Micronutrients: Overview

Micronutrients are another group of nutrients, much more comprehensive and still very important.

Micronutrients are vitamins, minerals, and trace elements that are critical to energy metabolism, cellular growth and differentiation, organ function, and immune function. Vitamins such as thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, biotin, pantothenic acid, and folate (B vitamins), as well as vitamin K, can be synthesized by the microbiota. While vitamins supplied in the diet are absorbed in the small intestine, microbe-produced vitamins are absorbed in the colon. (Biesalski 2016, Ishiguro 2018)

Micronutrients are predominantly obtained from dietary sources of plant and animal origin. Amongst the plant-based foods, fruits and vegetables are the richest sources of multiple nutrients. People consuming high amounts of fruits and vegetables are less prone to dietary disorders like obesity, blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, anemia, and osteoporosis. On the other hand, the majority of the worlds' population consumes staple crops such as cereals (rice, wheat, maize) and tubers (sweet potato, cassava) which are by far deficient in one or more micronutrients.



There are 13 essential vitamins and they can be grouped into 2 categories – fat and water-soluble. There are 4 fat-soluble vitamins and 9 water-soluble vitamins. All of these vitamins play different roles in the functioning of your body. See the complete guide below.

Water-soluble vitamins. These vitamins, which dissolve in water, include the B vitamins and vitamin C. Other than vitamin B12, most are not stored in the body and any amounts not used get flushed out in the urine. That means they must be replenished regularly. Their main job is to produce energy, but they also help prevent cell damage from metabolic stress and are needed to create red blood cells. Good food sources: Whole grains, eggs, leafy greens (such as spinach), fish, lean meat, citrus fruits, and bell peppers.

Fat-soluble vitamins. Fat-soluble vitamins dissolve in fat, but not water, and can be stored in your liver and fatty tissue for future use. These include vitamins A, D, E, and K. They help protect vision, strengthen the immune system, support blood clotting, and provide antioxidants to fight inflammation. Good food sources: Leafy greens, almonds, sweet potatoes, milk, and soybeans.

Vitamin A - Retinol, Retinal & Retinoic Acid, Beta Carotene

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin with multiple functions in the body. It helps cells differentiate, an essential part of cell reproduction. It is a central component for healthy vision; vitamin A nourishes cells in various structures of the eye and is required for the transduction of light into nerve signals in the retina. It is required during pregnancy, stimulating normal growth and development of the fetus by influencing genes that determine the sequential growth of organs in embryonic development. It influences the function and development of sperm, ovaries, and placenta and is a vital component of the reproductive process.

Vitamin A sources:

- Eggs & Dairy

- Salmon and Fish

- Yellow Fruits & Vegetables

- Prunes

- Blueberries

Beta Carotene sources:

- Leafy, dark green vegetables

- Dark orange fruits (apricots, cantaloupe)

- Vegetables (carrots, winter squash, sweet potatoes, pumpkin)

Vitamin B1 - Thiamin

Vitamin B1 is a water-soluble vitamin that the body requires to break down carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Every cell of the body requires vitamin B1 to form adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Vitamin B1 is also essential for the proper functioning of nerve cells.

- Whole Grains

- Meat

- Nuts

- Yeast Products

- Legumes

Vitamin B2 - Riboflavin

Vitamin B2 is a water-soluble vitamin that helps the body process amino acids and fats, activate vitamin B6 and folic acid, and helps convert carbohydrates to adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Under some conditions, vitamin B2 can act as an antioxidant.

- Leafy Green Vegetables

- Fish

- Eggs & Dairy

- Meat & organ Meats

- Whole Grains

Vitamin B3 - Niacin

Vitamin B3 is required for cell respiration and helps release the energy in carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. It also supports proper circulation and healthy skin, the functioning of the nervous system, and normal secretion of bile and stomach fluids. It is used in the synthesis of sex hormones, treating schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, and as a memory-enhancer.

- Poultry & Meats

- Nuts

- Whole Grains

- Fish

- Dairy Products

Vitamin B5 - Pantothenic Acid

Vitamin B5 plays an important role in releasing energy from sugars and fats. It is also important in the production of fats and also has a role in modifying the shape of proteins.

- Peas & Beans

- Whole Grains

- Meats

- Poultry

- Fruits

Vitamin B6 - Pyridoxal, Pyridoxamine & Pyridoxine

Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin and is part of the vitamin B complex. Vitamin B6 plays a role in the synthesis of antibodies by the immune system, which is needed to fight many diseases. It helps maintain normal nerve function and also acts in the formation of red blood cells. Vitamin B6 is also required for the chemical reactions needed to digest proteins. The higher the protein intake, the more they need for vitamin B6.

