Micronutrients is just the fancy term for vitamins and minerals. And despite the misleading ‘micro’ prefix, they are in fact just as important as macronutrients in a healthy diet.
Trying to gain accurate information about vitamins and minerals can leave you feeling like you’re stuck in a pool of Alphabetti spaghetti, so let’s break this down in simple terms.
THE ROLE OF VITAMINS
Vitamins are naturally occurring chemicals which are essential to everyone’s good health and many chemical reactions that take place in the body require them. In the absence of vitamins, certain bodily functions may fail or cease. Ultimately the lack of a certain vitamin could be life-threatening and therefore they are essential to life.
In developed countries like the UK, Canada, America and Australia, nutrient shortages in our diets are mainly due to poor food choices and having a diet high in fat and sugar with limited fresh fruit and vegetables. To sustain healthy bodily functions, a regular intake of vitamins are necessary, especially for water-soluble vitamins (including B and C groups), as the body has a limited capacity to store them and they require a daily intake.
Vitamins don't provide energy (calories) themselves within the body but act as essential links and regulators in the systems that do release energy from food for the body to use. Vitamins are involved in building, repairing and maintaining healthy tissue and cells; vitamin C for example, helps to produce healthy skin. Some vitamins like vitamin E and selenium also act as good antioxidants which help protect the body cells and systems against damage and disease.
DO I NEED TO TAKE SUPPLEMENTS?
For the majority of the population, the short answer is no. Supplementation is no substitute for a varied and balanced diet. The best way you can get the right amount of vitamins and minerals is naturally through achieving a balanced diet of lean proteins, slow-release carbohydrates and fruits and vegetables. Forking out money on expensive pills that aren't used correctly can be a waste of your hard-earned cash. However, supplementation can play an important role when nutritional requirements are not met through diet alone. For example, supplementing with probiotics can help with IBS and supplementing with omega-3's is important if you aren't getting enough healthy fats in your diet.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN VITAMINS AND MINERALS
Although they are all considered micronutrients, there are some fundamental differences between vitamins and minerals. Vitamins are organic and can be broken down by heat, air, or acid. Minerals are inorganic and retain their chemical structure.
This simply means that the minerals in soil and water can easily find their way into your body through the plants, fish, animals, and fluids you consume. Vitamins, however, are a bit trickier to shuttle from food and other sources into your body because cooking, storage, and simple exposure to air can affect these more fragile compounds.
We mentioned earlier that B and C group vitamins are not stored in your body and therefore need to be consumed every day. Your body does not store water-soluble vitamins as they are dissolved in water and carried to the body's tissues for use, and are excreted in the urine.
Other vitamins dissolve in fat rather than water, including vitamins A, D, E and K.
My recent blog post all about fats told us why we should not be avoiding high-fat foods and one of the main reasons for this is their role in transporting these key vitamins. This is especially true for vitamin A and vitamin E, which are considered "essential" vitamins because the body cannot make them and we have to get them from food. Food sources of vitamin A include egg yolks, fish, liver, meats, milk and dark green vegetables. Vitamin E can be found in nuts, seeds, avocados, vegetable oils, cereals, and dark green leafy vegetables.
RECENT DIET TRENDS
In recent years, there has been a massive focus on flexible dieting, designed to fit around your lifestyle and preferences. This has encouraged us to enjoy the foods we want, as long as it fits within our daily macronutrient and calorie goals. Whilst this can be helpful in promoting sustainable weight loss, there is almost too much promotion of unhealthy foods featuring within this.
If you are in a calorie deficit but doing so by still eating hamburgers and chips, you are also likely to be in a nutrient deficit, which can have a profound effect on your overall health. Diets like ‘IIFYM’ (If it fits your macros), only really consider carbs, proteins and fats, leaving micronutrients completely discarded. Although these recent trends may be an easier concept for people to follow and are primarily attractive through greater flexibility and incorporating foods you love, in doing so it takes the focus away from the vitamins and minerals your body needs to survive.
If you think your diet is lacking in certain micronutrients, check out my range of supplements that might be able to help with any deficiencies. If you would like support in your health journey, book your free consultation with me today.