by Dr. David Minkoff June 19, 2019 6 min read
The word “micronutrients” sure sounds nice.
Health marketers use it as a generic catch-all term, but usually without any specific meaning.
It’s easy to have an idea about what it probably is –– small nutrients, right? –– and it’s easy to understand that they are probably important.
But what are they really? And what do they do? Are there different kinds?
This article will help you clear up the confusion so you can make an informed choice about your health and nutrition and what is or is not a worthwhile purchase.
Let’s start with an important distinction: macronutrients and micronutrients.
“Macro” means large. Macronutrients are the big, broad categories of food. They are the basic forms of calories you take into your body. You’re probably already familiar with them: protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
If you need a refresher, check out this article on Macronutrients.
Mostly, macronutrients affect your body mass and energy levels. They give you the basic building blocks and fuel to run your body.
“Micro” means small. Micronutrients are essential nutrients you need in very tiny amounts. This includes vitamins, polyphenols, and minerals.
These essential nutrients play a critical behind-the-scenes role in almost all of our biological processes:
And much, much more [1-3]. Clearly these are vitally important to our health. In the ideal world of our evolutionary past, we got all of these from a balanced, healthy diet, which we will go into later in this article.
But for now, let’s take a closer look at the categories of micronutrients.
Vitamins are essential compounds for life that you MUST get from an outside source. You cannot make them on your own, so you need to have a dietary source.
There are two basic groups of vitamins: fat soluble and water soluble.
These are vitamins you will typically find in juices and vegetables, primarily the B-vitamins and vitamin C.
These vitamins have a different structure and need fat to be absorbed into your body.
These are powerful compounds that have a broad range of beneficial effects on your body, and while you don’t need them for basic function, you do need them to look and feel your best and to maintain optimal health over the course of your life.
They have a variety of functions in the body as antioxidants. Polyphenols are also the most delicious category of micronutrients: they are most abundant in olives,chocolate, coffee, tea, red wine, and berries.
There is also much speculation that polyphenols are the real reason for the health benefits of a Mediterranean-style diet.
Minerals, our last micronutrient category, also breaks down into subcategories: macrominerals and trace minerals.
Macro mineralsare the ones our bodies need a whole lot of. Think bones, electrolytes and detoxification. These minerals play very, very wide variety of roles in our cells. This group includes:
These are minerals we need in very small amounts. We’re talking about just a few micrograms per day. But we absolutely need them, and due to soil depletion by unsustainable industrial farming practices, mineral deficiency is rampant in modern culture.
Thousands of chemical reactions and enzymes rely on these trace minerals to function, and without them, your body cannot be in optimal health.
Some trace minerals include:
Iron, Manganese, Copper, Chromium, Zinc, Iodine, Fluoride, and Selenium.
The effects of trace mineral deficiency are wide-ranging depending on the mineral and genetics. It can show up as mental or emotional instability, chronic illnesses, immune problems, hormone dysregulation, and more.
Nuts, shellfish, legumes, leafy greens and sea salt are all reliable sources of trace minerals.
Ideally, we would get all of our micronutrients from our diet. Micronutrients in whole foods are “packaged” in a way our bodies understand.
We can digest them, absorb them, and use them.
The nutrients in whole foods are complexed with other cofactors that help them get absorbed through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream where they can actually get to our cells.
This is what “bioavailability” means. The nutrients are more “available” for your “biology”.
It is also why organic whole food sources are generally a better bet for addressing your nutritional needs.
Unfortunately, modern industrial farming practices have relentlessly depleted our soil for decades. Instead of using biological fertilizers like manure that return nutrients to the soil, industrial agriculture relies on chemical fertilizers to artificially induce plant growth.
Chemical fertilizers make the plants get bigger and faster, but the plants lack the underlying mineral content required to produce the vitamins and polyphenols that make them nutritious. That’s why so many conventionally grown vegetables have little to no flavor –– micronutrients are perceived by our tongue as flavor.
You know a vegetable is rich in nutrition when it is richly colored and flavorful.
Many people use supplements to close the gap left by the nutritional deficit of modern food. But this can be trickier than you think. Some supplements are good, but many are not.
It’s important to look at the quality of your supplements. Look for supplements that use organic whole food extracts. These vitamins will have all the cofactors your body needs to put them to use. That means more bioavailability, so you will get more usable nutrition for your dollar instead of just some expensive urine.
Making informed choices about your health –– choices about what to eat, what to buy, if supplements are even a good choice for you –– comes down to your ability to cut through hyperbolic marketing messages and understand what these cryptic health-related words actually mean.
It’s easy to get caught up in fad words like “vitamin” or “antioxidants” or “micronutrients” and just assume that they all kind of mean the same thing.
It’s easy to assume all vitamins are equal. Or that if something that “micronutrients” it must have everything your body needs.
It’s not true.
And there are vastly different levels of quality. These are very important distinctions to understand because a lot of companies out there, especially supplement “brands” on amazon, are just trying to capitalize on things you think you know.
A lot of the time all you get is expensive urine and a smaller bank account.
Knowledge is your best defense.
by Dr. David Minkoff
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