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
John Koshuta
Expert Contributor
Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

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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Additional Activities

Micronutrient Deficiencies

In this activity, students will research the effects of different micronutrient deficiencies and propose different food choices that could improve the deficiency. To do this, students will need to research using scientifically valid sources, such as Mayo Clinic, the NHS, news outlets, sources from universities, or other articles written by scientists.

For example, a student might fill in the table below for the micronutrient iron as follows:

MicronutrientFunction in the BodyDeficiency SymptomsFoods to Help
IronCofactor in hemoglobin, which helps the body transport oxygenTiredness, paleness, shortness of breath, heart palpatationsred meat, spinach

Student Instructions

In this activity, you're going to explore what happens when the body is low on micronutrients, called a micronutrient deficiency. For each of the micronutrients explained in the lesson you will research what they do in the body, what the symptoms of a deficiency are and foods that are rich in these micronutrients that could help. Use the table below to guide your research, making sure to record your sources and check that your information is coming from credible websites. Try websites that are from universities, the government, or new sources, such as USA Today, NBC, Mayo Clinic, or the NHS.

MicronutrientFunction in the BodyDeficiency SymptomsFoods to HelpSources
Vitamin C

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