Nutrition 101: Micronutrients (Minerals)
Micronutrients, or micros, are all the components of a healthy diet that are not macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fats) or fiber. Micros fall into two general categories: vitamins and minerals. Both are critical for a healthy diet and promote cellular and organ function. Micros are so termed because you need far less of them than macros. Macro requirements are measured in grams per day, whereas micros are measured in micrograms per day.
Minerals are elements, generally metals, that the body needs to function. Common dietary minerals include iron, calcium, magnesium, selenium, and zinc.
Iron is important for muscle growth.
Iron can be found in spinach, beans and red meat.
Calcium is important for maintaining bone density and dental health.
Calcium, and Vitamin D, which promotes calcium uptake, and especially important for women as they age, as they are at an increased risk of bone density loss. A lack of calcium can lead to health issues such as osteoporosis. Dairy products are high in calcium, as are almonds, broccoli, kale and figs. Small fish with edible bones, such as anchovies and sardines, are also a good source of calcium.
Magnesium promotes several biological processes, including regulating blood sugar, protein synthesis, blood pressure regulation, muscle function, and nerve function.
Dates, legumes, leafy greens, and mineral water are good sources of magnesium. Magnesium can also be found in chocolate and coffee.
The human body needs little selenium, and over 400 micrograms per day is considered an overdose in adults.
However, selenium has been shown to have an important role in metabolism. Selenium is an antioxidant, helping prevent oxidation and cell damage. Selenium can be found in many fish, some nuts, beef, poultry and whole grains.
Zinc is involved in a variety of processes, including protein and DNA synthesis, and cell division.
Zinc is also important to the immune system. The body does not have a means to store zinc, so it is important to get zinc in your daily intake. Oysters are one of the best sources of zinc, but it can also be found in red meat and poultry. Vegetarian sources of zinc include beans, nuts and whole grains.
Iodine is an important nutrient for thyroid health.
Since the introduction of iodized salt, the incidence of conditions resulting from a lack of iodine, notably goiter, has dramatically dropped. Even if you only use sea salt, or other non-iodized salt, in home cooking, most adults get enough iodine from the added salt in processed and restaurant foods.
Certain foods provide many of the vitamins and minerals that are necessary for a healthy diet. Leafy greens such as spinach and kale, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, nuts, and diary are all high in micronutrients. Whole grains are also an important part of a healthy diet that provide many micronutrients.
Robert Lutz, L.Ac., LMT, Diplomate of Oriental Medicine
Healing Center for Body, Mind & Spirit
380 Park Avenue Huntington, NY 11743