I remember as a kid seeing multivitamins advertised on TV. They looked like these super tablets that had these things called vitamins and minerals that would help make my bones strong, give me lots of energy and stop me from getting sick. Mum never actually got me to have them but I remember thinking what are these things?
As covered in my last blog post carbs, fat and protein (kind of alcohol too) makeup our MACROnutrients which provide us with energy. Vitamins A, B, C, D, E, K, sodium, calcium, magnesium, zinc, selenium, iodine, potassium, chloride, iron, copper, sodium, phosphorus, fluoride and a few others are our MICROnutrients. Just like our macros, our micros are nutrients, therefore essential for life. However, they are needed in much smaller amounts (mainly milligrams and micrograms) compared to our macros which are needed in grams, hence the name MICROnutrients.
Unlike macros, our micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) do not provide us with energy directly. Instead our micros are used for specific functions in the body. Some micronutrients are important for the process of generating energy from our macronutrients, however directly they do not provide us with energy. They can be thought of as the keys to unlocking the energy in our food.
There are many different vitamins and minerals and therefore in this blog post I will not be giving an extensive explanation of each of their functions however a list of their main functions are as follows:
Minerals and Trace Elements
Minerals and trace elements are both inorganic substances however the difference is we need more of our minerals per day and they are in greater quantities in the body compared to our trace elements.
* You will see that a lot of our minerals have functions as electrolytes in our body. Electrolytes are important for maintaining fluid balance in our cells and for other things like nerve impulses. They work together to create a salty environment both in our cells and outside our cells to ensure they can function properly. You could think of our cells as salt water fish that need a salty environment to function properly/survive.
Ultra-trace elements: These are needed in really small quantities
There is a range of places we get these micronutrients from. The types of micronutrients and the quantities they are found in are dependant on the food source. For example eggs are intended to develop into an organism therefore they contain a wide range of micronutrients. Most of our micronutrients can be found in varying quantities in different fruits and vegetables.
Do We Need to Take Supplements?
In short, most people do not need to take micronutrients as supplements. If you are "healthy" and mostly eating a variety of food from different food groups in the right quantities for you and getting sun exposure throughout, you should not have to supplement. However, supplement use if a very individualized thing. Some people struggle to get in enough of some micros which may lead to a deficiency. If you think you might be deficient in a particular vitamin and mineral then you are better off getting your levels checked before supplementing.
Some things to point out:
Having more than enough micronutrients won’t give you super powers and stop you from getting sick therefore there is no need to supplement if you are getting in enough. Consuming vitamin A, C, E, Selenium and folate above the recommended daily intake may provide some additional benefits to health and there are things called suggested dietary targets which are values for these micros that may give us some extra benefit. It will help to optimize the function of those certain processes they are involved in but for example, even if you’re immune system is functioning as well as it can, you can still get sick! There are upper limits for many of our vitamins and minerals too, i.e you can have too much which can have negative effects. For example vitamin A is important during pregnancy for embryonic growth however too much can lead to fetal problems. In most cases the main way of getting too much of a particular vitamin or mineral is through taking supplements or eating products with really concentrated amounts of it.
My recommendation going forward would be to ensure over the course of your days you are eating foods from different food groups; as well as looking to eat more of foods that are full of micros like our whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and less of our foods that lack micros like refined grains.
In short, don't start cutting things out, don't starve yourself and if you think you might be deficient in something go and see a professional.