To get a basic understanding of what are micronutrients, let’s begin by understanding the basics of vitamins and minerals.
Vitamins are either classified as water soluble or fat soluble, meaning that they either need water or fat to be digested and absorbed. We have nine different water-soluble vitamins, which include Vitamin C and our eight B vitamins. The B vitamin group is thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B6, B12, Folate, Biotin and Pantothenic acid. Four fat soluble vitamins are A, D, E, and K. Vitamins are organic compounds which means they contain carbon in their structure and are essential for life.
Here are some important aspects of vitamins:
• Vitamins are natural components of foods, usually present in small amounts
• Vitamins are essential for normal physiological function like growth and reproduction
• Vitamins, when absent from the diet will cause a specific deficiency
Minerals are classified as either trace or major. Our major minerals include calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chloride, magnesium, and sulphur; trace minerals include iron, iodine, zinc, chromium, selenium, fluoride, molybdenum, copper and manganese. The only difference between the major and the trace minerals is the amount our body needs it and not the level of importance in the body. Trace minerals are just needed in much smaller amounts than our major minerals but as just as important to the normal functioning of the human body. Minerals are inorganic compounds as they don’t contain any carbon.
Functions of vitamins
1. B vitamins is a class of vitamins that are important for the process that the body must go through to convert the food we eat into energy and absorb it.
- B1: Thiamine is important for our nervous system, heart muscles and regulates appetite.
- B2: Riboflavin, plays a role in mucus membrane and skin
- B3: Niacin, assists in DNA repair, facilitates cellular signaling and helps to control cholesterol levels
- B5: Pantothenic acid, assist in drug metabolism, synthesizes cholesterol, steroid hormones, and neurotransmitters.
- B6: Pyridoxine, supports nervous and immune system function and is responsible for maintaining homocysteine levels.
- B7: Biotin assists in DNA replication and assists in improving the health of hair.
- B9: Folic acid, besides turning food into energy, reduces the risk of brain and spinal cord damage during the first few weeks of pregnancy. It ensures proper cell division and red blood cell formation.
- B12: Cobalamin is involved in DNA synthesis, formation of healthy red blood cells and helps to form neurotransmitters.
2. Vitamin A: can technically be both water soluble and fat soluble depending on the source. The active form of vitamin A is called Retinol and is a fat-soluble vitamin and water soluble is called beta carotene which is converted to Vitamin A in the body. It is important for vision, especially night vision. It repairs bones and tissues, is involved in reproduction and fetal development. Vitamin A is important for the immune system to fight off infections. Food sources of vitamin A include whole eggs, milk products and beef liver. Beta Carotene is found in dark green and rich yellow-orange fruits and vegetables such carrots and sweet potatoes.
3. Vitamin C: It is a water-soluble vitamin, also known as ascorbic acid, protects against harmful effects of free radicals that can damage cells making it an antioxidant. It assists in the formation of collagen, important for healthy blood cells and gums. It also helps to fight infections.
4. Vitamin D: Also known as the sunshine vitamin, it is a little more like a hormone than just a vitamin. I It is important to maintain calcium and phosphorus levels in the body as it affects immune function, cell growth and is involved in fetal development. It also helps in regulating glucose tolerance and is involved in hormone health
5. Vitamin E: This antioxidant helps in preventing cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.
6. Vitamin K: It assists in blood clotting process and prevents hemorrhaging diseases.
Functions of minerals
1. Calcium: It is important for our teeth and bone health. Calcium is also important for muscle contractions and blood clotting. It is also important in the secretion of enzymes and hormones and plays a role in the nervous system function.
2. Fluoride: It is an essential for teeth and bone mineralization.
3. Iodine: It is required for the production of thyroid hormones. An easy way to include iodine in the diet is by using Tata Salt which has the right amount of iodine in it.
4. Iron: It is needed for formation of hemoglobin in the blood and myoglobin in the muscle. It is involved in energy metabolism and immunity.
5. Magnesium: It assists in nerve and muscle function, is involved in energy metabolism and helps to control blood sugar levels. Magnesium is important to prevent constipation and is an important part of the immune system.
6. Phosphorus: It is a part of DNA and RNA, therefore assists in growth. Also helps in activation of B vitamins.
7. Potassium: Helps to maintain water and electrolyte balance and is important for the heart muscle and nervous system.
8. Sodium: It regulates water electrolyte balance, helps with the absorption of water and other nutrients in the body.
9. Selenium: It Is an antioxidant and helps to regulate thyroid function.
10. Zinc: Assist in the activity of enzymes in the body and is very essential for the immune function and wound healing.
Since these nutrients are in small and random amounts in our diet and considering the importance of these vitamins and minerals, it is important to have a balanced diet which can help in incorporating all these micronutrients. Additionally, it may be prudent to include them in your diet in a supplement form as well to get a better control on the amount and increase its bioavailability for better health. Do consult your healthcare professional before starting health supplements and to understand your dietary needs better.
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