What Are Micronutrients? (And Why Do You Need Them?)

What Are Micronutrients? (And Why Do You Need Them?)

In order for your body to stay in good physical condition and function optimally, it needs a steady supply of varied nutrients. These nutrients fall into two broad categories: macronutrients, which are proteins, fats, and carbohydrates; and micronutrients, which are vitamins and minerals.

Discussions around nutrition and health tend to focus on macronutrients, at least in part because they are so readily available and our bodies require them in much larger quantities. Micronutrients play an equally essential, though perhaps less well-known, role. Read on to learn more about what micronutrients are, and why they matter.

What are micronutrients?

Micronutrients are minerals and vitamins that allow our bodies to function properly, prevent disease, and contribute to our overall health and well-being. For the most part, these vitamins and minerals are not produced by our bodies (or else they are produced only in very small amounts). This means that we need to get them from other sources like food or the environment.

Why are micronutrients important?

We may require micronutrients in much smaller quantities than macronutrients. However, they are just as important. In fact, when we don’t get the necessary small or trace amounts of these essential vitamins and minerals, we are at higher risk of developing a number of major illnesses, including heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis.

In addition, deficiencies of particular vitamins or minerals can be linked to even more specific health conditions. For example, if you are not consuming enough iron, you may experience anemia, poor immune function, fatigue, and dizziness, to name just a few symptoms of iron deficiency.

What’s the best way to get enough micronutrients?

Ideally, your diet should be your main source of essential micronutrients. A well-rounded diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean protein, and healthy fats should give most people the quantities of vitamins and minerals they need.

If you are not able to meet your micronutrient needs through diet alone, it may help you to take a supplement. However, you should be sure to consult your physician or nutritionist before doing so.

What are some examples of micronutrients?

Vitamins are one type of micronutrients. They are available in two forms: water-soluble and fat-soluble.

Water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water. This means they are easily lost through bodily fluids and need to be replenished each day. However, their ability to dissolve in water also means that these vitamins are not usually toxic if they are consumed in large amounts. Any excess will simply be flushed out of the body.

Fat-soluble vitamins, on the other hand, build up within the body’s fat tissues and are not needed every day. However, they can have harmful effects if the accumulated quantities become too great. Because of their particular properties, it’s easier for the body to absorb these vitamins if they are consumed together with a source of fat.

What are some examples of vitamins?

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Biotin (vitamin B7). This water-soluble vitamin helps to metabolize fatty acids, amino acids, and glucose. It also supports cellular growth and repair, DNA repair, and the health of hair, skin, nails, and the digestive system. Good sources of biotin include milk, eggs, seeds, nuts, sweet potatoes, spinach, and bananas.

Niacin (vitamin B3). Another water-soluble vitamin, niacin drives the production of energy from food. It also contributes to DNA metabolism, cell communication, and cognitive functioning. Niacin can be found in meat, fish, milk, eggs, cereal grains, and green vegetables.

Vitamin A. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is essential for good vision and proper organ function. It also helps with immune system health and tissue, skin, and bone development. Vitamin A is found in a number of animal sources like liver and fish oils, as well as in orange and green vegetables like spinach and carrots.

Vitamin D. Vitamin D is also a fat-soluble vitamin. It contributes to immune function, promotes calcium absorption and the growth of healthy bones and teeth, and plays a role in brain health and mood regulation. Like other vitamins, vitamin D is found in foods (notably fatty fish, cheese, and egg yolks). We can also boost Vitamin D intake through sun exposure.

What is another example of a micronutrient?

Minerals are also considered micronutrients. Like vitamins, minerals come in two forms: macrominerals and microminerals. As their names suggest, macrominerals are required in larger quantities, while microminerals are only needed in trace amounts.

What are some examples of minerals?

Calcium. This macromineral is the most abundant mineral in the body. It supports strong bones and teeth, a healthy heart, and well-functioning muscles. It also to contributes to proper hormone secretion and nerve transmission. Common sources of calcium include dairy products, sardines, tofu, and dark green vegetables like kale and broccoli.

Copper. Believe it or not, our bodies need trace amounts of copper to function. This micromineral supports the formation of connective tissue, as well as the proper functioning of the brain and nervous system. Sources of copper include oysters and other shellfish, whole grains, beans, leafy greens, and dried fruits.

Mark CrumpackerMark Crumpacker is the CMO and President of Zume Culinary at Zume Inc.,  the Silicon Valley company that has revolutionized the pizza delivery business through its fleet of mobile kitchens outfitted with smart ovens. Mark has more than two decades of experience in the realm of consumer behavior and its effect on brands’ marketing strategies. Mark studied economics at the University of Colorado and earned a bachelor of fine arts in advertising and graphic design from the ArtCenter College of Design. You can follow Mark on Twitter at @markcrumpacker and read his full bio here