An Essential Guide to Micronutrients - Vitamins

If you want to have a healthy body, including bones, muscles, skin, brain, immune system, nerve system and all other cells in your body, it’s important to include in your diet an adequate amount of micronutrients and macronutrients. 

While the macronutrients are mainly carbohydrates, proteins and fats, the micronutrients group includes vitamins and minerals. This week I would like to focus on the role of micronutrients in your health, with a focus on Vitamins. Hence I will share with you some important facts about micronutrients, including what they are, their purpose, what vitamins should you include in your diet, where to find these and how to make sure you are consuming enough.

What are micronutrients and what is their purpose?

As I mentioned above, micronutrients can be categorised as vitamins and minerals. While you need vitamins for energy production, immune function, blood clotting and other functions, minerals are essential for growth, bone health, fluid balance and several other processes.

Wondering why they are called micronutrients. Well that’s just because you need smaller quantities of micronutrients in comparison with macronutrients. They are also called essential nutrients, because the human body cannot produce vitamins and minerals (for most of the part), hence we need to get these from our diet.

Your essential vitamins

When you hear the word vitamin, you probably think at pills. Well your essential vitamins should normally (as much as possible) come from the fresh and raw food you consume. For example, sunlight can help our bodies to produce vitamin D, but there’s nothing we can do to trigger our bodies to make vitamin C, so we have to eat citrus fruits, berries and green vegetables to get it.

Here are just a few of the vitamins you should include into your diet, if you want to achieve your health and fitness goals:

Vitamin A

If you include Vitamin A in your diet your eyes, skin and immune system will benefit from it. You can find this vitamin in two forms: in meat, as retinol; and in plants, in compounds called carotenoids. Good sources are meat, dairy products, cod liver oil, and orange coloured vegetables and fruit such as sweet potato, apricots and carrots.

B Vitamins

There are eight essential B vitamins: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9 and 12. The other B vitamins, such as B4, can be formulated by our bodies, so they’re not classified as essential. B vitamins help to maintain healthy nerves, eyes, liver, mouth and hair. They promote healthy muscle tone for digestion and proper brain function.

You can find these vitamins in:
  • Vitamin B1 - cereals, rice, legumes and meats
  • Vitamin B2 – meats and dairy products
  • Vitamin B3 – seeds and spices
  • Vitamin B5 - legumes, dairy products, poultry, vegetables, and cereal grains
  • Vitamin B6 - meats, whole grains, vegetables and nuts
  • Vitamin B7 – whole grains, soybeans, egg yolks, milk, poultry, meat and saltwater fish
  • Vitamin B9 - asparagus, beef, chicken, cheese, barley, brown rice, leafy green vegetables, root vegetables, oranges, fruits, dried beans, split peas, nuts
  • Vitamin B12 - meat, kidney, liver, herring, mackerel, seafood, chicken eggs, milk and other dairy products

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is found in berries, citrus fruits and green vegetables with moderate amounts in all other fruits and vegetables. It has antioxidant properties needed for more than 300 functions related to tissue growth, cell repair, anti-stress hormones and immune system defence. It also aids in the healing process, protects against irregular blood clotting and increases iron absorption.

Vitamin D

You need vitamin D in order to absorb and use phosphorus and calcium and for the normal growth, development and maintenance of bones and teeth. It’s involved in regulating your heartbeat and protects against muscle weakness.

You can get your vitamin D from eggs, dairy products, fish oils, fatty saltwater fish like tuna, mackerel or sardines, liver, oatmeal, sweet potatoes. And as you might already know, your main source of vitamin D is the sun.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is made up of eight compounds with antioxidant qualities. It is known to help prevent the spread of reactive oxidative species (ROS) such as pesticides throughout the body that can lead to many diseases. We also need vitamin E for repairing tissue, good circulation, a strong immune system and to maintain healthy muscles and nerves.

Vitamin E is found in fat-rich foods, with the highest concentrations in cold-pressed plant oils, nuts, seeds and avocados and in dark leafy greens, legumes and whole grains.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K helps our bodies to make a substance called prothrombin, which is essential for our blood to clot. Moreover, this vitamin is great for repairing bones, and converting glucose into glycogen so our livers can store it. Also, vitamin K can prevent abnormal build-up of calcium in body tissues that don’t normally contain calcium.

You can get your vitamin K from leafy greens like kale, collard greens and spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, liver, egg yolks and oatmeal.

Making sure you are consuming enough vitamins

Now that you know your vitamins and where to find these, you should also know how much should you consume. Getting too much or too little of a vitamin or mineral can lead to negative side effects.

The safest way to get enough vitamins in your body is through the food you eat. What you need to make sure is that your diet includes a wide variety of whole foods, like meat, vegetables, seafood, nuts, seeds and dairy.

Also, to make sure you are on track with your vitamins intake, you should keep a track of how much you consume. There are different apps out there which will help you to keep an eye of how many vitamins and minerals you consume every day.

Once you have tracked your intake for a couple of weeks, dietary patterns will start to emerge. You will be able to see what vitamins and minerals you are getting enough of and the ones that you are deficient in. When you know where you are lacking in vitamins and minerals, you can then improve your diet to include these.

Another way to make sure your diet includes enough micronutrients is to work with a certified nutritionist coach. They will review your current diet, your lifestyle and will know what to recommend you. Here’s something to help you start.
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