Whenever someone brings up the words ‘fitness’ or ‘health,’ you also find the word ‘nutrients’ thrown into the discussion. It may be one of the most commonly used words among health-conscious people. But what exactly is a nutrient?
Scientifically speaking, nutrients are the chemical substances found in food and are important to all living things on the planet. They are usually derived from other organic matter, such as meats, eggs, fruits, vegetables, plant parts, and the like.
Plants, animals, and, of course, humans need them to perform a variety of essential functions, such as movement, self-regulation, infection control, tissue-building and repair, waste removal, and growth. Without them, all the things that make up what is recognized as living are simply not possible.
Experts break them further down into two categories: macronutrients and micronutrients. This article will focus on the latter.
Why Are Micronutrients So Important?
Micronutrients, as the name suggests, refer to chemicals that are needed in small amounts to enable certain bodily functions. Save for a few exceptions, these are almost always found only in our diets because the body can’t produce them naturally. You don’t really need a surplus of them to continue living. But at the same time, so much of the body’s wellness depends on these tiny amounts of substances.
In fact, micronutrient deficiency is a real problem, causing life-threatening disorders. A low-quality diet is often the leading cause of the condition, which is the result of inequality, poor lifestyle choices, and limited access to healthy food. Innovations like vegan multivitamins have been created to combat this problem. However, nothing beats the benefits of a diet rich in all nutrient groups.
The Many Ways Micronutrients Help the Body
In light of these points above, why exactly should you have a regular intake of these substances? Here’s a comprehensive breakdown of the reasons:
They Keep the Immune System Strong and Healthy
The body needs a plethora of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, no matter how small, to maintain a healthy and strong immune system. Zinc, in particular, is needed to help it fend off microorganisms that threaten your overall health. An adequate amount of zinc in the body boosts T-cell production, which is the most important component for its infection response. Both kids and senior adults are prone to getting sick, so they’ll need more zinc in their diet, along with other much-needed nutrients, to stay protected from diseases.
They Support Hundreds of Biochemical Reactions In The Body
Magnesium is another important micronutrient that the body needs for healthy functioning. It acts as a cofactor or helper molecule, which the body uses to enact biochemical reactions with enzymes. These biochemical reactions include functions like:
- Regulating neurotransmitters, which are responsible for sending messages through the brain and the entire nervous system
- Converting stored food into energy
- Aiding in muscle relaxation and contraction
They Are Important for Healthy Vision
Another reason micronutrients are needed in the body is that they support healthy vision. Vitamin A is the specific nutrient needed for this particular function. Vitamin A is found in foods like spinach, liver, dairy products, green leafy vegetables, cantaloupes, and carrots.
The body needs an ample supply of vitamin A to keep the corneas healthy. These are the parts of the eyes that protect the internal tissues from the outside. It also interacts with the proteins responsible for low-light vision. That’s why persons with vitamin A deficiency have problems seeing in the dark.
They Maintain the Proper Function of The Nervous System
The body can move and function daily thanks to the instantaneous communications made by the nervous system. It’s the network through which the brain sends messages in the form of nerve impulses to facilitate voluntary and involuntary functions, such as movement, coordination, balance, speech, digestion, breathing, and heartbeat.
These nerve impulses are created through the interaction of sodium and potassium across the cells. Sodium ions move key proteins into the cells, while potassium ions move them out. Thousands of these infinitesimally small exchanges are responsible for many of our vital functions.
If the body’s sodium and potassium levels drop, the nervous system’s ability to generate and regulate nerve impulses gets severely hampered. This is why it’s important to have a healthy balance of sodium and potassium in your diet.
They Keep the Thyroid Healthy
The thyroid gland is located right below the front of your neck. It’s an organ among many others that are responsible for hormone production and regulation. For it to function, it needs an appropriate level of iodine. A lack of this raises a person’s risk of developing disorders like hypothyroidism, which often cause a chain reaction of medical conditions.
Some of the best sources of iodine are things you may already have in your pantry: iodized salt and dairy products. Iodine supplements may also help you meet your nutrient requirement. However, take note that you should never use them without getting your doctor’s recommendation first. While the body needs iodine, having too much of it leads to a condition called hyperthyroidism, which is just as harmful as its counterpart.
For that matter, never take nutrient supplements without checking with your doctor first.
They Keep Cartilage and Bones Strong
Vitamin C is one of the most well-known micronutrients. Together with zinc, this vitamin helps build the body’s immune response. What most people don’t know is how it also helps with building and maintaining strong cartilage and bones. Therefore, an ample supply of vitamin C is also important for skeletal growth and repair.
They Help Reduce the Risks of Certain Forms of Cancer
Cancer is a disease that continues to take away the lives of so many individuals globally, affecting both adults and children. Its cause and cure remain elusive to this day. Fortunately, experts have found a connection between certain chemicals and the body’s ability to prevent the development of this condition. They suggest that a nutrient-filled diet, particularly rich in vitamin D3, may help. This vitamin aids in the regeneration of healthy cells, reducing the risk of tumor development.
Exposure to sunlight helps with getting vitamin D3. But it can also be found in the following foods:
- Fortified cereals
- Cod liver oil
- Egg yolk
- Beef liver
They Help Promote a Healthy Pregnancy
For expectant moms, this section is for you. Having a baby inside you means having to take care of two separate entities. This should be enough to encourage you to eat a healthier diet, so you can stay healthy and your baby can have all the essential nutrients and minerals it needs to fully develop.
Pregnant moms usually have to double their micronutrient intake, especially iron. An iron deficiency is often connected to low birth weight and premature births. It also increases their risk of infection, putting you and your baby in danger.
Your OB-GYN can assess your condition and help you figure out the best solution for maintaining a healthy number of micronutrients in your diet.
They Are Key to Good Heart Health
The cardiovascular system is one of the vital organ systems in the body. It’s responsible for transporting nutrients, heat, and oxygen throughout the body while also taking waste products out. Sedentary living, stress-filled routines, a lack of exercise, and a poor diet all contribute to heart disease, which is one of the conditions with high mortality rates today. A few steps in the right direction can consequently reduce your risk of developing such a condition. One of these, obviously, is having the right number of micronutrients.
Copper is an example of these chemicals that are important for heart health. Low levels of copper are often linked to high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
You can easily fix your copper levels by eating foods like:
- Whole grains
- Black pepper
- Organ meat like the heart, liver, and kidneys
- Fruits and vegetables
- Nuts like cashews, macadamia nuts, and almonds
They May Aid in Blood Sugar Control
Another health issue that’s prevalent nowadays is blood sugar levels. This can be traced to two main culprits: genetics and diet. With processed food consisting of empty carbohydrates and refined sugars becoming a go-to choice for many, this isn’t surprising.
One diet that seems to have the best benefits for blood sugar control is the Mediterranean diet. It’s rich in oleic acid, a micronutrient generously found in olive oil, that helps improve insulin sensitivity and glucose control. To get the most out of oleic acid, visit a nutritionist for some guidance and insights on what diet is best for your health concerns.
Take A Look at What You Eat
The saying ‘you are what you eat’ is no exaggeration. You never be healthy without also eating healthy food. Take an inventory of what you have in your daily diet and find out which micronutrients are missing. Then, talk to your doctor to find the best ways to fill in the gaps. These steps should help you enjoy all of the benefits described in this article and more. There’s no better time to start than now.
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