Nutrition can be hard to understand, especially when it comes to micronutrients and macronutrients.
Although there’s tons of information available about them online, not everyone can understand the language of science.
Whether you’re looking to start eating clean or you just want to understand what your family eats daily, I’m here to decode all those micronutrients and macronutrients in s simple and easy-to-understand way.
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What are micronutrients?
From vitamins and minerals to enzymes and phytochemicals, there are hundreds of active compounds naturally found in whole foods. Even though micronutrients are required in small quantities, sometimes it’s challenging to get them. Many of the chronic diseases we suffer from today are caused by nutrient deficiencies, which means you can ward them off by eating the right food.
There are two micronutrients that are needed for your body to function properly – vitamins and minerals. Present in the body in small amounts, minerals make up around 4% of your body weight. Minerals are considered as the inorganic substances, which are vital for a number of important body processes – from the functioning of the digestive system, kidneys, and heart to a basic bone formation.
There are over 60 various minerals in the body, but only 22 are essential. Since they’re not produced by the body, you should consume foods rich in those minerals on a daily basis. 7 of 22 essential minerals are considered as macro-minerals or major minerals, such as chloride, calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, sulfur, and sodium. Manganese, selenium, iodine, zinc, and copper are usually referred to as micro-minerals or trace minerals.
Your body needs more than 100 mg of the major minerals per day and some of the best sources to get them from are:
- Magnesium: milk, lean meat, dark green leafy veggies, seafood, dark chocolate, whole-grains, and pumpkins;
- Calcium: dairy products, fish, broccoli, oranges, tofu, and nuts like walnuts and almonds;
- Potassium: leafy greens, fish, sweet potatoes, milk, freshly juiced orange juice, and bananas;
- Sodium: fish, meat, salt, pickle, and soy sauce;
- Phosphorus: potato, dairy products, quinoa, beans, pumpkin seeds, and oatmeal;
- Chloride: soy sauce, table salt, lettuce, tomatoes, celery, and olives.
- Sulfur: Beef, nuts.
Several sources of trace minerals include:
- Selenium: whole-grains, eggs, seafood, and seeds;
- Fluoride: tea and fish;
- Chromium: broccoli, whole-grains, bananas, and cheese;
- Copper: mushrooms, seafood, whole grains, sunflower seeds, and nuts;
- Iodine: eggs, seafood, potatoes, iodized salts, and milk;
- Zinc: seafood, spinach, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, and wheat-germ;
- Iron: dark green leafy veggies, pumpkin seeds, whole-grains, nuts, and legumes.
There are a lot more sources and supplementation is often required to ensure you provide your body with all the essential minerals. Vitamins are as important as minerals, though.
Vitamins are micronutrients that are vital for the proper metabolic functions within the cells of the body, as well as the processes that take part in releasing the energy from the foods. Some vitamins are powerful antioxidants that help to protect our cells from damage, warding off numerous degenerative diseases and conditions.
There are 13 vitamins that are divided into water soluble (B vitamins and vitamin C) and fat soluble (vitamins A, D, E, and K).
The fat soluble vitamins are stored in the body longer than water soluble ones (except vitamin B12), which are stored in the body for a very short period of time.
Although it’s essential to watch your intake of all the vitamins, you should pay more attention to water soluble ones since they must be replenished almost every day.
The body doesn’t have the ability to produce vitamins itself, except vitamins D and K. That’s why eating healthy and vitamin-dense foods each day is critically important. Some of the richest sources of water-soluble vitamins are:
- Vitamin C (also, ascorbic acid): oranges, strawberries, kiwi, broccoli, bell peppers, brussels sprouts, and leafy greens;
- Thiamine (Vitamin B1): fish, pork, whole grain cereals and breads, seeds, nuts, oatmeal, and whole grains;
- Riboflavin (Vitamin B2): dairy products, eggs, spinach, and nuts;
- Niacin (Vitamin B3): fish, meat, mushrooms, leafy greens, and whole grains;
- Pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5): mushrooms, eggs, broccoli, avocados, albeit the small amounts of pantothenic acid are found in almost each healthy food;
- Vitamin B6 (or pyridoxine): whole grains, eggs, fish, bananas, and seeds and nuts;
- Biotin (Vitamin B7): meat, milk, egg yolks, whole grains, and all veggies. The vitamin is made by the intestinal bacteria;
- Folic acid (Vitamin B9): broccoli, dark green leafy veggies, beans, peanuts, peas, sunflower seeds, strawberries, and oranges;
- Vitamin B12 (or cobalamin): mostly found in the animal products, such as fish, eggs, dairy products, and meat.
Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in your liver and fat cells and tend to dissolve in the fat before entering the blood stream. Low consumption of healthy fats can lead to deficiencies of the fat-soluble vitamins. Unlike water-soluble vitamins, fat-soluble ones aren’t removed from the body fast, which is why supplementation isn’t recommended. The natural sources of fat-soluble vitamins are:
- Vitamin A: liver, fish, dairy products, dark green leafy veggies, carrots, apricots, and pumpkins;
- Vitamin D: sunlight, salmon, mushrooms, dairy products, and egg yolk.
- Vitamin E: soybean oil, safflower oil, corn oil, leafy greens, wheat germ, hazelnuts, and almonds;
- Vitamin K: spinach, cabbage, kale, turnip greens, Swiss chard, collards, mustard greens, romaine, parsley, and green leaf lettuce.
If you have any micronutrient deficiency, you have a high risk of enzyme deficiency as well.
