What Are Micronutrients?
We talked about macronutrients (Macros) here, those are carbohydrates, fats and proteins that make up the calories behind our food. We also discussed who should be tracking their macros and why or why not. So what are micronutrients?
This overarching term for molecules that includes vitamins, minerals and elements that provide important parts of your diet that not covered by macronutrients. Your parents, teachers and people on TV have told you about how important these are to your health since you were little. So what do they do and how do we make sure we are getting what we need?
We’ve talked previously in our Big Rocks article about how our most important first step is making sure that we address and correct any deficiencies our clients and athletes may have. Often, these deficiencies are due to people not eating or drinking foods with the correct micronutrients. This means there are certain vitamins, minerals or similar that they are not getting enough of in their diet. So why are they missing them?
For most people it’s due to a low or zero intake of vegetables, fruits and other nutrient dense foods. That’s why we recommend so strongly in our 4 components of a perfect meal article that ¼ or more of your plate should be vegetables multiple times a day. This is a great way to prevent having any deficiencies by being preventative and having a bevy of colors and different types of vegetables allows you to reduce or avoid deficiencies of many different micronutrients.
So, how prevalent / common are the deficiencies?
According to the literature, micronutrient deficiency conditions are affect 2 billion people and it's not just undernourished people from developing countries, but it is also a 1st world problem. This has become a silent epidemic of vitamin and mineral deficiencies affecting all genders, ages and prevalent specifically in some high risk groups.
What happens if you have a micronutrient deficiency?
It can cause new disease, exacerbate factors of diseases the person already has and it also greatly impacts the chance of all cause death and the person's quality of life.
How do we prevent it?
This is a great question and of course it will depend on the person and their specific situation, but we do have some general ideas and recommendations:
1) Figure out if the deficiency is stemming from a deeper and more serious issue
This is where consulting a doctor, getting blood drawn and having the right network of people around you is important. We want to ensure above all else that we are improving a person's health. When we discover a deficiency, the most important question to ask is why they have them.
Most times it is a simple fix with diet, but it is important to track the changes as correcting these deficiencies could be a major factor in improving the person's overall health.
If it is NOT corrected by a change in diet and lifestyle it is important we consult the appropriate medical professionals and figure out the true cause as soon as possible.
2) Fix it with whole, minimally processed foods that meet the RDI (recommended dietary intake) for the person's deficiency.
Some people immediately want to supplement when they find out that they have a deficiency, which we understand. Whenever possible though, we recommend using whole foods that are minimally processed first. The reason is to make sure we are getting the most bioavailable food possible, meaning the easiest way for the nutrients to be absorbed in the body.
One common example of this is the iron intake of a person who is a vegan or vegetarian versus someone who eats meat and fish consistently. There are 2 types of iron we consume in our diet, heme and non-heme. Heme is more bioavailable (easily absorbed and used by the body) compared to non-heme. The problem for vegetarians and vegans is that there is little to no heme iron in plant based foods, most of the iron in those are non-heme. This means that a person who does not consistently eat meat will need to find another source of heme iron to make sure they do not become anemic (low iron in the blood).
Our staff has seen this many times and we make sure to bring this up with those clients and find other foods to substitute to make sure they are not deficient, these include whole grain brads, avocados and baked potatoes. Then to take it one step further we also pair those foods with ones high in Vitamin C, which helps with the uptake of iron into the body. So now we will make meals out of these recommendations where we'll recommend our athlete/client eats a baked potato with a side (or topped with) broccoli. Another common one we'll use is whole grain bread toast with a glass of 100% orange juice. These are quick and easy ways for us as a staff to make sure that our athletes and clients are never deficient.
Other reason we prefer our athletes/clients prioritize whole foods is that some supplement companies don't always provide what they claim in their products. This means that you may be wasting your time and money taking those supplements, so we always recommend you do your research and learn about not just the product but also who you are buying from.
Finally, for most people, the short term fix of supplementation does not lead to long term habits and fixes in the person's daily eating. In some groups of people at special risk require supplementation, but the most effective way to meet community health needs safely is by population based approaches involving food fortification
3) Track the changes in diet and have consistent testing
For most people the tracking of changes and keeping a log or using our PP Mindful Eating Journal will be enough to show if any deficiencies remain. It is important to not just track your food, but to also track your overall feelings, emotions and willingness to exercise/train as these are just as telling of signs as the food itself.
4) Educating and increasing awareness of the common deficiencies
There are certain micronutrients that most of the US population is deficient in, these include vitamin D, iodine, magnesium and zinc. Knowing this information allows us to quickly and reliably find sources for each and then try to work them into overarching recommendations and education for our clients/athletes, while also finding specific ways to increase them for the individuals too.
The more we empower our athletes and clients, the more they can take their health and performance into their own hands. Do you want some on your side to help you be the best version of yourself? Click Here to get started with our staff!
Tulchinsky, T. H. (2010). Micronutrient deficiency conditions: global health issues. Public health reviews, 32(1), 243-255.