According to Merriam-Webster, micronutrients are a chemical element or substance (such as calcium or vitamin C) that is essential in minute amounts to the growth and health of a living organism. As opposed to their big sibling macronutrient: a chemical element or substance (such as potassium or protein) that is essential in relatively large amounts to the growth and health of a living organism.
If you’re into health and fitness at all you’re probably aware of macros, aka carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. People track these 3 chemical elements like crazy. However, it’s rare to hear the same amount of hype surrounding micronutrients. So let’s get educated.
A few micro facts:
- Micronutrients are also known as vitamins and minerals
- They’re essential for development, disease prevention, and wellbeing
- Your body doesn’t make them (or enough of them) – meaning you need them in your diet
- Globally, more than 2 million people are affected by micronutrient deficiencies
- No single food contains all of the vitamins and minerals we need to live a healthy life – which is why a balanced and varied diet is essential
A few popular micronutrients:
- Vitamin A – Found in carrots, milk, broccoli, spinach, fish, and sweet potatoes (to name a few). Essential for healthy eyesight and immune system functioning.
- Folate (folic acid) – Found in eggs, dairy, orange juice, and dark leafy greens. Play a key role in metabolism of amino acids and production of proteins. Super important for newborns and pregnant women.
- Iodine – Found in seaweed, fish, and salt. Iodine is found in water and soil – hence why it’s found in these foods. Some 2 billion people worldwide have an insufficient intake of this micronutrient. It’s extremely important for proper brain and cognitive development of a fetus.
- Iron – Found in red meat, lentils, poultry, and fish. Critical for motor and cognitive development. Iron is an important component of hemoglobin – basically, it helps transport oxygen throughout the body. Low iron is the most common nutritional deficiency in the United States.
- Zinc – Found in liver, eggs, nuts, seafood and cereals. Promotes immunity, proper growth and development of the nervous system, and resistance to infection.
These are just a few of the more popular micronutrients, but there’s close to 30 of them. They all help your body grow, heal, metabolize, and run properly.
A big debate in the United States right now circles around “insufficiencies” and dietary guidelines. Because of our extensive food supply and the fortification of foods with vital micronutrients, few people in America are truly clinically deficient of vitamins and minerals.
So if we’re generally getting enough from our diets, why are our pharmacies and super market shelves lined with gummy vitamins? Good question. Science isn’t clear on whether or not supplementation of vitamins and minerals is helpful, or necessary, for most people. However, mass marketing has convinced a lot of us that “taking our daily vitamin(s)” is an essential part of living a healthy lifestyle. I’ve yet to find evidence stating enjoying an overpriced gelatin gummy is ridiculously bad for your health, so you do you. But it sounds to me like you could save some cash money by skipping the gummies and eating more fruits, veggies, lean meats, and leafy greens.
So what have we learned? Micronutrients might be less exciting than macronutrients, but they’re definitely equally important. Without them our bodies simply can’t run properly. But most people are getting enough of them and don’t require supplementation of any kind. Those that do can seek guidance from a healthcare professional as to what brands to trust and how much they need – such as people with anemia.
Eat more plants. Stick to real ingredients. And feed your body what it needs. If you do that you should be good to go.