- Bananas

- Potatoes

- Meats & Organ Meats

- Fish & Poultry

- Leafy Green Vegetables

Vitamin B9 - Folic Acid

Vitamin B9, also known as Folic acid, is a B vitamin necessary for cell replication and growth. Folic acid helps form building blocks of DNA, which holds the body's genetic information, and building blocks of RNA, needed for protein synthesis. Folic acid is most important, then, for rapidly growing tissues, such as those of a fetus, and rapidly regenerating cells, like red blood cells and immune cells.

- Leafy Greens

- Fermented Foods

- Offal Meats

- Bran Cereals

- Tea

Vitamin B12 - Cyanocobalamin

Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin needed for normal nerve cell activity, DNA replication, and production of the mood-affecting substance SAMe (S-adenosyl-L-methionine). Vitamin B12 acts with folic acid and vitamin B6 to control homocysteine levels. An excess of homocysteine has been linked to an increased risk of coronary disease, stroke, and, other diseases such as osteoporosis and Alzheimer's.

- Dairy Products

- Eggs

- Fish

- Meats

- Fermented foods

Vitamin C - Ascorbic Acid

Vitamin C is an essential water-soluble vitamin that has a wide range of functions in the human body.

One of vitamin C's important functions is acting as an antioxidant, protecting LDL cholesterol from oxidative damage. When LDL is damaged the cholesterol appears to lead to heart disease, but vitamin C acts as an important antioxidant protector of LDL. Vitamin C may also protect against heart disease by reducing the stiffness of arteries and the tendency of platelets to coagulate in the vein.

Vitamin C has a range of additional functions. Its is needed to make collagen, a substance that strengthens many parts of the body, such as muscles and blood vessels, and plays important roles in healing and as an antihistamine. Vitamin C also aids in the formation of liver bile which helps to detoxify alcohol and other substances. Evidence indicates that vitamin C levels in the eye decrease with age and that vitamin C supplements prevent this decrease, lowering the risk of developing cataracts.

- Berries

- Fruits esp. citrus

- Red Peppers & Tomatoes

- Broccoli & Spinach

- Sprouts

Vitamin D - Calcitriol

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps maintain blood levels of calcium, by increasing absorption from food and reducing urinary calcium loss. Both functions help keep calcium in the body and therefore spare the calcium that is stored in bones. Vitamin D may also transfer calcium from the bone to the blood, which may actually weaken bones. Though the overall effect of vitamin D on the bones is complicated, some vitamin D is certainly necessary for healthy bones and teeth.

- Fatty Fish

- Eggs

- Organ Meats

- Milk

- Sunlight

Vitamin E - Alpha-Tocopherol

Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects cell membranes and other fat-soluble parts of the body, such as LDL cholesterol (the 'bad' cholesterol), from damage. Several studies have reported that supplements of natural vitamin E help reduce the risk of heart attacks.

Vitamin E also plays some role in the body's ability to process glucose. Some trials suggest that vitamin E may help in the prevention and treatment of diabetes.

In the last decade, the functions of vitamin E have been further clarified. In addition to its antioxidant functions, vitamin E has now been shown to directly affect inflammation, blood cell regulation, connective tissue growth, and genetic control of cell division.

- Nuts & Seeds

- Avocado

- Vegetables and Vegetable Oils

- Whole Grains

- Organ Meats & Eggs

Vitamin H - Biotin

Vitamin H is actually part of the B-complex. It is involved in energy production, synthesis of fatty acids, and support of nervous system growth

- Dairy Products

- Meat & Poultry

- Oats & Grains

- Soybeans and Legumes

- Mushrooms & Nuts

Vitamin K - Phylloquinone & Menaquinone

Vitamin K is necessary for proper bone growth and blood coagulation. Vitamin K accomplishes this by helping the body transport calcium. Vitamin K is used to treat overdoses of the drug warfarin. Also, doctors prescribe vitamin K to prevent excessive bleeding in people taking warfarin but requiring surgery.

- Leafy Vegetables

- Whole Grains

- Eggs

- Polyunsaturated Oils

- Seaweed


Minerals can be classed as inorganic substances, similar to vitamins, which have many different functions. Again, like all of the micronutrients, they are only needed in small amounts. But do not underestimate their significance. They can be split up into two categories also – major minerals and trace minerals.

