Micronutrients - What are they?

Updated: Sep 5, 2021


Hey hey Readers! Welcome! I'm so glad you here! In this month's post, I will give a basic overview of micronutrients. In future posts, I will dig deeper into different topics about micronutrients and the scientific research therein.


Micronutrients are nutrients that are required in small quantities by the body, and it includes vitamins and minerals. This is contrasted to macronutrients, which are required in large quantities and include fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Micronutrients can be found in both plant and animal sources.


Micronutrients are SUUUPER important for the functioning of the human body. Without proper levels of micronutrients, the body will lack the ability to maintain the metabolic processes that keep the body running because micronutrients are often used as coenzymes and cofactors for MANY metabolic reactions. Coenzymes/cofactors essentially help enzymes, which accelerate the rate at which chemical reactions proceed in the body. If your body is unable to undergo its metabolic processes, such as producing energy, you will experience disease, or in extreme cases, death. There are generally three divisions, or categories, of micronutrients - water-soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins, and minerals. Let's talk about each of these three groups.


Water-Soluble Vitamins (WSV)

WSV are not stored in the tissues of the body, but rather, they are present in the blood and other water-based fluids. WSV are excreted in the urine. In fact, urine can become a vibrant, bright yellow after consumption of a large dose of vitamins.


Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) is critical in the metabolism of sugars and amino acids (which are the building blocks of proteins), AND it is important in the functioning of the central nervous system (CNS). Those who engage in high levels of physical activity may require higher intakes of vitamin B1. Vitamin B1 can be found in the following food sources: enriched and fortified grains, pork, salmon, flax seeds, squash, black beans, tuna, milk, and beef.


Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) is critical in the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Also, vitamin B2 has an essential part of the antioxidant system in the body, which helps to reduce the effects of damaging free radicals in the body. Vitamin B2 can be found in the following food sources: enriched and fortified grains, beef, tofu, milk, fish, mushrooms, pork, spinach, almonds, avocados, and eggs.


Vitamin B3 (Niacin) is critical in the metabolism of macronutrients by playing a critical role in the the Kreb's Cycle and Electron Transport Chain (ETC), which are both processes that occur in the mitochondria of cells and are responsible for much of the production of ATP (the energy currency in the body) in our cells. Vitamin B3 can be found in the following foods: enriched and fortified grains, fish, chicken, turkey, pork, beef, peanuts, brown rice, mushrooms, and avocados.


Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid) is also involved in the metabolism of macronutrients, AND it plays a role in the production of cholesterol and fatty acids, which are important for cell membrane structure, energy, and fat-soluble vitamin processing. Vitamin B5 can be found in the following foods: enriched and fortified grains, salmon, shiitake mushrooms, chicken, beef, milk, seeds, sweet potatoes, and lentils.


Vitamin B6 represents a class of several related, but different, molecules - pyridoxine, pyridoxal, and pyridoxamine. These molecules are involved in the breakdown of glycogen (i.e. the storage form of glucose in the body) to glucose, AND they play a role in producing neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers in the nervous system. Vitamin B6 can be found in the following foods: enriched and fortified grains, whey protein, milk, cheese, eggs, tuna, organ meats, potatoes, bananas, parsnips, and pistachios.


Vitamin B7 (Biotin) are also heavily involved in the metabolic processes that produce energy. While many marketing campaigns claim that vitamin B7 benefits the hair, nails, and skin, the scientific research does not actually support this. Vitamin B7 can be found in the following foods: organ meats, eggs, nuts, seeds, salmon, yeast, milk, cheese, sweet potatoes, and avocados.


Vitamin B12 is the largest of the B vitamins, and it comes in many forms. It is involved in many different metabolic processes, including DNA synthesis, red blood cell production, and maintaining proper neurological functioning. Vitamin B12 can be found in the following foods: enriched and fortified grains, shellfish, liver, trout, salmon, tuna, beef, milk, cheese, yogurt, and eggs.


