Do you eat 3 cups of veggies and 2 cups of fruit every day? Do you make a point to eat green and orange/red veggies most days of the week? Do you eat foods daily that are good sources of magnesium, selenium, calcium, and zinc? Are you choosing to eat beef, chicken, milk, cheese, and eggs from animals mostly raised on pasture? Do you eat cold-water fatty fish at least once per week? Is your stress under control? Do you sleep well and wake up feeling rested almost every morning? Are you free of hormonal problems? Is your thyroid in good shape? Do you avoid getting sick when others seem to be sniffling all around you? Do you recover well from injuries or hard workouts? Are you a non-smoker? Do you have good digestion and regular bowel movements? Do you feel great most of the time?
If you answered yes to all of these questions, then great! You likely don't need to to increase your micronutrient intake. Also, can we talk? Because I'd love to know your secrets. For the rest of us, keep reading.
Micronutrients is the umbrella term for all those little chemicals and compounds our bodies need to make and store energy, move muscles, digest food, fight infections, detoxify and eliminate harmful substances, build tissue, and even think. Vitamins and minerals fall into this category. So do antioxidants. Macronutrients like fat, protein, and carbs are important too - and as the name implies, they are needed in larger amounts - but we'll save them for another discussion.
We are meant to get adequate micronutrients from our environment. But when you combine the nutritional value of the Standard American Diet (SAD) with the stresses of modern, mostly indoor, life (and, say, smoking or long term hormonal birth control pills or antacid use), a perfect storm arises that results in less than ideal micronutrient status. Even people who are overweight or obese are often micronutrient deficient.
This "less than ideal" status can manifest in different ways. If your low stomach acid content causes you to absorb less than enough vitamin B12, you could be tired more often than you think you should be, have unexplained memory loss, or you might even develop anemia. If, like almost half of Americans, your magnesium intake is lower than ideal, you should be aware that increasing magnesium intake may support the treatment and/or prevention of conditions like hypertension, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and migraine headaches. Magnesium supplementation has also been shown to support management of restless leg syndrome and help with insomnia and constipation. It can also help you relax. If you regularly smoke cigarettes, you need extra antioxidants (especially vitamin C) and other micronutrients to help protect your body from free radical damage and detoxify the... extra toxins. The nutritional effects of regular marijuana use are not adequately studied, but anecdotal evidence suggests that regular pot smokers are not generally known to eat micronutrient rich diets.
The recommended daily allowances (RDA) of vitamins and minerals set by the government are amounts that seem to help prevent overt signs of deficiency in most people (like scurvy and beri beri). Many Americans aren't even getting the RDA. Even those who do get the RDA might not be meeting their body's individual needs - some people need more due to reasons such as above.
If you're intentional about it, you can "supplement" your diet with real food to help flood your body with micronutrients. As an example, to up your magnesium intake, put spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, almonds, and dark chocolate in the rotation more often. To get more vitamin C, eat more bell peppers, oranges, kiwi, strawberries, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, cauliflower, and cabbage.
Instead of focusing on individual nutrients, however, the best way to improve your micronutrient intake is to improve your diet choices overall. Start by getting serious about upping your fruit and veggie game (more about that coming soon!). Remember that locally grown produce spends less time traveling and on store shelves, and is often more nutritious.
In part 2 of this series, I'll outline the basics of a micronutrient rich diet. Then, in part 3, I'll discuss use of appropriate supplements when food is not enough. If you have a friend who tells you that vitamin/mineral supplements are worthless because we all get what we need from food, have them follow these blog posts and join the conversation.
Want personalized help to figure out what micronutrients you're missing and how to get more? Go to the "Personalized Nutrition" tab in the "Work With Me" section at the top of the website to learn more about working with me.
Up your micronutrient intake with this delicious summer salad from nourisheveryday.com. Add boiled eggs, chicken, or grilled salmon to make it a meal.
Balsamic Strawberry Salad - recipe available here. Photo and recipe credit goes to Nourish Everyday.
Lindsey Hays, RDN, LN
Lindsey Hays is licensed as a Nutritionist/Dietitian in the state of South Dakota. While she holds a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN or RD) credential which is nationally recognized by the Commission on Dietitian Registration, she is not licensed to practice as a nutritionist or dietitian in states other than South Dakota. She is a Certified Dietitian in the State of Washington. The information on blackhillsnutrition.com is not intended as medical advice. The content of this site is not intended to provide or replace medical advice, nor should it be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease. Always consult a qualified healthcare professional before changing your diet or medications. For full disclaimer statement click here.