Microminerals. Microminerals are common minerals like calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, and potassium. They are necessary for many bodily functions, such as maintaining muscle and bone strength and controlling blood pressure. Good food sources: Milk products, leafy greens, black beans, lentils, bananas, and fish (such as salmon).

Trace minerals. These include iron, manganese, copper, zinc, and selenium. They are needed in smaller amounts than microminerals and help with feeding oxygen to muscles, supporting nervous system function, healing wounds, and defending cells against damage from stress. Good food sources: Oysters, spinach, pecans, peanuts, and cashews.


Of all the essential minerals in the human body, Calcium is the most abundant. Calcium helps the body form bones and teeth and is required for blood clotting, transmitting signals in nerve cells, and muscle contraction. Calcium helps prevent osteoporosis; of the two to three pounds of calcium contained in the human body, 99% is located in the bones and teeth.

Calcium also seems to play a role in lowering blood pressure and has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in postmenopausal women.

- Dairy Products

- Fish w/bones

- Whole Grains, Seeds & Nuts

- Green Vegetables

- Beans


Present in the body as the chloride ion, this and sodium are essential to life. It is responsible in part for the maintenance of membrane potential in nerves, nutrient absorption and transport, maintenance of blood volume and pressure, and many more functions.

- Table Salt

- Tap and Bottled Water

- Seafood

- Pickled foods

- Salted Foods


A trace element, chromium is essential in the production of a substance called glucose tolerance factor (GTF) which is important in the utilization of insulin, a hormone that stabilizes blood sugar. It is also involved in the synthesis of fatty acids and cholesterol.

- Fermented Foods

- Whole Grains

- Dairy Products and Meats

- Grapes & Raisins

- Beets & Black pepper


Copper is a trace element that is essential for most animals, including humans. It is needed to absorb and utilize iron. The influence of copper upon health is due to the fact it is part of enzymes, which are proteins that help biochemical reactions occur in all cells. Copper is involved in the absorption, storage and metabolism of iron. The symptoms of a copper deficiency are similar to iron deficiency anemia. Copper may be absorbed by both the stomach and small intestinal mucosa, with most absorbed by the small intestine. Copper is found in the blood bound to proteins.

- Seafood

- Whole Grains & Nuts

- Meats & Organ Meats

- Legumes & Green Vegetables

- Molasses


Iodine aids in the development and functioning of the thyroid gland. It is an integral part of the hormone thyroxine, one of the thyroids major hormones. Thyroid hormones are essential for proper cellular metabolism.

- Shellfish

- Fish

- Seaweed

- Iodised Table salt

- Whole Grains


Iron is one of the human body's essential minerals. It forms part of hemoglobin, the component of the blood that carries oxygen throughout the body. People with iron-poor blood tire easily because their bodies are starved for oxygen. Iron is also part of myoglobin, which helps muscles store oxygen. With insufficient iron, adenosine triphosphate (ATP; the fuel the body runs on) cannot be properly synthesized. As a result, some iron-deficient people can become fatigued even when they are not anemic.

- Seafood & Fish

- Meat & Organ Meats

- Poultry & Eggs

- Fruit & Vegetables

- Whole Grains & Legumes


Magnesium is an essential mineral for the human body. It is needed for protein, bone, and fatty acid formation, making new cells, activating B vitamins, relaxing muscles, blood clotting, and forming adenosine triphosphate (ATP). The production and use of insulin also require magnesium.

certain circumstances, magnesium has been found to improve vision in people with glaucoma. Similarly, magnesium has demonstrated an ability to lower blood pressure.

- Meat & Dairy

- Fish

- Whole Grains & Green Vegetables

- Nuts & Beans

- Fruits


Manganese is an essential trace mineral that is required in small amounts to manufacture enzymes necessary for the metabolism of proteins and fat. It also supports the immune system, blood sugar balance, and is involved in the production of cellular energy, reproduction, and bone growth.

Manganese works with Vitamin K to support normal blood clotting. Working with B-complex vitamins, manganese helps promote a positive outlook when faced with stress, frustration, and anxiety.

- Seeds & Nuts

- Whole Grains & Leafy Vegetables

- Berries & Fruit

- Eggs & Avocado

- Tea & Seaweed


Molybdenum is an essential trace mineral in animal and human nutrition. It is found in several tissues of the human body and is required for the activity of some enzymes that are involved in catabolism, including the catabolism of purines and the sulfur amino acids. Animals can be made molybdenum deficient by feeding them diets containing high amounts of tungsten or copper.

