Protein, fat, and carbohydrates aren’t the only nutrients your body needs to thrive. You also need micronutrients to support your everyday health. But what are micronutrients? These include vitamins and minerals, which play various roles in metabolism, energy production, immune function, growth and development, and bone, heart, muscle, and blood health. Understanding why micronutrients are essential, and where to find them, can help you ensure that you’re getting enough.
Quick Health Scoop
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals, whereas macronutrients refer to protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
Micronutrients play an important role in everyday processes involved in your health.
Find micronutrients in a variety of foods and supplements.
What’s the Difference Between Vitamins and Minerals?
Vitamins and minerals fall under the category of micronutrients because you only need small — or “micro” — amounts of them on a daily basis. This differs from protein, fats, and carbohydrates, which comprise most of your diet and are called macronutrients.
While plants or animals produce vitamins, minerals are found in water or soil. Vitamins can be degraded by heat air or acid, whereas minerals are cannot be broken down.
You need a healthy mix of both vitamins and minerals to support your everyday bodily functions and long-term health.
The 4 Types of Micronutrients
When wondering what are micronutrients, a good starting place is to examine the four main categories they fall into. These include: water-soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins, macrominerals (sometimes called major minerals), and trace minerals. Let’s take a look at all the different micronutrients in these categories and how they function in your body.
1. Water-Soluble Vitamins
The name water-soluble describes how these vitamins respond to water. When ingested, they dissolve and break down. After your body utilizes as much as it needs, the remaining water-soluble vitamins are excreted rather than stored for later use. That’s why they need to be replenished regularly through your diet.
The water-soluble vitamins include Vitamin C and the eight B Vitamins, which are described in more detail below:
Vitamin C: An antioxidant that helps neutralize free radicals in the body and supports the immune system Aids in iron absorption and supports collagen synthesis.†
Vitamin B1 (thiamine): Helps convert food into cellular energy.Helps support nervous system function.†
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): Helps convert food into cellular energy.†
Vitamin B3 (niacin): Helps convert food into cellular energy. Helps support nervous system function.†
Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in your liver and fatty tissues. As their name implies, they are best absorbed when eaten or taken with fat. While getting enough fat-soluble vitamins from foods is important, it’s important not to overdo it by taking high-dose supplements, as having too much stored in your body can become toxic over time.
The fat-soluble vitamins include:
Vitamin A: Helps support a healthy immune system and is essential for eye function and healthy vision.†
Now that you know the answer to what are micronutrients, and why our body needs them you’re probably curious about where to find them. Micronutrients are found in every food, particularly whole and minimally-processed foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and proteins. Specific examples of foods that contain the 4 types of macronutrients are listed below.
The best way to ensure you’re getting all your daily nutrients is to eat a diet that includes plenty of variation. A colorful mix of fruits and vegetables, along with crunchy nuts and seeds, whole grains, lean proteins, and legumes like beans, peas, lentils, and soy foods will help do the trick.
† These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
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Lauren specializes in plant-based living and vegan and vegetarian diets for all ages. She also enjoys writing about parenting and a wide variety of health, environmental, and nutrition topics. Find her at www.laurenpanoff.com.
Senior Manager, Medical and Scientific Communications
Melissa is a Registered Dietitian and provides leadership to Pharmavite’s Medical and Scientific Education team. She has over 20 years of experience educating consumers, healthcare professionals, retailers and employees about nutrition, dietary supplements, and overall wellness. Prior to joining the Medical and Scientific Communications team, Melissa launched and managed Pharmavite’s Consumer Affairs department and worked as a clinical dietitian throughout Southern California. Melissa received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, and completed her dietetic internship at Veteran’s Hospital in East Orange New Jersey.