Updated: May 4, 2020
They say good things come in small packages. In the case of nutrition, it is absolutely true.
Most focused on fitness and nutrition emphasize their focus to the macros (macronutrients) in their diets: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. However, the equally important micronutrients essential to good health and disease prevention, are often ignored.
Macro literally means big. Macronutrients are named from the fact they make up the largest part of the nutrition in food, supplying calories and acting as the building blocks for muscles and tissues. While not necessarily balanced, most people get plenty — and often, too many — from a regular diet.
Comparatively, micro means small or minute. Therefore, micronutrients are individual vitamins and minerals that are also critical for health, but needed in much smaller amounts.
WHAT ARE MICRONUTRIENTS?
Micronutrients are, in short, essential nutrients -- Vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and amino acids. The body cannot produce most of these chemicals and elements, so it is imperative to replenish them through nutrition.
Micronutrients occur naturally in whole foods and play a variety of key roles in metabolism, immune function, brain and nervous system operations, and the maintenance of tissue function.
Some of the specific ways in which our bodies use and need these nutrients include:
Converting food to energy
Building / repairing tissues and DNA
Produce/regulate enzymes and hormones
Breaking down/detoxifying xenobiotics and medications
Regulating body fluid levels
"Even though you need small quantities of micronutrients in your diet, many have trouble getting enough. Micronutrients play a big role in your overall health. They work with macronutrients and on their own to support all areas of your body." ~Dr. Jeremy Furtado, senior research scientist with the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
There are a wide variety of reasons why people develop micronutrient deficiencies. Unlike macronutrients that provide energy directly and immediately, micronutrients do not. Therefore, it is not always immediately obvious when you develop a deficiency. Eventually, however, if a person does not consume enough of a certain nutrient, symptoms of system or tissue breakdown will occur -- some can be serious.
More than 40% of adults get less than the recommended daily amounts of calcium, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, D, and E. [source: Food and Drug Administration data]
Micronutrient deficiency can be the result of a poor diet. Deficiencies can also result from other factors much less obvious such as:
Limited food selection diet (vegan, vegetarian, paleo, keto, etc.)
Low stomach acid
Leaky gut syndrome
Blood sugar imbalances
Crohn's disease or pancreatitis
Everyone has had one or more of these factors for at least a period of time. Perhaps you are struggling with one right now and it is contributing to a micronutrient deficiency in your body.
All micronutrients are essential and important for everyone. But those with at least one of the above factors or people are very active, such as athletes and those who work out often, need more than most. Particularly if you are trying to lose weight, be conscious of your micronutrient intake.
SIGNS OF MICRONUTRIENT DEFICIENCIES
There are a number health problems associated with low micronutrient levels. Low levels of certain micronutrients can result in thyroid issues, low bone density, digestive problems, and impaired mental ability. Many micronutrients are involved in the structure and function of the brain and nervous system, as well.
How Do I Prevent or Repair My Nutritional Deficiencies?
Now that you have a better understanding of how critical adequate micronutrient intake is, it's important to understand how to ensure your body is receiving the proper amounts on a daily basis.
Note: What Am I Missing? Micronutrient Deficiencies: Part 2 will return when Dolores returns from hiatus -- Stay tuned!
~Dolores Harrell, CHC, CPT, CN, TES