Last week, in part I, I discussed macronutrients and several reasons why good nutrition is important. As a reminder, nutrition is the supply of materials, as food, required by the body’s cells to stay alive. Stated differently, nutrition is the science of consuming and utilizing foods. This week, the topic will focus on micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
Micronutrients – Vitamins & Minerals
Vitamins are organic compounds made by plants and animals, which are necessary for energy production, immune function, blood clotting and other biological functions. Adequate consumption of all micronutrients is necessary for optimal health, as each vitamin and mineral has a specific role in your body. Vitamins are generally divided into two categories: water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins.
Vitamins that dissolve in water are known as water-soluble. These vitamins do not store well in the body, thus they get flushed out easily through urine when consumed in excess. Each vitamin play a unique role in human health, however, their functions tend to be related. For example, most B vitamins are coenzymes for triggering important chemical reactions to produce energy. Here are some examples:
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine): converts nutrients into energy
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): needed for energy production, cell function and fat metabolism
- Vitamin B3 (niacin): navigates the production of energy from food
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): fatty acid synthesis
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine): helps release sugar from stored carbohydrates for energy and creates red blood cells
- Vitamin B7 (biotin): aids in the metabolism of fatty acids, amino acids and glucose
- Vitamin B9 (folate): proper cell division
- Vitamin B12 (cobalamin): red blood cell formation and good nervous system and brain function
- Vitamin C (ascorbic acid): creation of neurotransmitters and collagen
The fat-soluble vitamins do not dissolve in water, but rather in the presence of dietary fat. After being eaten, these vitamins get stored in the liver and fatty tissues for future use. The fat-soluble vitamins are:
- Vitamin A: very important for proper vision and organ function
- Vitamin D: proper immune function, calcium absorption and bone growth
- Vitamin E: assists immune function and is an antioxidant
- Vitamin K: necessary for blood clotting and bone development
Go here for more relevant information on Vitamin D.
Minerals are inorganic compounds found in soil or water, and cannot be broken down. Minerals play an important role in development, bone health, fluid balance and other biological processes. Like vitamins, minerals can also be broken down into two subsets; macrominerals and trace minerals.
These compounds are needed in large amounts, compared to trace minerals, in order to perform specific functions in your body. Here are some examples:
- Calcium: important for proper structure and function of bones and teeth, as well as muscle function and blood vessel contraction
- Phosphorus: bone and cell membrane structure
- Magnesium: plays a role in over 300 enzymatic reactions, including regulation of blood pressure
- Sodium: electrolyte that aids fluid balance and maintenance of blood pressure
- Chloride: helps maintain fluid balance
- Potassium: electrolyte that maintains fluid status in cells and assists with nerve transmission
- Sulfur: part of every living tissue
Trace minerals are needed in small amounts in the body, yet they are still important for biological functions. Some examples follow:
- Iron: provides oxygen to muscles
- Manganese: carbohydrate, amino acid and cholesterol metabolism
- Copper: connective tissue formation, as well as brain and nervous system function
- Zinc: immune function and wound healing
- Iodine: thyroid regulation
- Fluoride: development of bones and teeth
- Selenium: thyroid health, reproduction and defending against oxidative damage
Here are a couple of good articles describing the importance of micronutrients.