Since I started to delve in a little deeper in nutrition, I started noticing on the web that people often talk about Macronutrients (Proteins, Fats, Carbohydrates) but very often the importance of Micronutrients, which are one of the major groups of nutrients your body needs, are overlooked. Micronutrients include vitamins which are necessary for energy production, immune function, blood clotting and other functions, and minerals who play a crucial role in growth, bone health, fluid balance and several other processes that happen in your body.

Vitamins and minerals are vital and apart from being important for growth and development, certain micronutrients also play a role in preventing and fighting disease.

And since our body cannot produce vitamins and minerals — for the most part, they’re referred to as essential nutrients.

Where do we get our Micronutients from?

Vitamins are organic compounds, they are made by plants and animals which can be broken down by heat, acid or air. While, minerals are inorganic, exist in soil or water and cannot be broken down.

When you have a varied and balanced diet of organic food and not overly processed sources you in principle don’t need supplementation. Get a variety of fresh vegetables, fruits, lean meat, nuts and seeds and whole grains and you’re micronutrient intake is probably on point.

What are the health benefits of Micronutrients?

All micronutrients are extremely important for the proper functioning of your body and taking in an adequate amount of the different vitamins and minerals is key to optimal health and may even help fight disease.

This is because micronutrients are part of nearly every process in your body. Moreover, certain vitamins and minerals can act as antioxidants, which protect against cell damage that has been associated with certain diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer’s and heart disease.

Now, let’s have a closer look at the most important micronutrients, what they do in your body, where you can find them and what deficiencies would cause.

We’ll break them down in 4 categories.

  • Water soluble vitamins,
  • Fat soluble vitamins,
  • Macrominerals, and
  • Trace Minerals

Water soluble vitamins

Most vitamins dissolve in water, they’re not easily stored in your body and get flushed out with urine when consumed in excess.

Nutrient

Sources

Deficiencies

Vitamin B1 (thiamine)

Helps convert nutrients into energy

Whole grains, meat, fish

Leads to a condition called ‘Beriberi’ is usually the result of a poor diet or alcoholism.

Symptoms include loss of appetite, weakness, pain in the limbs, shortness of breath and swollen feet or legs.

Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)

Necessary for energy production, cell function and fat metabolism

Organ meats, eggs, milk

A deficiency of B2 is called ariboflavinosis causes dryness and cracking of the skin around the nose and mouth.

Vitamin B3 (niacin)

Drives the production of energy from food

Meat, salmon, leafy greens, beans

B3 deficiency involves the skin, digestive system, and nervous system. In the late stage of severe deficiency ─ a disease called ‘pellagra’ ─ include inflammation of the skin (dermatitis), vomitings, diarrhea, headache, fatigue, and memory loss.

Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) Necessary for fatty acid synthesis

Organ meats, mushrooms, tuna, avocado

Vitamin B5 deficiency is rare, but may include symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia, depression, irritability, vomiting, stomach pains, burning feet, and upper respiratory infections.

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)

Helps your body release sugar from stored carbohydrates for energy and create red blood cells

Fish, milk, carrots, potatoes

Vitamin B6 deficiency is associated with microcytic anemia, scaling on the lips and cracks at the corners of the mouth and swollen tongue, depression and confusion, and a weakened immune function

Vitamin B7 (biotin)

Plays a role in the metabolism of fatty acids, amino acids and glucose

Eggs, almonds, spinach, sweet potatoes

B7 deficiency includes hair loss and a scaly red rash in the face (around the eyes, nose, mouth), and in the genital area.

Vitamin B9 (folate) Important for proper cell division

Beef, liver, black-eyed peas, spinach, asparagus

B9 deficiencie can result in an insufficient number of healthy red blood cells (vitamin deficiency anaemia).

Symptoms include fatigue and mouth sores.

Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) Necessary for red blood cell formation and proper nervous system and brain function

Clams, fish, meat

Vitamin B12 deficiency may lead to a reduction in healthy red blood cells (anaemia). The nervous system may also be affected. Symptoms are rare but can include fatigue, breathlessness, numbness, poor balance and memory trouble.

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) Required for the creation of neurotransmitters and collagen, the main protein in your skin

Citrus fruits, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts

Symptoms of vitamin C deficiency may not occur for a few months after a person’s dietary intake of vitamin C drops too low. They include, bruising, bleeding gums, weakness, fatigue and rash.

Fat soluble vitamins.

Fat-soluble vitamins do not dissolve in water and are best absorbed when consumed alongside a source of fat. After consumption, they are stored in your liver and fatty tissues for future use.

Nutrient

Sources

Deficiencies

Vitamin A

Necessary for proper vision and organ function

Retinol (liver, dairy, fish), carotenoids (sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach)

Vitamin A deficiency is most common in Africa and Southeast Asia but it can also occur when the gut can’t absorb the nutrient.

Vitamin A deficiency can cause blindness. It can also increase the risk of serious, sometimes fatal, infections. Symptoms include night blindness, dry skin and frequent infections.

Vitamin D

Promotes proper immune function and assists in calcium absorption and bone growth

Sunlight, fish oil, milk

For most adults, vitamin D deficiency isn’t a concern. Some, especially those with dark skin and adults older than 65, are at higher risk of the condition.

Most people have no symptoms. In severe cases, deficiency can lead to thin, brittle or misshapen bones.

