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What Are Micronutrients? - Definition, Types, Foods & Importance

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  • 0:00 What Are Micronutrients?
  • 0:36 Types of Micronutrients
  • 1:32 Micronutrients in Food
  • 2:40 Importance of Micronutrients
  • 3:51 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: John Koshuta
Micronutrients play crucial roles in human nutrition, including the prevention and treatment of various diseases and conditions, as well as the optimization of physical and mental functioning. Understanding micronutrients is critical for anyone seeking to maintain or improve his or her health.

What Are Micronutrients?

Vitamins and minerals are the two types of micronutrients. While only needed in small amounts, they play important roles in human development and well-being, including the regulation of metabolism, heartbeat, cellular pH, and bone density. Lack of micronutrients can lead to stunted growth in children and increased risk for various diseases in adulthood. Without proper consumption of micronutrients, humans can suffer from diseases such as rickets (lack of vitamin D), scurvy (lack of vitamin C), and osteoporosis (lack of calcium).

Types of Micronutrients

Vitamins are available in two forms: water-soluble and fat-soluble. Water-soluble vitamins are easily lost through bodily fluids and must be replaced each day. Water-soluble vitamins include the B-complex vitamins and vitamin C. Vitamins B6 and B12 are two of the most well-known B-complex vitamins. Since they are not lost as easily as their water-soluble counterparts, fat-soluble vitamins tend to accumulate within the body and are not needed on a daily basis. The fat-soluble vitamins are A, D, E and K.

Minerals are also available in two forms: macrominerals and microminerals.

Macrominerals are needed in larger amounts and include the following:

  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorus
  • Sodium
  • Potassium

Microminerals are only needed in trace amounts and include the following:

  • Iron
  • Copper
  • Iodine
  • Zinc
  • Fluoride

Micronutrients in Food

All foods contain micronutrients. Here's a list of important micronutrients and common foods where they can be found:

  • Calcium - milk, yogurt, spinach, and sardines
  • Vitamin B12 - beef, fish, cheese, and eggs
  • Zinc - beef, cashews, garbanzo beans, and turkey
  • Potassium - bananas, spinach, potatoes, and apricots
  • Vitamin C - oranges, peppers, broccoli, and bananas

Foods containing many micronutrients are considered nutrient dense. This ratio compares the amount of calories the food provides to the amount of nutrients it contains. Low calorie foods with many micronutrients, such as fruits and vegetables, have higher nutrient densities.

Research regarding micronutrients in the form of supplements, or a source that is not food, such as a multivitamin, is inconclusive. While multivitamins are commonly recommended by health professionals and consumed by the general public, their effectiveness is unproven. Consumers should proceed with caution when consuming micronutrients in supplements, as the price, quality, and safety of these products varies considerably.

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