What are micronutrients?
Micronutrients are required in ‘micro’ amounts to that of macronutrients. They aid in the growth, development, and maintenance of the body. They consist of water and fat-soluble vitamins, macro- and trace minerals, and various plant compounds such as antioxidants.
Why are micronutrients important?
Although they are only needed in trace amounts, micronutrients are highly important elements needed for the body to function and repair itself. They are involved in energy production, immunity, inflammation regulation, cognitive growth and development, bone health, hormone production, DNA synthesis, and supporting digestion and a strong metabolism.
Antioxidants, found in colourful fruits, vegetables, and fresh herbs, help to protect body cells from unstable molecules known as free radicals. Free radicals are produced naturally but if not managed with enough antioxidants through the diet, they can cause inflammation and limit repair and protect properties within the body.
How do I make sure I am getting enough?
The easiest way to ensure you are getting enough micronutrients into your diet is including a variety of colourful fruits, vegetables, fresh herbs and spices, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds and using cold-pressed oils such as extra virgin olive oil.
Some vitamins are destroyed by heat and others lose their value during prolonged storage. Therefore, aim to eat more fresh produce and only lightly cook your vegetables. If vegetables are overcooked or cooked in too much water, the minerals in the vegetables can be leached out. Vegetables are best cooked through lightly steaming and not through boiling. Their colour should be enhanced and not be left in the water.
These days, conventional farming is minimizing the amounts of vitamins and minerals found in plants. Plants that grow on highly stressed soils containing very little nutrients within the soil and are fertilized with synthetic fertilizers contain measurably fewer micronutrients. Therefore, make sure to wash your fruit and vegetables before use and if possible buy organic produce. The same is said for animal products. Only animals that are kept and fed in a manner appropriate to their species will result in animal products with higher micronutrient contents that are only found in meat and eggs such as vitamin B12.
Do athletes require more micronutrients than non-athletes?
Athletes have higher requirements for micronutrients due to their daily training and recovery needs. Athletes’ needs may be higher for certain micronutrients such as calcium, iron, zinc, antioxidants, B vitamins, and magnesium, as these are all utilized frequently due to athletic demands. This being said, it is still dependent on the type of sport and dietary preferences, habits, and needs of the athlete. Supplementation may be necessary to meet requirements, however, this should be determined by an expert in this field.