“Be sure to eat all your vegetables.” This is one of those phrases we probably all heard growing up. Well, mom and dad were absolutely right. Making sure we consume a proper diet, including all the basic food groups, is key to maintaining good health.
While it is important that the calories we take in are balanced with the amount of energy we expend in order to maintain a healthy weight, it is also crucial to eat a variety of fresh foods to ensure the intake of adequate essential nutrients. There are two categories of nutrients: macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are, as the name suggests, nutrients we consume in the largest quantities that provide the energy we need to live and thrive. They include carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and fiber. Micronutrients, on the other hand, are nutrients that our bodies need in smaller amounts, but are essential for cellular health. They are necessary for the production of enzymes, hormones, and proteins, and are very important for overall health and wellness.
What are Micronutrients?
Micronutrients consist of both vitamins and minerals, and deficiencies in any can lead to a variety of health problems. Those most susceptible to problems associated with deficiencies are the fetus, young children, and older adults. The National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) has developed a system to inform the public on the daily requirements of micronutrients. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) indicates the daily requirement needed by 97% of individuals in a specific age group, and the Adequate Intake (AI) is the estimated nutritional requirement to maintain health. An Upper Limit (UL) is also provided to inform the public of the maximum daily intake that can safely be consumed without creating harmful effects on the body.
A number of studies suggest that antioxidant vitamins may help prevent cancer and improve cardiovascular health. In addition, they provide other vital functions.
Vitamin A can be found in animal products, as well as carrots, sweet potatoes, and other red or orange vegetables. It helps promote vision, and healthy skin and hair.
Vitamin C is found in citrus fruit and berries, as well as vegetables such as cabbage and peppers. It is needed to form growth hormones, and to build strong bones, gums, and teeth. It may also play a role in preventing the common cold.
Vitamin E is found in seeds, nuts, and vegetable oil, and is needed to help prevent damage to cell membranes and to produce blood.
Vitamin B1 is found in whole grains, peas, dried beans, peanuts, and animal protein and is needed so the body can extract energy from food.
Vitamin B2 is also found in whole grains and animal protein, as well as many vegetables, and is needed to maintain and build tissues in the body.
Vitamin B6, which is found in bananas, nuts, potatoes, green beans, and many other vegetables, may lower the risk of cancer by protecting cell reproduction. It is also very important in the development of the nervous system, the production of blood, and in the breakdown of foods into energy.
Vitamin B12 can be found in fortified cereals, yeast, and animal products. It promotes proper growth and development of the nervous system, and promotes the production of red blood cells.
Folic Acid is present in green, leafy vegetables, fruits, cereals, grains, nuts, and meats. It helps build DNA and protein, promotes bone growth, and helps keep the intestinal tract healthy. It’s also very important to prevent neural defects in the fetus, and may play a role in the prevention of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Vitamin D, which is essential for the growth of strong bones and teeth, can be found in milk, fortified cereals, mushrooms, tuna, salmon, cod liver oil, and eggs. This vitamin is so essential that it is recommended that young children and older adults take supplements, in addition to food sources, to ensure adequate intake.
Vitamin K can be found in green leafy vegetables, and can be produced by bacteria in the intestines. It plays an important role in blood clotting.
Sodium is found in table salt, but is also present in almost all foods. It is important for regulating water balance, as well as for maintaining a healthy cellular environment and nervous system functioning. The recommended daily sodium intake for healthy adults is 2300 mg per day. Low sodium can result in neurological changes and cardiovascular events, while high sodium levels are associated with high blood pressure and heart disease.
Potassium, which can be found in bananas, potatoes, cereals, oranges, and dried beans, is essential for regulating water within cells, nerve functioning, and for maintaining a normal heart rhythm.
Iron, which is essential in the formation of red blood cells and for the transportation of oxygen to the rest of the body, can be found in animal protein, lentils, dark green vegetables, whole grain cereals, nuts, and seeds. It is also needed for cell reproduction and creating energy from food.
Calcium is found in milk, dark green vegetables, sardines, clams, oysters, legumes, and almonds. Adequate intake of calcium is necessary to maintain healthy bones and teeth. It also helps blood clotting and is necessary for nerve and muscle functioning.
Zinc is found in meat, chicken, nuts, and lentils. Cereals are also often fortified with this mineral that is important for wound healing and fighting infections.
Fluoride is found naturally in water, although the amount is not consistent. Cities often add fluoride to their water sources. This mineral is beneficial in preventing dental decay. It may also play a role in keeping bones strong.
Other essential minerals include copper, iodine, chromium, manganese and selenium. Each contributes to cellular health and overall wellness in unique ways, including promoting a normal blood sugar, building enzymes that are needed in the chemical reactions necessary for normal cellular functions, promoting normal thyroid function, and building proteins.
Promoting cellular health through the adequate intake of micronutrients leads to better overall health and wellness. The choices we make in our diet make a difference and the importance of a well-balanced diet cannot be stressed enough. Fruits and vegetables should be a routine part of your day. In fact, make them part of every meal and eat them for snacks. They are loaded with micronutrients. High-fiber foods also help prevent heart disease and stroke. Whole grains are healthier than refined grains. If something is white (rice, bread, pasta), it’s usually not a good choice. Choose lower fat animal proteins such as chicken or fish, and try to avoid trans fatty acids. Olive oil, corn oil, and peanut oil are good choices. Avoiding sugary drinks, drinking alcohol in moderation, and limiting your sodium intake will also be good for your overall health.
If you eat a healthy diet, you probably don’t need vitamin supplements. Children, pregnant women, older adults, and people with certain medical conditions should talk to their doctor about additional supplements that would be beneficial.
If you have questions about micronutrients, your individual needs for supplements, or nutrition in general, call Rockville Concierge Doctors at (301) 545-1811 to request an appointment, or request an appointment online. We look forward to hearing from you, and helping you achieve your healthiest you!