Nutrients can really be broken into two distinct groups – macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are the proteins, fats and carbohydrates. They are the nutrients that supply fuel and material for repair and maintenance. Micronutrients – i.e., vitamins, minerals, and trace elements, on the other hand can be considered biochemical facilitators. They either directly cause chemical processes in the body to take place, or they manufacture the substances that cause these reactions to happen. With this in mind, if our intake of these vital substances dips even slightly below their ideal levels, the impact upon our physiology can be serious. Let’s look at a few examples of micronutrients and their functions.
Magnesium is involved in over 1000 reactions in the body daily. These include energy production, regulating muscle function and skeletal health, as well as supporting the health and function of the nervous system. This mineral is most abundant in green vegetables. As you no doubt realize, greens aren’t exactly on the top of the list for many people in this country, so the average UK and US intakes of magnesium are extremely low.
Zinc is another mineral that has very broad reaching effects. In immunity, zinc is used by our white blood cells to code genes that regulate the way in which these white cells will respond to pathogens. It is also involved in manufacturing key proteins during the inflammatory response. In men it is an important part of testosterone metabolism and function.
Selenium is a trace mineral (needed in small amounts) that is a vital part of cellular protection. It is involved in the manufacture of the body’s own inherent antioxidant enzymes that protect our cells from damage.
These are just a handful of examples of what some of these micronutrients do. In this modern age where so many of us are living off convenience foods that are heavily processed, our macronutrient intake may be fine, but the micronutrients are severely lacking. The main reason is that commercial food processing typically strip away most if not all vitamins, minerals and trace elements. Food companies then “fortify” this nutritionally dead food with synthetic compounds.
The easiest thing to remedy this is look for every opportunity to incorporate fresh food into your diet. This doesn’t mean you have to cook three meals a day. It could be as simple as having a handful of fresh berries on your morning oatmeal, having a large side salad with your lunch, or throwing extra vegetables into your evening meal. The short and long term effects of micronutrient deficiency are quite serious, and as it’s a pretty simple thing to take action on, increasing your intake can start today.