What Are Micronutrients?

Feb 17, 2023 FAQs

What Are Micronutrients?

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.[1][2][3][4] 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.[5]

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.
  • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): Supports normal/healthy adrenal function. Helps convert food into cellular energy.
  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine): Important for proper red blood cell formation. Necessary for normal function of the nervous system.
  • Vitamin B7 (biotin): Supports the metabolism of carbohydrates, protein, and fats. Supports healthy hair, skin, and nails.
  • Vitamin B9 (folate): Helps support nervous system function. Plays a critical role in the proper development of the baby’s nervous system.
  • Vitamin B12 (cobalamin): Necessary for the normal function of the nervous system and important for proper red blood cell formation. Supports brain cell function.

Learn More: Vitamin C Health Benefits & Food Sources: A Complete Guide

2. Fat-Soluble Vitamins

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.[6]

The fat-soluble vitamins include:

  • Vitamin A: Helps support a healthy immune system and is essential for eye function and healthy vision.
  • Vitamin D: Supports bone, teeth, muscle, and immune health. Helps improve calcium absorption.
  • Vitamin E: An antioxidant that supports a healthy immune system and neutralizes free radicals in the body.
  • Vitamin K: Vitamin K comes in two forms, Vitamin K1, and Vitamin K2. Vitamin K1 supports healthy vascular function. Vitamin K2 works with the Calcium in your body to support healthy bones.

Learn More: Vitamin D FAQs With Dr. Susan

3. Macrominerals

Macrominerals are needed in larger amounts, than trace minerals and include:

  • Calcium: Helps support strong and healthy bones.
  • Phosphorus: Involved in the structure of bone and cell membranes.
  • Magnesium: Supports nerve, heart and bone health. Helps relax your body.
  • Sodium: An electrolyte that helps regulate fluid balance and conduct nerve impulses.
  • Chloride: Works together with Sodium and helps maintain fluid balance.
  • Potassium: Helps support heart function by helping to control the activity of the heart muscle.
  • Sulfur: A trace element used by the body in collagen, connective tissue, and joint cartilage.

Learn More: What Does Potassium Do For Your Body?

4. Trace Minerals

Trace minerals are still very important, but your body doesn’t require as much as macrominerals for everyday purposes.[7] These include:

  • Iron: Vital for red blood cell formation.
  • Manganese: Involved in carbohydrate, amino acid, and cholesterol metabolism.
  • Copper: Assists antioxidant enzymes/proteins that protect immune cells from oxidative damage.
  • Zinc: An essential nutrient for a healthy immune system and antioxidant support.
  • Iodine: Essential for thyroid health and function.
  • Fluoride: Needed for the development and strength of teeth and bones.
  • Selenium: A key nutrient for a healthy immune system.

Learn More: How Much Zinc Should You Take Daily?

Where to Find Micronutrients?

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.

  • Water-soluble vitamins: Bell peppers, broccoli, potatoes, citrus fruits, leafy greens, lean meats, berries, watermelon
  • Fat-soluble vitamins: Nuts, seeds, sweet potatoes, milk, soybeans, leafy greens
  • Macrominerals: Bananas, fish, dairy products, lentils, beans
  • Trace minerals: Nuts, legumes, oysters, leafy greens

Tips to Get Your Daily Recommended Nutrients

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.

Adding a daily supplement can help fill in any nutrient gaps. Nature Made makes a line of multivitamins with mineral supplements for the whole family, such as Multivitamin Tablets with Iron, Multi + Omega 3 For Him Gummies, and Kids First® Multivitamin Gummies.

Learn More About Micronutrients:


† 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.


References

  1. Sunkara A, Raizner A. Supplemental Vitamins and Minerals for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention and Treatment. Methodist Debakey Cardiovasc J. 2019;15(3):179-184. doi:10.14797/mdcj-15-3-179
  2. Mitra S, Paul S, Roy S, et al. Exploring the Immune-Boosting Functions of Vitamins and Minerals as Nutritional Food Bioactive Compounds: A Comprehensive Review. Molecules. 2022;27(2):555. Published 2022 Jan 16. doi:10.3390/molecules27020555
  3. Rautiainen S, Manson JE, Lichtenstein AH, Sesso HD. Dietary supplements and disease prevention - a global overview. Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2016;12(7):407-420. doi:10.1038/nrendo.2016.54
  4. Maggini S, Pierre A, Calder PC. Immune Function and Micronutrient Requirements Change over the Life Course. Nutrients. 2018;10(10):1531. Published 2018 Oct 17. doi:10.3390/nu10101531
  5. Shibata K, Hirose J, Fukuwatari T. Relationship Between Urinary Concentrations of Nine Water-soluble Vitamins and their Vitamin Intakes in Japanese Adult Males. Nutr Metab Insights. 2014;7:61-75. Published 2014 Aug 5. doi:10.4137/NMI.S17245
  6. Capone K, Sentongo T. The ABCs of Nutrient Deficiencies and Toxicities. Pediatr Ann. 2019;48(11):e434-e440. doi:10.3928/19382359-20191015-01
  7. Tako E. Dietary Trace Minerals. Nutrients. 2019;11(11):2823. Published 2019 Nov 19. doi:10.3390/nu11112823

Authors

Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD

NatureMade Contributor

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.

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Melissa Dorval Pine, RD

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.

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