Folic acid (folate) plays a role in the production of red blood cells, white blood cells, and DNA. Folate fortification in grains was actually mandated in the late 1990s - early 2000s, and since then deficiencies have become quite rare. Folate supplementation in pregnant women can improve hemoglobin levels and reduce birth complications. Folate can be found in the following foods: enriched and fortified grains, seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), nuts, seeds, and soy products.


Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is involved in many processes in the body, including scavenging harmful free radicals, helping to shuttle fatty acids to the mitochondria for energy production, and the production of collagen, which gives bones, tendons, and ligaments their physical properties. Vitamin C has been studied extensively in athletic populations, and there might be some benefit for vitamin C supplementation re: decreasing exercise-induced muscle damage and soreness. Vitamin C can be found in the following foods: bright colored fruit (e.g. organges, cherries, strawberries, etc.), bell peppers, cruciferous vegetables, dark leafy greens, and tomatoes.


Choline is technically not a vitamin, but it is a water-soluble micronutrient. Choline helps in providing structure for cell membranes. It is also a critical molecule for the production of Acetylcholine (Ach), which is the neurotransmitter involved in skeletal muscle contraction. And, it is also involved in gene expression. The body does produce small amounts of choline in the liver, but the quantities are not enough to cover the choline-needs of a typical body; thus, it must be consumed in the diet. Choline can be found in the following foods: liver, eggs, oysters, mushrooms, cauliflower, and dark leafy greens.


Fat-Soluble Vitamins (FSV)

FSV dissolve in fats and oils, and they are stored in the body's fatty tissue. FSV must be absorbed along with fats in the diet, as they are not easily absorbed without dietary fat present at ingestion. In fact, fat-blocking supplements may impair the body's ability to absorb FSV.


Vitamin A refers to a group of compounds known as retinoids, the most common being retinol, retinal, and retinoic acid. Vitamin A is critical in vision, bone growth, reproduction, and immune function. Retinoic acid specifically can help reduce acne by controlling protein production associated with acne. Vitamin A can be found in the following foods: liver, cod liver oil, mackerel, salmon, tuna, butter, goat cheese, eggs, sweet potato, carrots, squash, and kale.


Vitamin D plays many critical roles in the human body, including immune function, bone formation, and calcium metabolism. In humans, vitamin D can actually be manufactured in the body through the conversion of cholesterol to the active form of vitamin D via sunlight. Vitamin D is found in very few foods, so dietary sources are often insufficient in maintaining adequate vitamin D levels. Sunlight and/or supplementation is often necessary for vitamin D. Vitamin D is also involved in the active absorption of calcium from the digestive tract. Vitamin D can be found in the following foods: salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna, cod liver oil, shiitake mushrooms, and fortified milk and cheese.


Vitamin E is one of the main antioxidant molecules in the body, protecting cells from oxidative damage. Vitamin E can be found in the following foods: almonds, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, hazelnuts, pine nuts, salmon, avocado, and trout.


Vitamin K is involved in regulating blood homeostasis by controlling clotting. In fact, deficiencies of vitamin K can lead to bleeding disorders, where people cannot stop bleeding. Vitamin K also plays an important role in bone formation, and it works synergistically with Vitamin D. Vitamin K can be found in the following foods: kale, collard and mustard greens, swiss chard, mustard parsley, romaine lettuce, green leaf lettuce, and brussel sprouts.


Minerals

Minerals, mostly comprised on inorganic metals, are helpful, if not necessary, in a wide variety of physiological functions.


Calcium is one of the most abdundant minerals in the body, making up about 1-2% of the entire body. Calcium is a critical mineral in the crystalline structure that makes up bone tissue, and it is essential for skeletal muscle contraction and nervous system signaling. Calcium can be found in the following foods: milk, yogurt, cheese, sardines, dark leafy green vegetables, fortified cereals and grains, and soybeans.


