What are micronutrients?

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Obligatory disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, and the content of this website was created for informational purposes only. Such content is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, treatment or diagnosis.

In previous posts we’ve talked about macronutrients, which are the dietary nutrients that supply energy to an organism. Just as a reminder, a nutrient is a substance that is required by organisms in order to remain alive, grow, and reproduce. Macronutrients have the macro prefix added to them because they make up the bulk of our diet, and we’ve previously gone over them: carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, and alcohols (not a necessary dietary component, but part of the average diet). In this post however, we will deal with micronutrients.

For this post we’ll use several online sources, but in terms of books, we’ll rely on Gropper, S. S., & Smith, J. L. (2012). Advanced nutrition and human metabolism. Cengage Learning.

What are micronutrients?

Just like macronutrients, micronutrients are dietary nutrients. Unlike macronutrients, micronutrients are required in smaller doses (hence the micro prefix), and although they don’t provide us with energy, they allow our body to produce enzymes, hormones and other substances required to keep our metabolic processes going. Most micronutrients are essential nutrients, meaning they cannot be produced by our body, and must come from our diet. This also means that their deficiency or absence is a serious health concern.

Just like macronutrients can be categorized into carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, and alcohols, so too can micronutrients be categorized into two groups: vitamins and minerals.

Vitamins

The word vitamin comes comes from vitamine, and it came about because the first vitamin to be discovered was necesary for life and an amine. As more and more vitamins were discovered, it turned out that not all of them were amines, but the name has stuck regardless.

A given vitamin may fulfill several regulatory functions, so its deficiency is associated with a syndrome (a group of signs and symptoms). Furthermore, different vitamins will have different physiological roles like electron transfer reactions, CO2 transfer, cell division, energy production, and as antioxidants, among others. Finally, they can come in two forms: water-soluble and fat-soluble, and the way that the body handles each type is different.

Water-soluble vitamins

Unlike fat-soluble vitamins, water-soluble ones are absorbed into the blood and they tend not to be retained in the body for long, as they are excreted in our urine. You already know some of the water-soluble vitamins, even if not by name, because all B-complex vitamins are water soluble, and so is vitamin C.

Fat-soluble vitamins

Fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed, transported, and stored just like lipids are. This means that, even though different fat-soluble vitamins are stored in different amounts, they are not excreted like water-soluble ones are. Fat-soluble vitamins are made up of vitamins A, D, E, K and the carotenoids.

Minerals

Minerals make up a tiny percentage of our body weight, but they have several important functions, like strenghtening our bones and teeth, being cofactors to metalloenzymes, and determine the osmotic properties of body fluids. Even though they are micronutrients, minerals can be macro or micro depending on how much they make up of our body, although we won’t get into specific numbers.

Macrominerals

This group of minerals is important because they help maintain electrolytic balance, are structural components of bones and teeth, are enzyme cofactors and they help our muscles contract. Among them we find calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and sulfur.

Microminerals

These trace minerals are also required for one or several specific functions, although the quantities requires are less than for macrominerals.  Among them we find iron, zinc, copper, iodine, selenium, molybdenum, fluoride, manganese, chromium.

Food sources

When it comes to B-complex vitamins, they can be found in pork, legumes, steak, mushrooms, tuna, egg yolk, potatoes, whole grains, salmon and fruits and vegetables. Among vitamin C sources we can find citrus products (acid-tasting fruits like oranges, limes and lemons), and vegetables like green peppers, brocoli and asparagus.

Fat-soluble vitamins can be found in beef, dairy products, vegetables, sardines, tuna  and as a product of sun exposure. Carotenoids can be found in carrots and other vegetables and fruits which are red, yellow, or orange.

When it comes to minerals, they can be found in salt, dairy products, salmon, brocoli, kale, legumes, eggs, meat, nuts, whole grains, and poultry. In terms of beverages, coffee, tea, and cocoa are good sources of magnesium.

In closing

If you’ve been into dieting or bodybuilding, then you know how importat it is to hit you macros. Chances are that you’re also hitting your micros as well if your meal prep is on spot. If you haven’t done any of that, then I hope this post has given you a glimpse of the fine tuned machine that our body is, and the requirements it has in order to work properly.

Hope you enjoyed the post, see you next week! If you would like to see more content like this, check out the Rebuttals to Fatlogic page of this blog.

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