Vitamin E

Assists immune function and acts as an antioxidant that protects cells from damage

Sunflower seeds, wheat germ, almonds

Vitamin E deficiency is extremely rare, but may cause disorientation and vision problems. Low levels of vitamin E can also lead to muscle weakness:

Vitamin K

Required for blood clotting and proper bone development

Leafy greens, soybeans, pumpkin

Vitamin K deficiency in adults is rare but does occur in infants. The main symptom of a vitamin K deficiency is excessive bleeding caused by an inability to form blood clots.

Macrominerals

Macrominerals are needed in larger amounts than trace minerals in order to perform their specific roles in your body.

Nutrient

Sources

Deficiencies

Calcium Necessary for proper structure and function of bones and teeth. Assists in muscle function and blood vessel contraction

Diary but also non-dairy sources such as seafood, leafy greens, legumes and dried fruits.

A low blood level of calcium (hypocalcemia), which can make the nervous system highly irritable, causing spasms of the hands and feet (tetany), muscle cramps, abdominal cramps, overly active reflexes, and so on.

Phosphorus: Part of bone and cell membrane structure

Dairy, meat, beans, lentils and nuts, whole grains.

A phosphorus deficiency is uncommon.

Magnesium : Assists with over 300 enzyme reactions, including regulation of blood pressure

Whole Wheat, whole grains, spinach, quinoa, almonds, cashews, peanuts, dark chocolate, black bean, avocado, edamame.

Magnesium deficiency can result in numerous symptoms. Symptoms include tremor, poor coordination, muscle spasms, loss of appetite, personality changes, and nystagmus.

Sodium : electrolyte that aids fluid balance and maintenance of blood pressure

Most processed foods are high in sodium (we actually tend to overconsume sodium)

With this condition, the body holds onto too much water. This dilutes the amount of sodium in the blood and causes levels to be low.

Symptoms include nausea, headache, confusion and fatigue.

Chloride : Often found in combination with sodium. Helps maintain fluid balance and is used to make digestive juices

Seaweed, rye, tomatoes, lettuce, celery, and olives.

Chloride deficiency or hypochloremia could be a result from fluid loss, dehydration, weakness or fatigue, difficulty breathing, diarrhea or vomiting, caused by fluid loss

Potassium : Electrolyte that maintains fluid status in cells and helps with nerve transmission and muscle function

Bananas, oranges, cantaloupe, honeydew, apricots, grapefruit (some dried fruits, such as prunes, raisins, and dates, are also high in potassium). cooked spinach,

cooked broccoli, potatoes, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, peas,

cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant, pumpkins, leafy greens

The symptoms depend on the severity of the deficiency but can include high blood pressure, constipation, kidney problems, muscle weakness, fatigue, and heart issues.

Sulfur : Part of every living tissue and contained in the amino acids methionine and cysteine

Kale, cabbage, cauliflower, asparagus, brussels sprouts, onions, garlic, tomatoes, avocado, bok choy, sweet potatoes, turnips and greens, water melon, nuts.

Sulfur deficiency could lead to reduced protein synthesis. The sulfur-containing amino acid cysteine is also needed for making glutathione, which is somewhat of a superhero in your body because it works as a potent antioxidant that protects your cells from damage.

Trace minerals

Trace minerals are needed in smaller amounts than macrominerals but still enable important functions in your body.

Nutrient

Sources

Deficiencies

Iron : Helps provide oxygen to muscles and assists in the creation of certain hormones

Oysters, white beans, spinach

Iron deficiency is a common cause of too few healthy red blood cells in the body (anaemia). In a pregnant woman, iron deficiency puts the baby at risk of developmental delays.

Fatigue is the most common symptom.

Manganese : Assists in carbohydrate, amino acid and cholesterol metabolism

Pineapple, pecans, peanuts

Signs of manganese deficiency include impaired growth, impaired reproductive function, skeletal abnormalities, impaired glucose tolerance, and altered carbohydrate and lipid metabolism. Overall, manganese deficiency is not common, and there is more concern for toxicity related to manganese overexposure.

Copper: Required for connective tissue formation, as well as normal brain and nervous system function

Liver, crabs, cashews

Common signs and symptoms of copper deficiency include fatigue and weakness, frequent sickness, weak and brittle bones, problems with memory and learning, difficulties walking, increased cold sensitivity, pale skin, premature gray hair and vision loss.

Zinc: Necessary for normal growth, immune function and wound healing

Oysters, crab, chickpeas

Zinc deficiency is characterized by growth retardation, loss of appetite, and impaired immune function. In more severe cases, zinc deficiency causes hair loss, diarrhea, delayed sexual maturation, impotence, hypogonadism in males, and eye and skin lesions

Iodine : Assists in thyroid regulation

Seaweed, cod, yogurt

Symptoms include enlargement of the thyroid gland causing a bulge in the neck (goitre). Fatigue, constipation and sensitivity to cold temperatures may also occur.

Fluoride : Necessary for the development of bones and teeth

Fruit juice, water, crab

Tooth decay is perhaps the most common sign of a fluoride deficiency. Plaque-rich bacteria produces acids using carbohydrates and sugars, which, in turn, damage tooth enamel. Brittle bones, typically caused by bone demineralization, are another symptom. This scenario can result in higher instances of bone fractures and even osteoporosis.

Selenium : Important for thyroid health, reproduction and defense against oxidative damage

Brazil nuts, sardines, ham

Selenium deficiency is relatively rare in healthy well-nourished individuals. Few cases in humans have been reported.

Author: Peter Koopmans