The consumption of micronutrients is important to a healthy body. Most people nowadays are worried about their macronutrients intake, which means they are focused mainly on how much proteins, carbohydrates, and fats they are eating. However, they are missing one important factor – micronutrients, the minerals and vitamins that each food contains. In the United States, cancer is the second most frequent cause of death after heart disease, and diet plays an important role. People who eat at least 5 servings a day of fruits and vegetables have a lower risk of cancers, which is most likely due to anti-oxidative capacity of fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants are nutrients which deactivate harmful chemicals in the body, known as free radicals. Our bodies are constantly exposed to harmful pollutants and chemicals which cause the formation of free radicals. Although you can minimize the formation of free radicals by avoiding environmental pollutants such as cigarette smoke, smog, radiation, and herbicides, it is almost impossible to completely avoid the exposure. Therefore, the body’s ability to eliminate free radicals depends on eating a healthy diet full of cancer fighting micronutrients.
We can probably achieve a certain calorie intake broken down into macronutrients intake by eating pretty much anything. Most foods contain a combination of carbohydrates, fats, and protein, but unfortunately a typical American diet is missing an adequate amount of important micronutrients. In the recent years, there has been an obsession to eat enough protein, where people are consuming more than the daily recommended servings of protein in substitution for healthy micronutrient rich foods. To clarify, a bagel with cream cheese or a beef burger has a certain amount of macronutrients; yet, minimal amounts of micronutrients (natural minerals and vitamins). With that same amount of calories and amounts of macronutrients, whole foods like beans, cauliflowers, avocados, and nuts to name a few have a substantial amounts of micronutrients. Therefore, considering micronutrients is as important as looking into macronutrients. The combination of both will lead to healthier results.
In a study by Dr. Orlich et al., “vegetarian dietary patterns and mortality in Adventist Health Study 2” with 73,308 participants during a mean follow-up time of 5.79 years, the study associated vegetarian diets with lower cardiovascular mortality, renal (kidney) mortality, and endocrine mortality. Associations in men were larger and more significant than in women. The health benefits of vegetarian diets have often been associated to lower consumption of animal fat, but a head-to-head study needs to be performed to compare the effects of whole food plant based diets, which are micronutrient rich, to ketogenic diets (high in protein and fat, low in carbohydrates), which are micronutrient poor diets. In fact, there have been reports of sudden cardiac death in ketogenic diets due to Selenium deficiency. These individuals were placed on ketogenic diets to control seizures, which lead to sudden cardiac death. Furthermore, people consuming a ketogenic diet report feeling “sluggish,” and this is most likely due to micronutrient deficiency. When the consumption of fruits and vegetables is lowered, the body quickly gets deprived of vitamins and minerals, which causes muscle weakness and fatigue.
Micronutrients also play a major role in prevention of cell damage or cell death. The cells in the body are the building blocks of the body, and damage to the cells caused by free radicals can cause premature aging, cell death, and cancer. Fortunately, our bodies have evolved to deactivate harmful chemicals with the help of micronutrients in the form of vitamins and minerals. For example:
Carotenoids which are found in vegetables can prevent the formation of free radical. Here are few sources: sweet potato, carrots, spinach, kale, and cabbage.
Vitamin C is another powerful micronutrient, found in kiwi, citrus fruits, broccoli, green/red peppers, and strawberries.
Vitamin E is a very important micronutrient which protects the cell wall from damage, and plentiful in almond, green leafy vegetables , sprouted seeds (sunflower, sesame, flax), and sprouted whole grains. Please note that sprouted seeds offer benefits of whole grains while being more readily digested.
Selenium is important in protecting the cell wall and maintaining a healthy immune system. The highest amount of Selenium is found in Brazilian nuts
Micronutrients in the form of minerals contribute not only to health, but also to beauty.
For example, zinc helps rebuild collagen to make skin healthier and prevent wrinkles. Silicone leads to heathier hair and stronger nails. Iron helps the production of red blood cells which carry oxygen in the blood. Magnesium helps keep the bowel regular, and helps the bones absorb calcium, and finally calcium helps to keep the bones strong.
Another benefit of micronutrient focus is in weight management, because they play a significant role in “cutting cravings.” For example, magnesium and chromium are micronutrients that may cut intense sugar cravings. An example of a magnesium rich food is kale. Having a bowl of kale can cut down cravings, for let’s say chocolate, which also contains magnesium. Potentially the cravings are led by lack of magnesium, and the body reacts by increasing cravings for sugar. Unfortunately the body does not have a built in mechanism to crave only foods that are rich in certain missing micronutrients, therefore there is only one “smoke alarm” which is sugar. Not only the calories are a lot higher in chocolate for instance, but its nutritional value is quite different, and therefore there still remains a need to meet the body’s micronutrients requirement for other minerals and vitamins that “chocolate” can’t provide. That in turn will lead to further cravings until the body gets the micronutrients needed for survival. The vicious cycle then prevails and leads to weight gain, obesity, cancer, and heart disease. So, understanding the importance of micronutrients, and how they impacts cravings can help us make better choices when it comes to food intake.
In conclusion, it is important to look at calories and macronutrients, but keep in mind the amount of minerals and vitamins (micronutrients) are arguably even more important to having a healthy body. In fact, if you focus on getting enough micronutrients where you consume a lot of healthy whole foods, vegetables, and fruits, more than likely you will get adequate amounts of macronutrients without having to obsess over it too much.
Clark, Nancy. Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. Fifth edition. Pages 50-52.
Orlich M.J. Vegetarian dietary patterns and mortality in Adventist Health Study 2. JAMA Intern Med. 2013 Jul 8; 173 (13): 1230-8
Bank IM, et al. Sudden cardiac death in association with ketogenic diet. Pediatric Neurol 2008 Dec; 39(6):429-31
Synder, Kimberly. The beauty detox solution. Ontario, Canada. By Kimberly Snyder 2011. Page 70
Article Written by Dr. Angie Sedeghi
M.D., Gastroenerologist, & Weight Management Specialist.
Doctor Angie, creator of the Dr Angie Weight Loss Program, is board certified in internal medicine and gastroenterology, a member of the American Society of Bariatric Physicians, and an avid fitness competitor.
Doctor Angie understands the importance of a natural disease prevention and health promotion over pharmaceutical based treatment types. Her unique approach to weight loss includes a mixture of medical science and holistic natural medicine, combined with personal coaching in nutrition, fitness, and the psychology of weight loss. The result? Clients get a comprehensive and customized weight loss plan unique to their body type which makes weight loss goals actually achievable, and fun.