If you want to live a long and vital life, micronutrients are your friends. These vitamins and minerals—vitamin D, vitamin C, folate, magnesium, potassium, and many others—influence every aspect of health.
When micronutrient deficiency occurs, energy levels suffer, brain fog sets in, and disease risk skyrockets. You see this most clearly in developing countries with nutrient-poor diets, but it can also happen to health-conscious folks.[*]
So how should you eat to avoid micronutrient deficiencies? Which supplements should you consider? And how should you track micronutrient intake?
Keep reading for the answers to these questions (and more).
What Are Micronutrients?
Micronutrients are nutrients required in small amounts to promote health. These vitamins and minerals influence energy levels, mood, cognition, sleep, immunity, circulation, DNA repair, and almost everything else we care about.
About thirty micronutrients can’t be made endogenously (in the body), so they’re called essential micronutrients.[*] One such nutrient is vitamin C.
Vitamin C has a fascinating history. Back in the 18th century, countless sailors were suffering from scurvy. (Bleeding gums, slow wound healing, often death.) The solution? Bring citrus fruits (a good source of vitamin C) on long voyages. Props to James Lind for figuring that out.[*]
Other micronutrients are just as critical. Here are some examples:
- Folate. We need folate (vitamin B9) to produce energy and repair DNA. Folate deficiency during pregnancy causes birth defects.[*]
- Iron. Iron structures red blood cells. Iron deficiency can cause anemia (low red blood cells), impaired fetal development, and pregnancy complications.[*]
- Magnesium. Over 300 enzymatic processes in your body rely upon magnesium. Consequently, magnesium deficiency is linked to many disorders, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease.[*]
- Potassium. Lower potassium intakes are uncontroversially associated with higher blood pressure and heart arrhythmias.[*][*]
- Vitamin A. Vitamin A supports immunity and eyesight. Preventing vitamin A deficiency with fortified rice prevents childhood blindness.[*]
- Iodine. There’s a reason the US government adds iodine to salt: because iodine deficiency impairs brain development and hinders the production of thyroid hormones.[*]
Let’s talk about macronutrients now.
Macronutrients Vs. Micronutrients
Macronutrients are nutrients—protein, fat, and carbohydrates—that your body requires in large amounts. Macros provide food energy (as calories) to fuel cellular energy production as ATP.
Conversely, micronutrients are vitamins and minerals that your body requires in small amounts. Micros may not provide calories, but they’re just as important.
In some ways, micros are more important than macros. You can thrive on a zero-carb Keto diet, but you can’t thrive on a zero folate, zero magnesium, or zero iodine diet.
How Many Micronutrients Do You Need?
Since 1943, the US government has published (and fine-tuned) recommended daily allowances (RDAs) for many essential nutrients. The RDA is the amount of a nutrient “adequate to meet the nutrition needs of practically all healthy persons.”[*]
RDAs often vary by age and sex. For example, the RDA for magnesium is:
- 240 mg for children aged 9-13 (male or female)
- 400 mg for males and 310 mg for females aged 19-30
- 420 mg for males and 320 mg for females over 50. (See table 1 from this fact sheet for the entire chart.)
The RDAs aren’t perfectly tailored to everyone’s needs, but they’re an excellent place to start. Let’s talk about fulfilling those needs now.
Micronutrients From Food
Try to get most of your micronutrients from food. Why? Several reasons:
- Many vitamins and minerals are best absorbed in food form.[*]
- Food-based nutrition reduces the risk of overdoing any nutrient to the point of toxicity.
- Whole foods contain a broad spectrum of antioxidants, polyphenols, fatty acids, fibers, and other compounds beneficial to health.
A nutrient-dense diet should cover most of your micronutrient bases. But even if you eat meat, fish, beef liver, fruits, nuts, seeds, and vegetables, you may still benefit from supplementation. First, though, let’s cover micronutrient tracking.
How To Track Micronutrient Intake
Tracking micronutrient intake is easy with modern technology. Just set up the Carb Manager app, log 1-3 days of meals, and view the results.
Carb Manager automatically tracks 22 crucial micronutrients for you. You’ll see your proximity to the RDA, and then you can adjust your diet accordingly.
You can also set individual micronutrient targets. If you’re active, for instance, you probably need more sodium than the RDA of 2.3 grams to replace what’s lost through sweat. Perhaps 4 or 5 grams would be a better target.
Check out this article for tips on tracking vitamins and minerals with Carb Manager. You’ll need a Premium subscription to unlock this feature.
Should You Take Supplements?
That mostly depends on your micronutrient intake from food. If you eat a beef liver omelette every day, you probably don’t need to supplement choline, iron, zinc, copper, folate, or vitamin B12.
But even the most diligent of omnivores can miss nutrients. And when you can’t find a decent bushel of kale, you don’t want to neglect your daily dose of vitamin K.
That’s where a multivitamin can serve as micronutrient insurance. Just be sure to choose a well-formulated product (like Thorne Basic Nutrients 2/day) that doesn’t overload potentially toxic nutrients like vitamin A.
Here are some other supplements to consider:
- Vitamin D. If you don’t get much sun, you probably need a vitamin D supplement. Consider a daily dose of 2000 IU of vitamin D for bone, immune, and general health. Getting adequate vitamin D may even help improve sleep and mood disorders like depression.[*]
- Sodium, potassium, and magnesium. Many people are deficient in these crucial electrolytes that regulate fluid balance, nervous system health, and cardiac function.
- Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 deficiency is relatively common in older folks.[*] Good news: B12 supplements are non-toxic even at higher doses.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. The omega-3s EPA and DHA aren’t technically micronutrients, but they might as well be.[*] A gram or two of fish oil per day may be a low-risk way to support heart and brain health.
The takeaway? Get most of your micros from food and supplement to cover any shortfalls. Follow this principle to position yourself for a long and vibrant stay on planet Earth.
Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links. Carb Manager may earn a commission for qualifying purchases made through these links.