-About-Vitamin-A.aspx

Canada, H., & Canada, H. (2007, February 5). Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide – A Resource for Educators and Communicators [education and awareness]. Retrieved November 5, 2018, fromhttps://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/reports-publications/eating-well-canada-food-guide-resource-educators-communicators-2007.html

B Vitamins. (n.d.). Retrieved November 4, 2018, from https://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/B-Vitamins.aspx

What you need to know about vitamin C – Unlock Food. (n.d.). Retrieved November 5, 2018, fromhttp://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Vitamins-and-Minerals/What-you-need-to-know-about-vitamin-C.aspx

What You Need To Know About Vitamin D – Unlock Food. (n.d.). Retrieved November 5, 2018, fromhttp://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Vitamins-and-Minerals/What-you-need-to-know-about-Vitamin-D.aspx

What You Need to Know about Zinc – Unlock Food. (n.d.). Retrieved November 5, 2018, from http://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Vitamins-and-Minerals/-What-You-Need-to-Know-about-Zinc.aspx

What You Need to Know about Calcium – Unlock Food. (n.d.). Retrieved November 5, 2018, from http://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Vitamins-and-Minerals/What-You-Need-to-Know-about-Calcium.aspx

What You Need to Know About Iron and How Much Iron Do You Need – Unlock Food. (n.d.). Retrieved November 5, 2018, from http://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Vitamins-and-Minerals/What-You-Need-To-Know-About-Iron.aspx

What you need to know about magnesium – Unlock Food. (n.d.). Retrieved November 5, 2018, fromhttp://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Vitamins-and-Minerals/What-you-need-to-know-about-magnesium.aspx

What You Need to Know About Potassium – Unlock Food. (n.d.). Retrieved November 5, 2018, fromhttp://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Vitamins-and-Minerals/What-You-Need-to-Know-About-Potassium.aspx

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