Micronutrients are often overshadowed because they make up a much smaller part of our diet than the macronutrients. Micronutrients get less of our mindshare, too, because they don’t impact our weight the way the macros do.
Though they may seem less significant, vitamins and minerals are just as critical as the calories we eat. They play critical roles in the structure of our bodies. For example, calcium mineralizes our bones, and Vitamin C makes our collagen strong. Micronutrients also impact how well our bodies function:
Sodium, potassium, and calcium work together to moderate hydration and muscle contractions. Vitamin K allows blood to clot if we get a cut. Vitamin E, an antioxidant, protects healthy cells from being damaged.
The list goes on and on. The takeaway point is this: even though we need less of them in our diet than macronutrients, vitamins and minerals are no less important to our health.
How to Maximize Those Micronutrients
Eat from every food group.
Protein foods, dairy, grains, fruits and veggies can all be great sources of vitamins and minerals. But no single food, or food group, is a great source of everything. At mealtime, fill your plate with 3-4 food groups, and try to incorporate the ones you miss into snacks throughout the day. For example, if you have a bowl of cereal with milk for breakfast, grab a piece of fruit to snack on later in the day.
For more information, visit our Daily Nutrition page
Incorporate lots of colour.
Micronutrients contribute colour to foods. These colours are often associated with certain vitamins and minerals. Eating a rainbow of colourful fruits and vegetables is an easy way to make sure you’re getting a great variety of micronutrients. Eat fresh or frozen when you can. Food processing, as well as exposure to light and air, can degrade important vitamins and minerals
For more information see our Eat From The Rainbow page
Minimize the amount of processed and fast food you eat.
These foods typically have low nutritional value when it comes to vitamins and minerals, and can be high in saturated fat, sodium, added sugar, and calories.
Eat fresh food when it is still fresh
Don’t let your farmer’s market finds sit around too long before you eat them–even when those fruits and veggies are tucked away in the crisper section of the refrigerator.
Stock up on frozen produce.
Frozen fruits and vegetables are commonly picked at peak freshness and quickly processed, which preserves their nutrient value.
Know a few kitchen basics.
Certain vitamins and minerals can be lost or broken down in cooking, while others can be better digested and absorbed when paired with certain foods.
Here are a few rules of thumb:
As you make decisions about what foods to eat, keep in mind it’s not all about calories, carbs, protein, and fat. It’s entirely possible to be malnourished from a lack of micronutrients even if you’re eating plenty of calories and macronutrients!
Take a look at the chart alongside: Micro-Nutrients - Tips - Table 1
Micronutrients In Your Diet
Diet quality and nutrient density are the most important considerations for overall health, well-being and maintaining a healthy weight. Although there are a number of sophisticated and often complicated systems for measuring diet quality (e.g. ANDI and other food rating scores), focusing on whole, unprocessed foods is the best way to ensure that your diet is nutrient-dense. Whole foods are closest to their natural form and are therefore rich in nutrients and free of unhealthy, unnatural additives.
The chart alongside: Foods With The Greatest Nutrient Density, will give you a good guideline on which foods to include in your daily diet.
For optimal health, the foods listed above should form the basis of your diet. Meat, eggs, dairy and refined foods such as chips, cookies, crackers, white rice, and refined oils have extremely low nutrient density scores and should be avoided. For more information on the FOUR FOOD GROUPS visit our Food For Life: Daily Nutrition Page
Vitamins and Minerals
In theory, vitamin and mineral supplements should not be necessary if your caloric intake is adequate and your diet includes a variety of whole foods. However, individual vitamin and mineral needs vary with age, gender, activity level, season, and climate.
For example, your vitamin D level may be adequate during summer months when your sun exposure is greater, but may drop below a healthy range during the winter months.
The most common vitamin and mineral deficiencies, especially for vegetarians and vegans, are in iron, calcium, vitamin D and B12. Some plant-based sources of these vitamins and minerals are summarized below, but follow the links to our FOOD FOR LIFE: Daily Nutrition, Eat To Live and Natural Sources pages.
- Vegan sources of calcium include leafy green vegetables (like spinach and kale), almonds and sesame seeds.
- Leafy greens are also a great source of iron, in addition to legumes, quinoa and pumpkin seeds.
- Adequate sun exposure is important for everyone (but especially for vegans) to maintain healthy levels of vitamin D.