Everything You Need to Know About Micronutrients (Part 1)
By Alyssa Kessel, RDN, LD, Expert Dietitian
Most people don’t consider the true value that macronutrients (proteins, fats, and carbs) and micronutrients provide to their diet. From one-on-one discussions with my patients, I’ve found this is often because people don’t understand what these nutrients are.
To help you stay informed so you can make the best choices for your health, I’m going to spend the next few posts talking about these vital nutrients. This post will focus on the fat-soluble vitamins.
What are micronutrients?
Micronutrients are dietary components – often referred to as vitamins and minerals – that are vital to development, disease prevention, and wellbeing. Although they are only required in small amounts, they are vital to maintain your nerves, brain, bone, muscle, skin, blood circulation, and immune system.
Vitamins – organic compounds primarily derived from food that the body needs in small amounts – can also be broken down further into 2 categories: fat-soluble and water-soluble. Though they serve a variety of purposes, the primary difference between the two is the substance in which they can dissolve.
What are fat-soluble vitamins?
As their name implies, vitamins A, D, E, and K all dissolve in fat. They are stored safely in the fat cells of the body (the adipose tissue) until the body needs them. They are immensely important for hormone, brain, and immune health.
Unlike water-soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins have a higher risk for toxicity if consumed in excess, because the body stores them for longer periods of time. In fact, taking megadoses of vitamins A, D, E, or K can be toxic and lead to health complications. The trick, like most things in life, is moderation!
What are the benefits of these vitamins?
- Bone and tooth growth
- Healthy skin
- Cell division
- Gene expression
- Immune system regulation
- Prevention of certain cancers (it’s an important antioxidant)
- Maintaining moisture levels in your skin, eyes, mouth, nose, throat, and lungs
While Vitamin A deficiency is rare in the US (called Xeropthalmia), it is common in developing countries due to malnutrition. On the other side is hypervitaminosis (too much Vitamin A). The Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for adults is 3,000 mcg, which is really only an issue if you are taking high doses from supplements.
Despite its’ name, Vitamin D is technically a hormone, not a vitamin. Often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin”, it’s critical to how your body functions on a daily level. It’s main job is to regulate your calcium and phosphorus levels.
- Bone growth and maintenance
- Immune function
- Weight loss
- Cognitive function
- Heart disease (lowers)
- Cancer (risk lowers)
Your body naturally makes vitamin D when exposed to the sun, however, most people need more from their diet or supplements. Severe deficiency is rare, but mild forms occur often. Vitamin D deficiency can cause fatigue, weak muscles, soft bones, and increased risk of fractures and susceptibility to infections. Toxicity (too much) is rare; the UL is 4,000 IU per day.
Vitamin E is divided into two groups: Tocopherols and Tocotrienols. Tocopherol contains the most abundant form of vitamin E, which makes up 90% of the vitamin E in the blood. This powerful vitamin:
- Is an antioxidant that can help protect your cells against premature aging and damage from free radicals
- Boosts your immune system
- Helps prevent blood clots and cardiovascular disease (source)
Deficiency is extremely rare in otherwise healthy individuals. People with diseases that block the absorption of fat or vitamin E (such as cystic fibrosis or liver disease) are more at risk. Likewise, too much vitamin E is nearly impossible, unless taking high vitamin E supplements.
This vitamin is a group of fat-soluble compounds divided into two main groups: Vitamin K1 (found in plant-sourced foods, the main form of vitamin K) and Vitamin K2 (found in animal-derived foods).
Vitamin K plays an essential role in helping the body form blood clots, as well as helping:
- Promote bone health
- Reduce the buildup of calcium in the blood
- Reduce the risk of heart disease
Deficiency may occur in infants or individuals taking anticoagulants (blood thinners), such as Coumadin (warfarin). People on these medications should only change the vitamin K in their diet after consulting with a physician.
Unlike the other fat-soluble vitamins, natural forms of vitamin K have no known symptoms of toxicity. Synthetic vitamin K-3 may have some adverse effects when consumed in high amounts.
How can I get these vitamins in my diet?
What should I do next?
In summary, no single food or diet contains all of the vitamins and minerals your body needs. It’s important to get a balanced and varied diet for your body to function efficiently and healthfully. If you need help creating a meal plan that works for you, please call us at 513-791-9474 to schedule a weight loss consultation.
Stay tuned for my next post on water-soluble vitamins!
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