By Heather L. Dyson
We have all heard about macros, mostly associated with stringent eating habits or fad diets to maximize the internal burn or bulk up. But what about micros? What are these tiny little nutrients and how do they impact our overall health? Do they possess some kind of secret untapped power, or are they too small to make a difference?
Micronutrients are essential nutrients the body cannot make on its own that are needed in relatively small quantities. These little nutrients are consumed through food just like macronutrients and are broken into 2 categories: vitamins and minerals. Now there’s a familiar term! It is a common health mantra to make sure you are getting enough vitamins and minerals in your diet, and for good reason: micronutrients are little powerhouses that help support almost every internal function in your body. Without them, much of our bodily functions and daily activities would not be possible.
Vitamins are nutrients that are actually derived from organic substances, meaning they are made by plants and animals (1). There are 13 essential vitamins that are categorized as either water-soluble or fat-soluble. Vitamin C and the B Vitamins are water-soluble, so they circulate using water and are not stored in the body, with any excess simply lost in the urine (2) Since they are easily excreted, supplementation is not harmful, though whole food sources are always recommended. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble, so they bind to fat in the stomach and are then stored in fatty tissue and the liver (2). Since these vitamins can be stored and are not excreted quickly, getting too much of them can lead to serious health issues. Supplementation for these vitamins should be sparse and only used when medically necessary.
Vitamins are quite fragile because they can be broken down by heat or with age, which means certain cooking methods can reduce the amount of vitamins left in your food (1). This doesn’t mean you have to pinch your nose and start eating all of your vegetables raw! There are many ways to safely and effectively maintain vitamin density in your food without compromising taste and quality (3). Steaming is a great method for preserving the nutrients in your vegetables. Additionally, cooking foods whole with the peel on will help reduce the exposure to heat and water and preserve more of the nutrients. For meats, it is recommended to pour the juices from the pan back onto the meat to maintain as much of the vitamins as possible.
Minerals are not as easy to lose since they cannot be broken down by air or heat. These micronutrients are obtained through the soil and water and are categorized as either major minerals or trace minerals (2). Major minerals are needed in larger amounts than trace minerals and include calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and sulfur. All of those fancy names translate into nutrients that support proper water balance and contribute to the structure for bones and proteins. Trace minerals have a range of functions, but primarily help with carrying oxygen, forming enzymes, and supporting the immune system (2). Supplementation is rare and not recommended unless there is a medical deficiency, so it is best to find whole food sources to meet your required intake.
At the end of the day, vitamins and minerals are an important part of a healthy, balanced diet and are best obtained through whole food sources. While supplements like gummies or multivitamins may seem like an easy way to swallow up all those essential micronutrients at once, it is much better to eat a variety of colorful, whole foods to get what you need. When STAC’s new athletic club opens, be sure to check out our nutrition programs to learn more about micronutrients and get help finding the right balance for you!
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