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Micronutrients, the unsung heroes

The hidden truth, evidence and effects of micronutrients on our bodies

The age-old adage "you are what you eat" couldn't be truer in that the nutrients in your food supply your body with all it needs to grow and survive. With every bite you take, these micro and macronutrients lay the foundation for every cell in your body. Picture your body as a house: macronutrients define the basic bricks, doors, and windows, while micronutrients are the mortar that adheres the bricks, the joists that support the ceiling, and the hinges that allow the doors to swing.  A large number of our peers seem to be rather oblivious to the importance of these other nutrients that are essential for the optimum growth and development of our bodies. Our bodies might only require these substances in trace amounts, but they are just as crucial, nonetheless. These nutrients or substances fall under a category called micronutrients. Although needed only in small amounts, micronutrients are essential for the proper functioning of every system in the body and are vital for optimum good health. There are two classes of micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Each vitamin and mineral has a specific role in bodily function. Micronutrients play a central role in metabolism and in the maintenance of tissue function, but effects in preventing or treating a disease which is not due to micronutrient deficiency cannot be expected from increasing the intake.

Examples of micronutrients include calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, selenium, sodium, zinc, vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E, and K, as well as biotin, folic acid, niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, and thiamin. Out of these various nutrients, the most commonly recommended are folate, iron, magnesium, Vitamin A, and D. By becoming more aware of the beneficial micronutrients in certain foods, you can tailor your diet to include more of them. The following are the most prescribed substances either due to the fact that they are easily accessible and available or due to the magnitude of their importance in terms of the way they help achieve optimum growth and development in our bodies’ organ systems:

Folate is one of the eight types of B vitamins, and it helps with the formation of red blood cells. It is water-soluble, and also called vitamin B9. Folate is a general term that actually implicates a family of nutrients naturally occurring in healthy foods. The best sources of this substance are fruits and vegetables. Legumes like lentils and beans, spinach and asparagus are all great, folate-rich foods.

Iron is used to create hemoglobin, which is the substance in red blood cells that carries and delivers oxygen around the body. Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies. Common symptoms like fatigue, mild shortness of breath or frequent paresthesia (caused due to lack of blood circulation to certain parts) are all attributed to iron deficiencies. There are two kinds of irons namely, heme - that which is acquired from an animal source, and non-heme – that which is acquired from a plant source. Examples of the respective sources of iron are clams, oysters, beef, lamb, turkey, and beans like lima and red kidney, chickpeas, lentils, tofu, broccoli, and spinach. The richest source of iron is known to be kale.

Magnesium, which in abundance, can be found in dark, leafy greens like spinach and Swiss chard, nuts, and seeds such as almonds, cashews, sesame and pumpkin seeds, as well as in unrefined grains like brown rice and quinoa, is another extremely essential micronutrient. Did you know that consuming sodas, sugar, and caffeine actually causes your body to lose magnesium? The sugars and phosphates found in these beverages bind with magnesium, causing the kidneys to excrete it before it's been properly absorbed. This means that even if you consume a ton of magnesium, your body may not be absorbing enough of it. Frequent muscle cramps, spasms, anxiety, and excess tension can be caused by a magnesium deficiency, as magnesium is a natural muscle relaxer.

Essential for maintaining vision, Vitamin A describes a group of fat-soluble retinoids, like retinol. Retinol is created from carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, which is often associated with foods of an orange hue (though it can also be found in dark, leafy greens). This means that when you eat foods like carrots, spinach, and sweet potatoes, you consume beta-carotene, some of which is converted into vitamin A. Sweet potato chips are an awesome snack to help satisfy your daily vitamin A requirement.

Vitamin D is created when your skin is exposed to ultraviolet rays from the sun and is not adequately produced while wearing sunscreen. Due to the increased amount of time we're spending indoors, people are becoming more and more vitamin D deficient. Though often overlooked, vitamin D is extremely important. Widespread deficiency has been deemed partially responsible for rising levels of depression and autoimmune disorders, laying the foundation for many chronic illnesses.

This article is a disclaimer to the pertinent situation and is an attempt to educate and increase the awareness of the importance of such nutrients, to ensure holistic development in terms of our diets and health, in the long run.