You may have heard the words macros and micros being used a lot when referring to your diet, but what are they?
All foods are divided up into a combination of these macros and micros, and that is how our calories are is made up. Macronutrients are nutrients we need in large quantities and provide the bulk of our energy intake, and consist of 3 main food groups; carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Micronutrients on the other hand, are the nutrients we need in smaller quantities, such as individual vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients.
I have previously written a post on macros, and gone into details in regards to their roles, and why it is needed for health (check that out here), and so this post focuses more on the role of micronutrients in our diet.
Micros are much smaller measured values in terms of nutrition. Similar to macros, there are 3 types of micros needed for health – vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. There are lots of micronutrients in the foods you eat, especially fruits and vegetables that are plentiful in vitamins and minerals. We must obtain micronutrients from food since the body cannot produce vitamins and minerals.
Vitamins are necessary for energy production, immune function, and blood clotting as well as act as cofactors (a substance whose presence is essential for the activity of an enzyme) for enzymes required in energy production. They are divided into two categories: water-soluble vitamins (meaning they dissolve in water), and fat-soluble vitamins (best absorbed when consumed with a type of fat). We only need these in very small quantities which are just a few micrograms or milligrams per day.
Fat-soluble vitamins include;
- Vitamin A (beta-carotene): Is essential for many processes in your body, including maintaining healthy vision, ensuring the normal function of your immune system and organs and aiding the proper growth and development of babies in the womb.
- Vitamin D: has anti-inflammatory and immunoregulatory properties (helps regulates the immune system), and is crucial for the activation of immune system defenses.
- Vitamin E: is an essential nutrient with anti-inflammatory properties. It helps maintain healthy skin, cell function, and strengthen the body’s immune system. It’s an antioxidant, making it effective at combating the effects of free radicals produced by the metabolism of food and toxins in the environment.
- Vitamin K: This vitamin is essential for the blood and aids in blood clotting.
Water-soluble vitamins include;
- Vitamin C; is necessary for the growth, development, and repair of all body tissues. It is also involved in the formation of collagen, absorption of iron, the immune system, wound healing, and the maintenance of cartilage, bones, and teeth.
- B Vitamins: help the body convert food into energy (metabolism), create new blood cells, and maintain healthy skin cells, brain cells, and other body tissues.
- Folic acid: helps your body produce and maintain new cells.
Like vitamins, minerals are essential for the normal function of the body, and are only required in small quantities. They have a variety of functions within the body, in particular, playing an important role in growth, bone health, fluid balance.
These are named essential as they are essential components of the human diet. They include:
- Calcium: Calcium is required as a structural component of bones, and works alongside phosphorus to build strong bones.
- Phosphorus: Phosphorous works with calcium to help build bones
- Magnesium: Acts a cofactor in enzymic reactions.
- Sodium: helps maintain the balance of water in and around your cells.
- Potassium: helps regulate fluid balance, muscle contractions, and nerve signals within the body.
- Iron: Iron is essential for the production of haemoglobin in the blood.
- Zinc: Zinc helps the immune system fight off bacteria and viruses. It also helps the body make proteins and DNA (the genetic material in all cells).
Tips on how to increase vitamins and minerals intake in the diet
- Keep healthy snacks easily to hand (e.g. fresh fruit in a bowl, fruit salad, or other healthy food swaps).
- Snack on raw vegetables: such as cucumber, celery or carrots.
- Try freshly squeezed juices instead of coffee, tea or fizzy drinks: but be mindful
of the natural sugars in fresh orange juice.
- Try to have fruit and veg with every meal.
- Add chopped, fresh or dried fruit onto your breakfast cereal.
If you feel you are not getting a nutritionally balanced diet, speak to a doctor or nutrition specialist about taking a mineral supplement per day, and ensure not to exceed your upper limit.