Chromium is required in very small quantities, and it is involved in insulin signaling. In fact, chromium is likely involved to some extent in the development of diabetes. Chromium can be found in the following foods: green leafy vegetables, potatoes, green beans, whole-grains, beef, poultry, fruits, milk, cheese, and yogurt.


Magnesium is actually involved in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body, ranging from digestion to nervous system activity to protein synthesis. Magnesium also conjugates to ATP, the body's energy currency. Most magnesium is found in bones and skeletal muscle. Magnesium can be found in the following foods: whole grains, quinoa, spinach, nuts, seeds, beans, and cocoa.


Iron is also central in hundreds of metabolic processes, including storing, transporting and delivering oxygen, and in the production of ATP. Iron deficiency is approximately 5% in North America, and iron deficiency is the primary cause of anemia worldwide. Iron can be found in the following foods: beef, shellfish, organ meats, spinach, legumes, pumpkin seeds, green leafy vegetables, and quinoa.


Phosphorus is found throughout the entire body. It is required for energy production, as phosphorus is the central molecule in phosphate, which is found in ATP, the body's energy currency. Deficiency of phosphorus is rare in the U.S., and there is actually some evidence that excessive phosphorus intake can increase cardiovascular risk, osteoporosis, and it can accelerate pre-existing kidney disease. Phosphorus can be found in the following foods: milk, cheese, yogurt, beef, cocoa, sardines, organ meats, soda, and bran.


Sodium is present in virtually every tissue of the body, and it is the extracellular partner to potassium (i.e. it is found in the tissue outside of cells). It is essential for maintaining gradient balance with potassium, which is important for nervous system signaling. Sodium is also important for fluid status and cardiac rhythm. In developed countries, sodium deficiency is almost unheard of; however, overconsumption of sodium is a global health concern. Sodium can be found in the following foods: breads, processed meats, processed soups, cheese, and many dressings and sauces.


Potassium is present in all tissues of the body, and it is the intracellular partner to sodium (i.e. it is found inside the cells). It is required for maintaining concentration gradients with sodium, which is essential for nervous system signaling. Potassium is also important for fluid balance and cardiac rhythm, similar to sodium. Potassium can be found in the following foods: potatoes, bananas, beets, parsnips, spinach, tomatoes, avocados, salmon, and whole grains.


Selenium is important in the antioxidant system of the body, helping to scavenge damaging, free radicals. Selenium is found in the following foods: tuna, sardines, shellfish, beef, poultry, pork, eggs, milk, yogurt, oatmeal, spinach, mushrooms, and brazil nuts.


Zinc provides structures to cells, by helping to create tubulin, giving cells their internal, rigid structure. Zinc is also an important transcription factor, helping cells produce RNA from DNA. Zinc can be found in the following foods: beef, shellfish, legumes, nuts, seeds, milk, yogurt, eggs, whole grains, and dark chocolate.


Summary

Wow, that was a lot of information! Thank you for reading until the end! As you can see, adequate micronutrition is super important for almost every physiological function in the body. There are a variety of foods sources that contain various micronutrients, making deficiencies rare in well-balanced diets. Stay tuned for my next blog post which will go over the scientific research for vitamin B supplementation and physical performance. Until then, go be good people and spread your love and light to the world!


As always, the information presented in this blog post is derived from my own study of nutrition, human movement, anatomy, and yoga. If you have specific questions about your micronutrition for your body, please consult with your physician, dietician, personal trainer, or private yoga teacher. If you are interested in private yoga and/or personal training sessions with me, Jackie, email me at info@lotusyogisbyjackie.com for more information about my services. Also, please subscribe to my website so you can receive my weekly newsletters (scroll to the bottom of the page where you can submit your email address). This will help keep you "in-the-know" about my latest blog releases and other helpful yoga and wellness information. Thanks for reading!


~Namaste, Jackie Allen, M.S., M.Ed., CCC-SLP, RYT-200, RCYT, NASM-CPT, NASM-CES

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