- Legumes

- Dark Leafy Green Vegetables

- Whole Grains

- Dairy Products

- Organ Meats


Phosphorus is an essential mineral that is usually found in nature combined with oxygen as phosphate. Most phosphate in the human body is in bone, but phosphate-containing molecules (phospholipids) are also important components of cell membranes and lipoprotein particles, such as good (HDL) and bad (LDL) cholesterol. Small amounts of phosphate are engaged in biochemical reactions throughout the body.

The role of phosphate-containing molecules in aerobic exercise reactions has suggested that phosphate loading might enhance athletic performance, though controlled research has produced inconsistent results.

- Fermented Foods

- Meats & Poultry

- Whole Grains & Seeds

- Dairy & Eggs

- Mushrooms & Vegetables


Potassium is an essential mineral needed to regulate water balance, levels of acidity and blood pressure. Potassium, together with sodium-potassium inside the cell and sodium in the fluid surrounding the cell, work together for the nervous system to transmit messages as well as regulating the contraction of muscles.

People with low blood levels of potassium who are undergoing heart surgery are at an increased risk of developing heart arrhythmias and an increased need for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Potassium is also required for carbohydrate and protein metabolism.

- Fruits & Vegetables

- Legumes & Whole Grains

- Seeds & Nuts

- Dairy & Meats

- Poultry & Fish


Selenium is an essential trace mineral. Selenium activates an antioxidant enzyme called glutathione peroxidase, which may help protect the body from cancer. Yeast-derived forms of selenium have induced "apoptosis" (programmed cell death) in cancer cells in test tubes and in animals. One study found that men consuming the most dietary selenium developed 65% fewer cases of advanced prostate cancer than did men with low levels of selenium intake.

Selenium is also essential for healthy immune functioning. Even in a non-deficient population of elderly people, selenium supplementation has been found to stimulate the activity of white blood cells. Selenium is also needed to activate thyroid hormones.

- Nuts & Seeds

- Whole Grains

- Fish & Shellfish

- Fermented Foods

- Organ Meats


Sodium functions with chloride and bicarbonate to maintain a balance of positive and negative ions (electrically charged particles) in our body fluids and tissues. The body receives sodium primarily in the form of table salt (sodium chloride). Sodium, the principal extracellular ion, has the property of holding water in body tissues.

Sodium is a vital component of nerves as it stimulates muscle contraction. Sodium also helps to keep calcium and other minerals soluble in the blood, as well as stimulating the adrenal glands. High sodium levels can cause high blood pressure. Sodium aids in preventing heat prostration or sunstroke.

- Table Salt

- Fermented Foods

- Fish, Shellfish & Seaweed

- Soy Products

- Peppers & Pickles


Sulfur is needed in the formation of hormones and is a component of some amino acids. Important in the manufacture of many proteins, it also helps keeps your energy levels stable. Helps to keep hair, muscles, and skin healthy and contributes to fat digestion and absorption. Found in insulin and helps to regulate blood sugar. Combines with toxins to neutralize them.

- Beans & Vegetables

- Meats & Eggs

- Fish & Garlic

- Fish

- Dairy Products


Zinc is an essential mineral with a wide variety of functions within the human body. Zinc is a component of over 300 enzymes needed to repair wounds, maintain fertility in adults and growth in children, synthesize protein, help cells reproduce, preserve vision, boost immunity, and protect against free radicals, among other functions.

- Whole Grains & Vegetables

- Meat & Poultry

- Fish & Shellfish

- Eggs & Dairy

- Seeds & Mushrooms


E. Ishiguro, N. Haskey, K. Campbell - Chapter 6 - Impact of Nutrition on the Gut Microbiota, Interactive Effects on Nutrition and Health, 2018, Pages 105-131

National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion

A Shenkin - Micronutrients in health and disease, Postgrad Med J. 2006 Sep; 82(971): 559–567, doi: 10.1136/pgmj.2006.047670

Eva S Wintergerst1, et. all - Contribution of selected vitamins and trace elements to immune function, 2007;51(4):301-23, doi: 10.1159/000107673.Epub 2007 Aug 28

J M Bourre - Effects of nutr ients (in food) on the structure and function of the nervous system: update on dietary requirements for the brain. Part 1: micronutrients, Health Aging,

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