Micronutrients: vitamins and minerals

You may hear nutritionists refer to food as nutrient-dense or as nutritionally empty. What this refers to is a food’s ability to provide us with the vitamins and minerals that are responsible for a myriad of biochemical processes which fuel our metabolism. Without them, even if you are overweight or eat a lot of empty food, your body could starve.

If you don’t choose real, whole foods on a daily basis and primarily choose highly processed foods, signs of inflammation and disease could easily pop up. Examples of conditions that could progressively get worse with poor nutrition are things like leaky gut, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, hormonal disturbances, thyroid problems, autoimmune disorders like Celiac Disease, heart disease, diabetes, and unfortunately many more.

In addition to macronutrient content (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) it’s good to know a bit about micronutrient content (vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients), as well. This could help you choose a variety of foods that will ultimately lead you to good health.

Below is a list of vitamins and minerals and a short description of what each is responsible for in the body. As you can see, one little vitamin or mineral could play a large part in our overall health:

Fat-soluble vitamins (found in animal fat and oils)
  • Vitamin A (retinol) helps with normal vision, plays a role in the regeneration of skin, fights off infections, is necessary for regular lung function and the digestive system. Retinol and its provitamin beta-carotin are found in yellow, green and orange fruits and vegetables (apricots, peach, lettuce and carrots). Retinol from animal-based sources is found in whole milk, egg yolks, liver and oily fish. An insufficiency in vitamin A leads to a reduction in vision, dryness of the skin and hair loss.
  • Vitamin D (calciferol). This hormone-like substance is a steroid that regulates the level of calcium in the blood and bone tissue. It occurs in two forms: vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3. Vitamins D2 and D3 are formed under the impact of ultraviolet light from its precursors: the provitamins ergosterol and 7-dehydrocholesterol. Vitamin D is found in the liver of marine fish, mushrooms, dairy products and eggs. A deficit in vitamin D among children causes rickets, and in adults it causes an erosion of calcium in the bones (osteoporosis). In general, a vitamin D deficiency can also cause hormonal imbalance, thyroid issues, infertility, and even cancer.
  • Vitamin E supports the development of sex hormones, the condition of the skin and cell membranes. It is found in foods such as wheat germ, spices like paprika, sunflower seeds, and almonds. A vitamin E deficiency can cause acne, vision disturbances and even faults in the reproductive system.
  • Vitamin K is responsible for regular coagulation in the blood, its deficiency leads to a tendency to bleed. It also plays an active role in bone preservation. Its source is in green plants and the liver.
Water Soluble Vitamins
  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine) is found in all plant and animal-based foods. It regulates the metabolism of carbohydrates.
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) is responsible for the condition of the skin, mucosal membranes and vision. This vitamin comes from plant and animal-based foods and it is produced by the intestinal microflora in sufficient amounts. Therefore, it is rare to find someone with a vitamin B2 deficiency.
  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) plays an important role in protein metabolism: it controls the process of amino acid absorption. A deficit in vitamin B6 leads to the loss of appetite, nausea, sensitivity to pain and even depression due to the disruption in the metabolism.
  • Vitamin B12 is found only in animal based foods. A B12 deficiency could be the cause of pernicious anemia and could lead to higher homocysteine levels in the blood.
  • Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) helps resist infections and quickens the healing process for wounds. It is not synthesised in the body. Vitamin C is found in wild roses, citrus fruits, black and red currants, sweet pepper, tomatoes, potatoes, red cabbage, spinach, sauerkraut, parsley, kiwi and bananas, in milk and in the liver.
  • Vitamin H (biotin) plays an important role in the metabolism of proteins and carbs. Its insufficiency leads to rashes, hair loss, inflammation of the intestines and muscle aches. It is abundant in red cabbage, liver and dried mushrooms.
  • Vitamin H (biotin) plays an important role in the metabolism of proteins and carbs. Its insufficiency leads to rashes, hair loss, inflammation of the intestines and muscle aches. It is abundant in red cabbage, liver and dried mushrooms.
  • Niacin is a component of B2 and is found in wheat flour, kidneys and animal liver, fish and meat, beans and fruits. Its deficit causes skin lesions.
  • Pantothenic acid is found in all food products. It controls the metabolism of proteins, fats and carbs and it helps to detox the body.
  • Bromine is found in gastric acid, kidney tissue, the thyroid gland and the brain. We get it from cereals, legumes, milk and dairy products.
  • Vanadium is deposited in bones, teeth, hair and adipose tissue. It reduces the synthesis of cholesterol, strengthens haematosis, and protects teeth from cavities.
  • Iron is a hematopoietic micro-element. There is a lot of it in red blood cells, the spleen, liver and blood plasma. In order to prevent anaemia (i.e. iron deficiency), it is worthwhile to consume buckwheat, liver, meat, vegetables, fruit and bread.
  • Iodine is a regulator of the thyroid gland. The main source of this element is milk, vegetables, meat, eggs, saltwater fish and seafood.
  • Cobalt improves haematosis and has a positive effect on the metabolism of carbs and protein. For example, it strengthens the formation of skeletal cells. Foods that are rich in cobalt include milk, bread, vegetables, liver and beans.
  • Silicon contributes to the biosynthesis of collagen and bone formation. It is found in water and vegetables.
  • Manganese is essential for bone growth and the skeleton, the formation of reproductive cells, blood cells and the synthesis of cholesterol. Manganese is found in bread, vegetables, liver and kidneys.
  • Copper can be found in bread, tea leaves, potatoes, fruits, liver, nuts, mushrooms, soy and coffee. A copper insufficiency leads to anaemia and impaired bone formation.
  • Molybdenum is very important for people who tend to suffer from kidney stones: when there is a deficit, the formation of xanthine stones in the kidneys increases. Molybdenum is found in beans, liver, kidneys and cereals.
  • Nickel is contained in plant-based products, marine fish, seafood, liver, brain, and is essential for the health of hair, skin and teeth.
  • Zinc. Zinc quickens the effects of insulin and prevents fatty liver. Zinc comes from bovine and swine liver, beef, egg yolks, cheese, peas, bread and chicken

So, the next time you consider how many carbohydrates, proteins, or fats you have eaten, be sure to take the above list into account as well. A little awareness of what vitamins and minerals you eat could go a long way.

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