The enzymes play a crucial role in digesting and breaking down the large food particles into smaller ones.
For instance, zinc is essential for digestive enzymes. When you’re deficient in this mineral, your digestive system fails to effectively break down protein.
This can lead to the big food units entering the small intestine and causing digestive issues since they actually shouldn’t be there.
When your digestion is extremely slow, undigested or poorly digested food particles get through the intestinal wall, traveling in the blood, where they’re perceived as invaders and attacked. As a result, you experience a number of health issues, including food allergies.
What are macronutrients?
Macronutrients are the biggest class of nutrients your body requires for energy. There are four kinds of macronutrients, including carbohydrates, protein, fats, and alcohol. While the first three types are essential, alcohol is considered as the unhealthiest macronutrient. Unlike micronutrients, macronutrients are needed in the large amounts since they provide energy in the form of calories.
Let’s start with carbs, which give your body and brain energy to use throughout the day. There are three types of carbs such as fiber, sugar, and starch. Fiber is vital for numerous digestive processes and can be insoluble and soluble. Soluble fiber is broken down with water. Insoluble fiber isn’t broken down but retains tons of water in the colon, warding off constipation.
Many foods have soluble fiber and few contain insoluble. Soluble fiber is found in cakes, cereals, pastries, cookies, and other heavily processed foods. Healthy foods, such as chickpeas, carrots, and wild rice are rich insoluble fiber.
Since insoluble fiber aids in digestion, your body needs more of it. Insoluble fiber also helps to eliminate toxins from the digestive system, keeping it healthy. When you don’t get enough of this fiber, you’re more likely to experience various digestive issues, including constipation, hemorrhoids, and even cancer.
Starch is another type of carbohydrate, which is more difficult for your body to break down. Due to starch’s complexity, the body digests it at a slower rate. Fruits contain tiny amounts of starch while vegetables are abundant in it. Grains and legumes, though, are believed to be the richest sources of starch.
When it comes to sugar, many researchers have found that this carb does more harm than good to the body. It’s the easiest carb to break down and it enters the body’s bloodstream instantly. Today, there are several types of sugars and each goes into the bloodstream at a different speed. Disaccharides, monosaccharides, polysaccharides, and oligosaccharides are the types of sugars that have different complexity and different functions.
Polysaccharides and oligosaccharides are both complex carbs. Their building blocks are the dietary monosaccharides galactose, fructose and glucose, also called as simple carbs. Disaccharides, like sucrose, are formed of two monosaccharide units. It’s important to consume more complex carbs since they provide more health benefits. They’re good for the intestines and help to lower cholesterol.
Some of the healthiest sources of complex carbs are banana, tomatoes, lentils, broccoli, spinach, chickpeas, avocado, milk, hard-boiled eggs, and walnuts, among the others. Carbs are stored in the body as glycogen that’s found in the liver. Glycogen gives you energy for physical activities. Some carbs are stored in skeletal muscles.
Protein is the second healthy macronutrient your body needs on a daily basis for healthy growth. Protein helps to repair damaged tissues and boost the immune system. Plus, it helps to stimulate the production of vital hormones and enzymes. Protein consists of a mix of amino acids that play a critical role in many body’s functions.
There are over a hundred kinds of amino acids, yet only 21 of them can be active in the body. The body is able to form around half of the amino acids, but adults must consume at least 8 of the essential amino acids and kids at least 9. Those eight essential amino acids are broken down to build up the simpler forms, which produce other amino acids that are hard to get from diet.
There are two types of protein, such as complete and incomplete. Foods that contain all the eight essential amino acids are a complete protein. For instance, meat is an animal source of a complete protein. When you combine legumes, such as lentils, beans, and nuts, you create a plant-based source of a complete protein.
Incomplete protein contains less or lacks the essential amino acids at all. Most plants are incomplete proteins, which is why it’s important for vegetarians and vegans to mix ingredients together to boost their protein intake.
In a healthy diet, 12 to 20% of your total daily calorie intake must come from proteins. However, be careful with your sources. Several studies have shown that too much animal protein can increase a cancer risk. The hard-boiled eggs, skim milk, avocado, banana, walnuts, tomatoes, broccoli, chickpeas, lentils, cheese, spinach, and yogurt are some of the best sources of protein to include in your daily diet.
Fats are macronutrients as well. Your body needs healthy fats to absorb most fat-soluble micronutrients. Fats also help to preserve the cell membranes, stimulating the healthy growth of cells. Both healthy and unhealthy fats are stored in the body and supply energy to the body when foods aren’t enough.
The majority of foods are rich in fats, but not all of them are healthy. Ensure you’re supplying your body with healthy fats by incorporating wholesome foods into your diet, such as avocado, walnuts, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, chickpeas, beans, broccoli, banana, seeds, and fish.
Omega-3s and omega-6s are considered as the “healthy” fats, which are needed for plenty of the body’s processes. The body also needs unsaturated fats found in avocado, vegetable oils, and nuts. These fats aid in controlling metabolic rate and keeping the flexibility and ensuring healthy growth of the membranes of the cells.
Small amounts of cholesterol are also needed for hormone production. But, when it comes to fats, it’s critically important to remember about moderation. Even too much of healthy fats can lead to serious diseases and conditions.
All these micronutrients and macronutrients are vital for keeping your body functioning well. When you don’t get enough of any of the micronutrients or macronutrients, some functions and parts of the body can stop functioning properly. People who follow healthy eating plans have a reduced risk of nutrient deficiencies unlike those who eat too much processed and sugary foods.
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