Micronutrients: Vitamins, Minerals and the Role They Play
Micronutrients have been under the spotlight a lot lately during the Covid-19 pandemic. Everyone has been talking about their functions and how they boost immunity. But what exactly are micronutrients and why are they crucial for us? Let us find out.
What are micronutrients?
Micronutrients can be broadly categorized as vitamins and minerals. They are vital for the body’s overall wellbeing. With the exception of vitamin D, our body is unable to produce micronutrients. Hence, they are also called essential nutrients.
Micronutrients have to be derived from the diet. As the name suggests, these nutrients are required in lesser quantities by the body. While vitamins are essential for the maintenance of the overall immune system and as coenzymes for various biochemical reactions in the body, minerals maintain growth and repair, cell metabolism, antioxidant defenses, blood formation, and more.
Types of vitamins
Vitamins can be further classified into water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins. Minerals on the other hand are divided into macrominerals and trace minerals. Let us now discuss these in detail.
As the name suggests, these vitamins dissolve in water. When taken in excess these nutrients tend to flush out through urine and are not stored in the body. You need to replenish these nutrients regularly through your diet to prevent deficiencies.
The water-soluble vitamins include B vitamins — B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B7 (biotin), B9 (folate), B12 (cobalamin), and vitamin C (ascorbic acid). Water-soluble vitamins act as an energy driver in our body and also help strengthen the immune system. They also play an instrumental role in maintaining your nervous system, digestive system, and skin health.
Sources: Whole grains, eggs, green leafy vegetables like spinach, cabbage, cauliflower, mushrooms, nuts like almonds, walnuts and cashew nuts, lean meats, citrus fruits, and bell peppers.
These micronutrients dissolve in fat, but not in water. That is why you need some source of fat in your diet to help absorb them. Your body can store these in the liver and the fatty tissues of the body for future use. Vitamins A, D, E, and K come under the category of fat-soluble vitamins. They help fight infections and are important for your vision, strong bones, and healthy muscles. Fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin E work as antioxidants and vitamin D plays a crucial role in regulating calcium absorption. Vitamin K assists with blood clotting and calcium distribution in the body.
Sources: Liver, kidney, egg yolk, milk, cheese, butter, dark green leafy vegetables, fish (cod or shark), liver oils, wheat germ oil, cottonseed oil, peanut oil, corn oil, cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes, spinach, and other green vegetables.
Types of minerals
You know that calcium is good for your bones and sufficient iron stores are vital for your blood. However, minerals have a lot of other benefits as well. Let’s take a look at the two broad classifications of minerals.
Macrominerals are required in larger quantities and include calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, magnesium, chloride, and sulfur.
Calcium is vital for muscle contraction, bone, and teeth health and helps relay messages to the brain. Phosphorus too strengthens bones and helps the body synthesize protein. Potassium, sodium, and chloride are needed for the transmission of nerve impulses, regulating acid-base balance, and maintaining the balance required for optimal blood pressure. Magnesium regulates cognitive functions, required for optimal sleep, nerve and muscle function. Your body needs sulfur for synthesizing amino acids (protein synthesis) and antioxidants (to provide immune support).
Sources: Milk and milk products, green leafy vegetables (kale and spinach), okra, and soya products. Fish and fish bones, white and red meats, eggs, nuts, legumes, beans, lentils, and grains. Oranges, bananas, cantaloupe, mushrooms, potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, cucumbers.
Micro minerals or trace minerals
Even though micro minerals are required in small quantities compared to macro minerals, they are still important for health in many ways. A few trace minerals of importance are iron, copper, zinc, manganese, fluoride, selenium, and iodine.
Iron and copper are needed for hemoglobin synthesis; it also supports brain development and immune function. Zinc is needed for immunity, optimal growth, and wound healing. Iodine and selenium are needed for the synthesis of thyroid hormones. Fluoride keeps teeth and bones strong.
Sources: Green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, liver, red meat, beans, dried fruits, soybean flour, fortified breakfast cereals, oyster, spirulina, shiitake mushrooms, lobster, and dark chocolate.
All four varieties of micronutrients are essential for your body’s overall wellbeing, even though they are needed in smaller quantities. How can you ensure an optimal intake? By eating the rainbow. Eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables that match the shades of the rainbow. By including diversity in your diet, you can ensure that you are getting all the essential nutrients that your body needs.
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3. Micronutrients. World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/micronutrients/en/ (accessed Feb 19, 2021).