Vitamins are, along with minerals, also belonging to the micronutrients. Like minerals, they only make up a small part of our food, yet, they are vital. They work as regulators within the body and are, thus, involved in essential processes.
This article provides an overview of the micronutrients, vitamins, minerals and their effects, the corresponding deficiencies and their occurrence in foods. Unfortunately, clear evidence of direct effects is difficult to find. Accordingly, it is hardly possible to make generally valid statements on the efficacy of specific amounts on individual symptoms. Let’s get started.
Treating night blindness by vitamin A intake does not have to be successful. However, correlations can be identified and, if necessary, deficiency symptoms may be prevented.
Also known as axerophthol and retinol. Both are A1 vitamins, fat-soluble and heat resistant.
Effect: Important for bones, teeth, mucous membranes, skin regeneration, and eyes.
Deficiency symptoms: night blindness, weakness of the immune system.
Largest occurrence: liver, dairy products, eggs, carrots, green leafy vegetables.
Daily requirement:1 mg*
Also known as aneurine and thiamin; water soluble and heat sensitive.
Effects: carbohydrate metabolism, thyroid, nervous system.
Deficiency symptoms: weakness, nerve disorders, muscle malfunctions
Largest occurrence: meat (especially pork), oatmeal, nuts, and seeds
Daily requirement: 1.5-2mg *
Also known as riboflavin, lactoflavin or vitamin G. It is also water-soluble but heat resistant.
Effect: growth, nutrient utilization.
Deficiency symptoms: headache, skin redness,
Largest occurrence: meat, dairy products.
Daily requirement: 1.5-5mg *
Also known as niacin, nicotinic acid amide, nicotinic acid or vitamin PP; water soluble and heat resistant.
Effects: Use of proteins, fats and carbohydrates, skin health.
Deficiency symptoms: skin problems, weakness, depression.
Largest occurrence: meat, fish, eggs, nuts, offals, vegetables.
Daily requirement: 15-20mg *
Also known as pantothenic acid. It’s water soluble and heat sensitive.
Effect: Energy metabolism, wound healing.
Deficiency symptoms: Poor wound healing, weakening of the immune system.
Largest occurrences: Meat, liver, eggs (Vitamin B5 is widely used in foods).
Daily requirement: 10mg *
Also known as adermin, pyridoxal, pyridoxine, pyridoxal or pyridoxamine – water soluble.
Effect: protein metabolism, blood formation, nerve function.
Deficiency symptoms: skin problems, weakness, anemia.
Greatest occurrence: meat, vegetables, nuts, wholegrain.
Daily requirement: 2mg *
Also known as biotin, vitamin H, vitamin I or vitamin Bw. Also water Soluble and heat resistant.
Effect: skin, hair and nail health, energy metabolism.
Deficiency symptoms: skin disorders, hair loss, depression, nausea, fatigue.
Largest occurrence: Bovine liver, egg yolk (avidin contains a substance that makes biotin practically ineffective), green leafy vegetables.
Daily requirement: 0, 3mg *
Also known as folic acid, vitamin M or vitamin Bc. Water soluble and sensitive to high heat.
Effect: DNA replication, cell maturation (especially red blood cells).
Deficiency symptoms: Pernicious anemia, birth defects during pregnancy.
Largest occurrence: liver, green leafy vegetables.
Daily requirement: 0.4mg *
Also known as cobalamin or erythrotin. Water soluble. Heat resistant.
Effect: cell division, blood formation, nerve function.
Deficiency symptoms: brain and nerve damage, weakness, depression, psychosis, pernicious anemia.
Largest occurrence: liver, meat, fish, eggs, NO plant products.
Note: People who don’t consume meat within their diet must make sure to obtain the daily recommendation of vitamin B12 through a potent supplement.
Daily requirement: 5μg *
Also known as ascorbic acid. This, too, is water soluble and heat sensitive.
Effect: immune system, antioxidant, metabolism, connective tissue.
Deficiency symptoms: scurvy
Largest occurrence: rosehip, kale and most of fruits and vegetables.
Daily requirement: 100mg *
Also known as calcitriol or calciferol. Fat-soluble; heat resistant.
Effect: calcium and phosphate balance, bone health.
Deficiency symptoms: rickets, osteomalacia, osteoporosis
Largest occurrence: sunlight (production through the skin), egg yolk, fish, liver.
Daily requirement: 10μg *
Also known as tocopherol. Fat-soluble and heat resistant.
Effect: antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immune deficiency.
Deficiencies: wrinkled/dry Skin, weakness, discomfort.
Largest Occurrence: nuts, egg yolks, fruits, and vegetables.
Daily requirement: 30mg *
Also known as phylloquinone or menaquinone. Fat-soluble. Heat resistant.
Effect: Blood coagulation factors
Deficiency symptoms: Coagulation disorders.
Largest occurrence: green leafy vegetables, cabbage, eggs, liver.
