You may have heard of counting macronutrients - protein, carbs, and fat, as a way to organize your calorie intake, promote a more optimal body composition, and support fitness goals. But what about micronutrients?
When it comes to proper nutrition, there are more than calories or macros to consider - you can’t forget about your long-term health. Your body needs calories for energy to survive, but it also needs essential nutrients, specifically micronutrients (aka vitamins and minerals) to function properly.
Essential nutrients are anything that your body is not able to produce itself and must be consumed through food, water, or sunlight. These nutrients don’t always provide calories and are sometimes only needed in tiny amounts, but without them, you could suffer from fatigue, muscle weakness, brain fog, poor bone strength, etc. And if these deficiencies continue over time you can increase your risk of chronic disease or even shorten your lifespan.
What Do Vitamins and Minerals Do?
Micronutrients, also known as vitamins and minerals, do not contain calories and are needed in much smaller amounts compared to macros. They play a role in supporting daily activity and keeping your body working properly, but vitamins and minerals are most notably involved in supporting good health.
Micros are often what makes a superfood, super. These nutrients are typically the culprit behind identified food health benefits as they play a major role in vitality, preventing illness, and promoting wellbeing. Their amounts also determine how nutritious a food actually is. If a food is high in micronutrients and low in calories, it is commonly referred to as nutrient-dense!
Macronutrients vs. Micronutrients
Both macros and micros are essential for energy, metabolism, and bodily functions, but macros provide the energy whereas micronutrients are involved in metabolic processes to disperse it throughout the body.
Macronutrients are needed in larger quantities because they make up all of your calorie intake and supply the energy you need daily. Because of this macros have a larger impact on body weight and composition.
There are three macros needed for good health: protein, fat, and carbohydrates - all of which provide different benefits (And even though it is not needed in the diet, alcohol is also a macro because it contains calories).
Difference between Vitamins and Minerals
What are Vitamins?
Vitamins are organic substances produced by plants and animals. There are two types: fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins. Fat-soluble - vitamins A, D, E and K, are more easily absorbed when fat is present and can be stored in your body fat. Water-soluble vitamins - vitamin C and B vitamins, can dissolve in water. You get vitamins from the different foods you eat.
Where to Get Essential Vitamins:
- Vitamin A
- Get it from: orange foods like carrots, pumpkin, butternut squash, and peaches. As well as dark leafy greens like kale and spinach.
- B Vitamins
- Get it from: salmon, tuna, beef, whole grains like quinoa, potatoes, lentils, and beans.
- Vitamin C
- Get it from: fruits and veggies.
- Vitamin D
- Get it from: fortified dairy, mushrooms, salmon, and eggs.
- Vitamin E
- Get it from: sunflower seeds, peanut butter, almonds, and spinach.
What Are Minerals?
Minerals on the other hand, are inorganic, meaning they are found in soil and water and are not produced by living organisms like vitamins. Because minerals are not easily destroyed by the elements, they can be transported from soil and water into plants and animals, and then later absorbed by you without losing their structure. This also means they don’t change form once you absorb them.
There are sixteen essential minerals for proper nutrition, which includes two main types: macrominerals - those you need in larger quantities like calcium, phosphorus and potassium, and trace minerals - those you need in very small amounts, like iron, zinc, and iodine.
Where to Get Essential Minerals:
- Get it from: dairy, fortified orange juice and plant milks, tofu, dark leafy greens, and salmon.
- Get it from: meat, dairy, nuts, soy, lentils, quinoa, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds.
- Get it from: meat, milk, fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, and legumes.
- Get it from: organ meats, beef, chicken, pork, peaches, some dairy, onions, and garlic.
- Get it from: root vegetables and table salt.
- Get it from: table salt
- Get it from: spinach, broccoli, legumes, pumpkin seeds, and wheat bread.
- Get it from: meat, beans, dark leafy greens, whole grains, and nuts.
- Get it from: oysters, meat, shellfish, legumes, and whole grains.
- Get it from: shellfish, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, and prunes.
- Get it from: whole grains, nuts, leafy vegetables, and tea.
- Get it from: iodized salt, seafood, and sea vegetables.
- Get it from: organ meats, seafood, and walnuts.
- Get it from: peas, lentils, beans, peanuts, almonds, soy, eggs, cheese, yogurt, whole grains, and leafy vegetables.
- Get it from: broccoli, potatoes, green beans, beef, chicken, turkey, apples, bananas, whole grains, and dairy.
- Get it from: black tea, raisins, shrimp, crab, grape juice, wine, and water.
Even though vitamins and minerals are very different on a molecular level, they are able to interact with one another in a variety of ways that can either be beneficial or counterproductive to health. Some vitamins, like vitamin C, can support the absorption of minerals, like iron, and decrease the absorption of other minerals like copper. These interactions are one reason why eating a variety of foods each day can help ensure you are able to get the most nutrition possible. It’s also key to note that when taking supplements to correct a deficiency to do so with either water, juice, milk, or food.
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Getting Enough Through a Healthy Diet
The essential vitamins and minerals are used in billions of biochemical reactions that occur in your body - from everything like daily energy and metabolism to tissue maintenance, immune function, and your heartbeat. Without adequate amounts, your body can really suffer. Because of the vast role they play, a single deficiency in one vitamin or mineral can create a whole host of problems if not corrected. And on the flip side, correcting even a minor deficiency can greatly improve your overall health and wellbeing.
While supplementation can certainly help prevent deficiencies and improve your nutrition if needed, your best source of micronutrients is from naturally occurring sources - nutrient-dense foods! Eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and quality proteins is a great way to get your body the nutrition it needs.
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