Do Micronutrients Really Matter?
Macros (the big ones - like protein, fats, and carbohydrates) get a lot of attention when it comes to health, but micronutrients deserve our attention, too. Since we need these nutrients in smaller amounts than macronutrients, they may not seem as important. Here's why they matter in a big way.
What are micronutrients?
Micronutrients refers to the vitamins and minerals that your body needs to stay alive and thrive. Whereas we need macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fats) in larger amounts that are measured in grams, we need micronutrients in smaller amounts that are measured in milligrams.
Not all micronutrients are considered essential to life, but the following ones are:
Essential Micronutrient Vitamins
- Vitamin B1 (thiamin)
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
- Vitamin B3 (niacin)
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B7 (biotin)
- Vitamin B9 (folate)
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K
Essential Micronutrient Minerals
How do I know if I'm getting enough micronutrients?
Since we need micronutrients in small amounts, extreme deficiencies are not common. However, micronutrient deficiencies do happen, even in America where the food supply is plenty and fully of variety. In fact, a data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) shows that 31% percent of the U.S. population is at risk of at least one vitamin deficiency or anemia.
A well-rounded diet, full of plenty of food groups and veggie-boosted products (like Otamot pasta sauce) is a great way to ensure you're getting all of the micronutrients you need. Here are some of the most common micronutrient deficiencies (and signs of deficiency) to be aware of:
- Calcium deficiency - the main sign is brittle bones in children and osteoporosis in adults
- Iron deficiency - symptoms include tiredness, weakness, hair loss, a weakened immune system, and impaired brain function
- Magnesium deficiency - signs include abnormal heart rate, muscle cramps, restless legs, fatigue, and migraines
- Vitamin A deficiency - temporary or permanent eye damage or blindness; not common in the U.S.
- Vitamin B12 deficiency - symptoms include megaloblastic anemia (enlarged blood cells) and impaired brain function
- Vitamin D deficiency - signs are subtle, but can include slow growth in children or muscle weakness, bone loss, and an increased risk of fractures in adults
People who are most at risk for one or more of these deficiencies typically lack a varied diet due to poverty, have no or low access to nutritious foods, or are taking medications that may interfere with nutrient absorption. Additionally, some population groups are at higher risk of nutrient deficiencies. Those include women of childbearing age (especially pregnant and breastfeeding women), infants and toddlers, older adult, people who are overweight, and people who are critically ill.
What are micronutrients important for?
Every single nutrient plays a role in keeping your body alive, moving, and thriving. Here's the role that each of the essential micronutrients plays:
- B vitamins - impact energy levels, brain function, and cell metabolism
- Choline - regulates memory, mood, and muscle control
- Vitamin A - helps form healthy skin, teeth, hair, and bones
- Vitamin C - forms blood vessels, cartilage, muscles, and collagen in bones
- Vitamin D - helps keep bones, teeth, and muscle healthy
- Vitamin K - necessary for heart health, blood clotting, and building bones
- Calcium - regulates heart rhythm and nerve function
- Sulfur - protects cell from damage and helps build DNA
- Phosphorus - for the growth and repair of tissue and producing genetic building blocks
- Magnesium - supports energy production, as well as muscle and nerve function
- Sodium - for proper muscle function, sending nerve signals, and maintaining fluid balance in the body
- Potassium - along with sodium, helps maintain proper fluid balance
- Iron - necessary for transporting oxygen throughout the body
- Zinc - for vital chemical reactions in the body, as well as creating DNA and aiding normal cell growth
Remember, one of your best ways to ensure you are getting enough of the essential micronutrients that your body needs is to eat a well-rounded diet, full of plenty of food groups, variety, and veggie-boosted products like Otamot pasta sauce.
Jessie Shafer is a registered dietitian-nutritionist, team member at The Real Food Dietitians, former magazine editor, and busy mom of three who has respect for all of the nutrients.