Daily requirement: 120-1000μg *
* The daily requirement of all vitamins, as well as minerals, is very controversial. Thus, accordingly, the information is different. An overdose usually only takes place very far above the daily requirement and occurs without the intake of supplements practically only on extremely rare occasions.
The list above shows that most vitamins can be found in many foods. Meat and offal tend to be the best sources of vitamins, closely followed by nuts. But fruits and vegetables contain plenty of vitamins, as well. A preference for animal or plant products is, therefore, not necessary.
As with minerals, however, it is also true that this depends on the methods of manufacturing. Products from the organic farming of good soils usually contain more micronutrients than those from conventional cultivation. At the same time, it also becomes clear that vitamins fulfill very different but many similar tasks.
To clearly attribute an observed symptom to a vitamin deficiency is rarely effective. It makes more sense to ensure your own vitamin supply at full breadth in order to be on the safe side, anyway. A diet based on fresh fruits and vegetables mixed with animal products, even in small quantities, is a good basis.
Minerals and Their Effects in the Diet
Calcium is the basis of limestone, chalk and mortar. Also, for the human body, this element is a very important building material, especially for the bones.
Effect: stability of bones and teeth, nerves and muscle cells, blood formation and clotting.
Deficiency symptoms: muscle weakness, osteoporosis, rickets.
Largest occurrence: dairy products, eggs, green leafy vegetables, nuts.
Daily requirement: 1300mg *
Long before humans discovered iron as a building material, nature has made it the basis of many important processes.
Effects: Blood formation, oxygenation, the formation of hemoglobin.
Deficiency symptoms: anemia, paleness, slackness, and weakness.
Largest occurrence: meat and fish, green leafy vegetables (including spinach), liver, eggs.
Daily requirement: 18 mg *
An iodine deficiency is said to have been widespread for many decades due to the iodization of table salt being prevented. However, the dubious recommendation to use as little salt as possible undermined this mechanism and it leads to more iodine deficiency in the diet.
Effect: thyroid gland, metabolism, body temperature.
Deficiency symptoms: goiter, hypothyroidism.
Largest occurrence: iodized salt, sea products (algae), sea fish, eggs.
Daily requirement: 0,200mg *
From school, potassium may still be known for its spectacular reaction with water. This only happens, however, in its purest form. So, there is no reason to worry about this occurrence in food.
Effect: Water balance, carbohydrate utilization.
Deficiency symptoms: muscle weakness, digestive problems.
Largest occurrences: avocados, bananas, legumes, cocoa, fruits, vegetables and meat in general.
Daily requirement: 4700mg *
Copper is a very important trace element for humans, but the demand is rather low.
Effect: enzyme formation, immune system, metabolism.
Deficiency symptoms: anemia, difficulty in breathing, weakness.
Largest occurrence: marine products, offal, cocoa, nuts.
Daily requirement: 1-1.5mg *
Magnesium, not to be confused with manganese, is one of the most abundant elements. Nevertheless, many people suffer from magnesium deficiency.
Effects: muscles and bones, enzyme activation, carbohydrate metabolism.
Deficiency symptoms: cramps, irritability, irregular symptoms, weakness, cardiac arrhythmias.
Largest occurrence: Green leafy vegetables (including spinach), nuts.
Daily requirement: 420 mg *
Manganese is, again, not to be confused with magnesium. It belongs to the trace elements and has high biological importance as a component of various enzymes.
Effect: enzyme function, metabolism.
Deficiency symptoms: asthma, osteoporosis, fertility.
Largest occurrence: nuts
Daily requirement: 2-5mg *
Also known elsewhere as sodium, it occurs in the form of sodium chloride in table salt. It is especially important for blood balance.
Effect: blood pressure, water balance.
Deficiency symptoms: cramps, circulatory failure, weakness, nausea.
Largest occurrence: table salt, algae, spinach
Daily requirement: 1500mg *
If sufficient protein and calcium are on the menu, sufficient phosphorus is usually taken care of.
Effect: bones and teeth, energy production and utilization.
Deficiency symptoms: muscle weakness, bone disease, neurological disorders.
Largest occurrence: meat, fish, dairy products Daily requirement: 1000mg *
Zinc oxide is often added to cereal-based cereals. This is, however, often not well absorbed by the body; natural sources such as meat and liver are better.
Effect: enzyme function, skin and connective tissue, immune system.
Deficiency symptoms: loss of appetite, diarrhea.
Largest occurrence: meat, liver, eggs, nuts daily requirement: 15mg *
Conclusion For Minerals
Some candidates on the list appear surprisingly often. Especially nuts prove to be an excellent source of nutrients and, obviously, Popeye is right with its nourishment recommendation: Spinach has it all! In addition, animal products, especially meat and offal, are also excellent sources of minerals.
