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Micronutrients: Minerals and Vitamins

Micronutrients: Minerals and VitaminsVitamins: water-soluble vitamins and fat-soluble vitamins

The food we humans eat everyday is made up of tens of thousands of components: Like, carbohydrates, proteins, fats, fibers, spices, vitamins, minerals and so many more. Out of all these components only 300 are considered nutrients: chemical substances that nourish our body. Of the 300 nutrients only 45 are considered essential. Essential nutrients are needed for body functions and cannot be made by the body so they must be consumed. Essential nutrients are classified into two groups: macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats, water) are needed in large amounts and they generally provide energy and repair the body. Micronutrients are needed in very small amounts. These micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) enable the human body to use the carbohydrates, proteins, fats and water that are consumed and they are essential in all body functions from making bones to digesting food.

Micronutrients can be split into two main groups - minerals and vitamins. Minerals are inorganic compounds that come from the soil and water. Vitamins are organic compounds that come from plants and animals. Micronutrients are different from macronutrients because they are necessary only in very tiny amounts and contain zero calories. Nevertheless, micronutrients are essential for good health and micronutrient deficiencies can cause serious health problems. These micronutrients substances are the "magic wands" that enable the body to produce enzymes, hormones and other substances essential for proper growth and development. The word 'vitamins' includes the word 'vital' which shows their importance in our life.

This is the reason we measured protein, carbohydrate and fat needs in grams. Vitamins and minerals are measured in milligrams (mg), micrograms (mcg) and international units (IU).

Vitamins are placed in two categories, water-soluble and fat-soluble based on whether or not the vitamins can dissolve in water. Water-soluble vitamins include the B complex of vitamins and vitamin C. We don't store water-soluble vitamins in our body very well so they need to be replaced constantly through our diet. That is one of the reasons we need to eat good foods every day, not just once in a while.

All of the water-soluble vitamins are available as dietary supplements. When we buy any dietary supplement, follow the label instructions for dosages. Mega doses of dietary supplements can have strong physiological effects on our body; don't take large amounts of any dietary supplement without speaking to a doctor or nutritionist first.

Vitamins are organic substances, meaning they contain the element carbon and because they are organic substances, vitamins are sensitive to heat and light and loss occurs when food is stored, cooked, etc. Most vitamins must be obtained from food, the exceptions being vitamins D and K. There are 13 vitamins needed by humans. The more stable vitamins are fat-soluble (A, D, E, K). These vitamins are stored for a long time in the liver and fat tissues of the body after they are consumed. The other vitamins are water-soluble (C and eight B vitamins - Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Pyridoxine, Cobalamin, Folic Acid (Folate), Pantothenic Acid and Biotin). They are stored for a very short time in various body tissues.

Fat Soluble Vitamins RDA Purpose Sources
A 1,000 mcg Vision, skin, hair, growth, mucous membranes Egg yolk, milk, butter, yellow and dark green vegetables, yellow-orange fruits
D 5 mg Bone and tooth structure, needed to absorb calcium Sunshine, milk, eggs, fish
E 10 mg Red Blood Cells, muscles Whole grains, oils, fruits, green leafy vegetables
K 80 mcg Blood Clotting, bone growth Eggs, green leafy vegetables, cauliflower, tomatoes
Water Soluble Vitamins RDA Purpose Sources
C 60 mg Strengthens blood vessel walls, antihistamine, builds collagen Citrus, tomatoes, broccoli, potatoes, green peppers, cabbage, strawberries
B1 - Thiamin 1.5 mg Appetite, digestion, nerve function, carb metabolization Legumes, whole grains, wheat germ, nuts
B2 - Riboflavin 1.7 mg Fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism, mucous membrane Milk, dairy, whole grain, eggs, fish, green leafy vegetables
B3 - Niacin 19 mg Appetite, lowers cholesterol, fat, protein and carb metabolism Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, peanuts, legumes, grains
B6 - Pyridoxine 2 mg Serotonin (mood regulation), protein metabolism Meat, poultry, fish, grains, bran, wheat germ, egg yolk, legumes, green leafy vegetables
B12 - Cobalamin 2 mcg Red blood cells, genetic material production, new tissue Meat, poultry, fish, dairy
Folic Acid (Folate) 200 mcg Red blood cells, genetic material production Meat, eggs, fish, green vegetables, beans, asparagus, yeast
Pantothenic Acid 7 mg Adrenal function, food metabolization, nerve function Whole grains, eggs, vegetables, meats
Biotin 100 mcg Metabolization of glucose Egg yolk, milk, legumes, peanuts, bananas

Minerals: macrominerals (main or major minerals) and microminerals (or trace minerals)

All minerals are elements of the earth's crust. Most of our diets are made up of organic compounds (molecules that contain carbon) but minerals are inorganic. Minerals are kind of elements we all learned about in Chemistry on the periodic table. They are some of the atoms that cannot be broken down into any other material. Minerals cannot be destroyed with exposure to light or heat, like vitamins can, but they can dissolve into water and be transferred, which is important to remember when preparing food. If we boil a carrot in water, throw the water away and eat the cooked carrot, most of the minerals are in the trash water and not the carrot. Minerals also require no digestion.

Minerals are divided into two groups - macrominerals (main or major minerals) and microminerals (or trace minerals). Major minerals are those that are required by the body in quantities greater than 100 mg per day. The macrominerals (main or major minerals) are 7 minerals that our body needs to function properly which include Calcium, Chloride, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sodium and Sulphur. Trace minerals are those that are required by the body in quantities less than 100 mg per day. The microminerals (or trace minerals) are 17 minerals that our body requires in very small quantities. Trace minerals are Arsenic, Boron, Cobalt, Copper, Chromium, Germanium, Iodine, Iron, Lithium, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Selenium, Silicon, Tin, Vanadium and Zinc.

Unlike many of the vitamins (especially B complex and C), with trace minerals and magnesium (a major mineral) there is a very fine line between amounts that are needed for normal function and amounts that are toxic. Because of this risk, doctors and nutritionists encourage obtaining trace minerals from food and discourage obtaining them from supplements if possible because of the possible risk of overdose over a period of time. We should avoid consuming more than 100% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) on an ongoing basis.

Micronutrient deficiencies are often referred to as the hidden hunger because a lack of these nutrients has long-term effects on growth and neurodevelopment. Initially, however, the effects are not overt. Very young children show no apparent signs of mild micronutrient deficiencies. Thus, if very young children are not tested for levels of specific nutrients, there's no way of knowing if they lack micronutrients until it's too late.

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