Most people are aware of the macronutrients – proteins, fats, and carbohydrates – and they are the building blocks of a balanced diet. But, in our quest to ensure we are “meeting our macros” we often overlook the micronutrients, or vitamins and minerals that are essential for a healthy diet. In my nutrition coaching, I start with the basics, focusing first on total daily caloric intake and macronutrient breakdown. But in the next phase of coaching, I work with clients to review their micros. Often when something isn’t quite right with our bodies, it’s not due to the macros, but the micros. If you haven’t paid attention to micros here is a roadmap to help you dial them in.
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. Some are essential, such as Vitamin A, Vitamin D, iodine, iron, folate, and zinc. I also focus on B-complex vitamins, sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. It sounds like a lot but these nutrients are found in many foods. Typically, people tend to be deficient in Vitamin D, magnesium, and potassium, but sometimes I find they are not getting enough sodium. This happens most often when they eat a healthy diet consisting of whole foods. Processed foods and take-out are most sodium rich. Contrary to popular belief, sodium is not bad. You need it for your body to run optimally and if you don’t get enough, you run the risk of dehydration.
Magnesium is another micronutrient that tends to be low in most people. Not getting enough can impact your sleep and make you feel tired all the time. If you live in a mostly cloudy climate, make sure you have a physician check your Vitamin D levels. Especially if you are feeling down or get sick often. Lack of Vitamin D has been linked to depression and can suppress your immune system. Plus you need adequate levels of Vitamin D for optimum calcium absorption, another micronutrient that we all need to prioritize, especially women!
How do you know how much of each micronutrient you need? Which foods contain these micronutrients?
Below is a handy reference listing micronutrients, the recommended daily allowance, and some select foods to eat for each (Source: CDC.gov).
Calcium (1,000mg) – milk, yogurt, cheese, canned sardines, salmon, kale, broccoli, Chinese cabbage (bok choi)
Folate (400mcg) – asparagus, brussels sprouts, and dark green leafy vegetables (such as spinach and mustard greens), fruits and fruit juices (especially oranges and orange juice), nuts, beans, peas, peanuts, black-eyed peas, kidney beans
Iodine (150mcg) – fish (such as cod and tuna), seaweed, shrimp, and other seafood, milk, yogurt, cheese, iodized salt
Iron (men: 8mg; women: 18mg) – lean meat, seafood, and poultry, iron-fortified breakfast cereals and breads, white beans, lentils, spinach, kidney beans, peas, nuts, dried fruits, such as raisins
Magnesium (men: 400mg; women: 310mg) – legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, spinach, fortified breakfast cereals, milk, yogurt
Potassium (men: 3,400mg; women: 2,600mg) – dried apricots, lentils, acorn squash, dried prunes, raisins, potato, kidney beans, orange juice, soybeans, banana
Vitamin A (men: 900mg; women: 700mg) – herring, salmon, organ meats, green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, and winter squash, cantaloupe, mangos, apricots, milk, cheese, fortified breakfast cereals, eggs
Vitamin D (15mcg) – milk (including almond, soy, etc.), fortified breakfast cereal and orange juice, fatty fish (like trout, salmon, tuna, and mackerel)
Zinc (men: 11mcg; women: 8mcg) – oysters, red meat, poultry, seafood (such as crab and lobsters), fortified breakfast cereals, beans, nuts, whole grains
How do you know if you are getting enough micronutrients?
My first recommendation is to track your micronutrients using an app, such as MyFitnessPal or Cronometer. If it appears that you are significantly low, try to add the appropriate foods to your diet. I also recommend that everyone obtain a full bloodwork panel once a year. Vitamin D and iron deficiencies will definitely show up in the results. If you try to adjust your diet and still come up short in some areas, taking vitamins is just fine! In fact, I recommend a multivitamin and fish oil supplement for everyone. You also may have specific micronutrient needs based on your lifestyle/diet, health status, or age. As a nutrition coach, I can help you dial in on the right micronutrient profile for you. Contact me to learn more!