In general, a balanced, varied diet of fresh, high-quality fruits, vegetables and meats is the best way to ensure against mineral deficiencies. This is more advisable in all respects than the use of supplements in tablet form.
Now, let’s go a step ahead and talk about micronutrients.
What are Micronutrients?
As the counterpart to the macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates), micronutrients are substances that do not provide energy to the body, but they are vital building blocks and components of many bodily functions.
What exactly are these substances, what can they do and where do we get them? And what happens with a micronutrient deficiency? What are micronutrients? The micronutrients include vitamins, minerals, trace elements, and phytochemicals.
These terms are common and can sometimes be found directly on food packaging. Others, such as the phytochemicals, are only mentioned in a detailed discussion of, for example, the antioxidants. The fact that vitamins are very important knows the layman probably primarily from advertising.
Everywhere, the industry advertises with vitamin content, sometimes more and sometimes less differentiated. It is also clear that we can distinguish the vitamins very precisely and that it is not enough just to take many vitamins, but also the right ones. This is the fact about vitamins and minerals: A differentiation is absolutely necessary.
Of the 13 essential vitamins that are currently considered essential, the human organism can synthesize only two in a roundabout way: vitamin B3 and vitamin D (which is actually a hormone).
Another distinction is the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) and the water-soluble vitamins. They are quite complex, organic compounds that are only formed by living organisms (plants, bacteria, animals).
Iron, copper and zinc are three examples of minerals. These work in the body as building blocks and regulators. Some sources indicate 16 elements as vital for humans.
The term trace-element describes a concentration and not a composition. Trace elements are only certain minerals. Phytochemicals: carotenoids, flavonoids and resveratrol are well-known representatives of this group; they act as antioxidants. Whether or not these substances are essential to humans is currently not completely understood. Beta carotene, however, is vital!
What is Micronutrient’s Duty?
The list of effects of various micronutrients is overwhelming. Here’s a fraction of it: Impact on sight, promoting calcium intake, affects carbohydrate metabolism, important for thyroid function, against migraine, promotes memory and concentration, forms and regenerates red blood cells, protection against infection, maintenance of osmotic pressure, electrolyte formation…If I had to complete the list, I’d have to fill entire books.
Many of the micronutrients are not for nothing considered as essential. One could get the impression that the human body cannot do practically anything on its own. The often discussed macronutrients, protein, fat, and carbohydrates act in comparison as lame energy suppliers, Still, there are plenty of reasons for their consumption.
And, neither the essential proteins nor the essential fatty acids should be forgotten. Since modern science has not yet investigated all the details of the human body and its interaction with nutrients, it is expected that this list will continue to grow and that micronutrients will become increasingly important.
What Happens in Case of a Deficiency?
The body can store only a few micronutrients to a significant degree (including the fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E). Well-known depots are, for example, connective tissue, skin, bones, liver, and musculature. The body hardly stores water-soluble vitamins, they have to be added regularly.
One of the more famous symptoms of insufficient micronutrient supply is scurvy, a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency. On the other hand, magnesium deficiency can lead to muscle cramps or regular symptoms.
Given the list of effects, it quickly becomes clear that the list of deficiencies is also overwhelmingly long. A micronutrient deficiency can be fatal.
Where can I get Micronutrients from?
Micronutrients are, therefore, of the essence. It is reassuring to know that they are diverse in nature and can be found practically everywhere. There are a few obstacles, however, that stand in the way:
Plants that grow on high-stress soils and are fertilized with synthetic fertilizer contain measurably fewer micronutrients. For animal products, the same applies. Only animals that are kept and fed in an appropriate manner also lead to animal products with full micronutrient content.
Industrial or Heavily Processed Food in General
Some vitamins are destroyed by heat, others lose their value during prolonged storage. Minerals are heat stable but can be eliminated by prolonged cooking within too much water. Since storage, transportation, heat and various processing strategies are an essential component of industrial food products, many micronutrients are lost.
These are substances that make other nutrients unusable. Phytic acid is one of them. Anti-nutrients are found largely in cereals and legumes. This is exactly the reason why the paleo diet excludes these foods from its menu. To learn more about the paleo diet, how to get started with it and for some delicious recipes, continue reading here:
Can you eat too many micronutrients?
There is the possibility of an oversupply especially with the micronutrients stored by the body. However, this is usually only achieved by high-dose vitamin administration. With balanced nutrition and normal body function, there is no risk of an overdose.
This once again shows that food is much more than you think it to be. So, it’s not just fuel for the body, but also building blocks, maintenance equipment, and tools for virtually any body function.
To be sufficiently supplied with micronutrients, it is necessary to feed on fresh and high-quality vegetables, fruits, fish and meat. It makes sense to have a colorful and varied compilation of the menu.
Products from organic farming are clearly superior to standard supermarket goods. The gentle preparation (low water, low heat) is advisable and larger amounts of anti-nutrients, for example, in cereals, should be avoided or rendered harmless.
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