Micronutrients: Vitamins and Minerals

Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals and are so called because we don’t need them in big amounts like macronutrients which are protein, carbohydrates and fats – which we need in big amounts.


They enable the body to produce enzymes, hormones and other substances which are essential for proper growth and development.

Micronutrients are essential to life – so essential that people in the know have formulated recommended consumption levels called recommended daily allowances (RDAs).

These allowances are not the amount needed for optimum health but rather the levels needed to prevent deficiency diseases. Therefore the average adult should obtain more than the RDA from food and supplements.

Even though Micronutrients are only needed in tiny amounts, the consequences of having a deficiency of one or more of the micronutrients are severe. Iodine, Iron and Vitamin A are so important that having a lack of them in the body represents a major threat to the health and develpment of the world's population. This is especially true in pregnant women and children in low-income countries.

Deficiencies of micronutrients are commonly associated with chronic hunger. A lack of iodine, iron and vitamin A have a negative effect on children's physical and mental develpment leading to stunted growth, poor cognitive function and poor school performance. Children are also more susceptable to infection because their immune system is impaired. Severe deficiencies of micronutrients can lead to retardation, blindness and even death.

Requirements for micronutrients supplements are raised by:

  • Being physically active
  • Being under stress
  • On Medication
  • Recovering from surgery
  • Smoking
  • Consuming alcohol
  • Woman taking oral contraceptives
These instances above mean that you’ll need a higher than normal amount of micronutrients and should consider taking vitamin supplements. A good multivitamin contains all the essential micronutrients needed by the body.

Vitamins are micronutrients which help to sustain life. There are 2 types of vitamins: water-soluble and fat-soluble.

Water-soluble vitamins need to be replenished constantly as they are excreted and can not be stored. Thay are Vit C and B-complex vitamins.

Fat-soluble vitamins can be stored in the fatty tissue and liver, although they also need to be replenished. They are vitamins A,D,E and K.

Minerals are essential micronutrients which originate in the earth and can not be made. Plants get minerals from the soil and most of our minerals comes directly from plants or indirectly from animal sources. We also get minerals from the water we drink.

There are 2 types of these micronutrients: Major and trace minerals. Major minerals are those that we need in greater amounts - such as calcium, magnesium, phospherous and sodium. Trace minerals are required in amaller amounts. They are iron, copper, zinc, selenium and iodine.

Handy Vitamin and Mineral Chart

Here is a handy vitamin and mineral chart which helps explain the importance of the major micronutrients as well as information on dietry sources, signs of deficiency and excess.

Vitamin Chart:

VitaminFunctionSourcesDeficiency SignsRequirements Raised BySigns Of Excess
Vitamin AEssential for eyes, skin and the proper function of the immune system. Helps maintain hair, bones and teethliver, fish, oils, dairy products, eggsDry eyes, skin & mucous membranes. Poor resistance to disease & infections. Impaired growth or development. Night blindness, progressive eye disease leading to blindnessMalabsorption & drugsLoss of appetite & sickness, headaches, blurred vision, dizziness, bleeding gums, peeling & redness of the skin, liver damage, joint & bone pain, hair loss, gastro-intestinal disturbance
Beta-CaroteneAll those of vitamin A, Antioxidant, protects against many forms of cancerYellow, orange, red & green veg & fruits - especially carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes and broccoliNot knownMineral oil use, fat malabsorptionYellowing of skin, especially the palms of hands and soles of feet
B1 ThiamineMetabolism of carbohydrates, healthy nerves & brain cells, muscle coordination, release of energy from glucoseSunflower seeds, cereal germ & husks, yeast, vegetables, peas, beans, nuts, eggsAnxiety, hysteria, depression, muscle cramps, appetite lossIllness, burns, surgery, chronic infection, alcohol, smoking, pregnancy, the pill, aspirin & refined carbohydratesHypersensitivity of nerves
B2 RiboflavinHelps release energy from foods & maintain healthy skinFish, eggs, liver, peanuts, lentils, meat, vegetables, wheat germ, milkCracks & sores around the mouth & nose, visual problemsBurns, pregnancy, breastfeeding, imbalanced vegan diets & certain drugsBright yellow discolouration of urine
B3 NiacinNeeded in many enzymes that convert food to energy. Helps maintain a healthy digestive tract and nervous system. In very large doses, lower cholesterolLiver, nuts, tuna, yeast, avocado, dates, prunes, whole grain cereals & legumesMouth swelling, diarrhoea & mental confusionPregnancy, breastfeeding, intestinal disease & chronic infectionHot flushes, liver toxicity, cardiac arrhythmias, dry skin rashes, high blood sugar & uric acid
B5 Pantothenic AcidPlays a role in metabolism of fatty acids, glucose & proteins for energy production. helps maintain healthy skin & mucous membranes, promotes nerve functionMost foods - especially animal tissues, fish, poultry, whole grain cereals & legumesNot knownNot knownNot known
B6 PyridoxineEnergy release, protein metabolism, helps maintain healthy skin, helps form red blood cells, helps nerve & brain functionAnimal protein, egg yolk, peanuts, green veg, bananas, whole grains, milkPatches if itchy, scaling skin, anaemia, irritability, kidney stones, depression & confusionPregnancy, breastfeeding, the pill, alcohol, hyperthyroidism, congestive heart failure & many therapeutic drugsNerve Damage
B12 CyanocobalaminHelps form red blood cells, builds genetic material, maintains healthy nervous systemMeat, liver, kidney, egg yolk, spirulina, yeast, soya, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, kelpNumbness, muscle weakness, stunted growth in childrenSmoking, alcohol, vegan diets & malabsorptionNot known
BiotinMetabolism of carbohydrates & formation of certain fatty acids, healthy skin & hairYeast, liver, soya, flour, carrots, cauliflowerDermatitis alopeciaExcessive consumption of egg whitesNot Known
Folic AcidMetabolism of cell division, protein metabolism & red blood formationGreen leafy veg, liver, pulses, wheat, bran, fruit, yeastAnaemia, miscarriage & malformation of foetusAlcohol, the pill, pregnancy, breastfeeding & many therapeutic drugsLoss of appetite & nausea. May mask deficiency of B12
Vitamin CMaintains healthy gums, skin & connective tissue, antioxidant keeping cells healthy, aids in iron absorptionFresh fruit especially citrus, sea food, wheat germ, brown rice, barley, nuts, potatoes, tomatoesFatigue, irritability, loss of appetite, weight loss, bleeding gums, easy bruising, scurvySmoking the pill, pregnancy, breastfeeding, alcohol, burns, chronic infection & ageDiarrhoea & gastro intestinal disturbance
Vitamin DHelps calcium absorption for strong bones & teethSunlight on skin, fish, fish oils, liver, dairy products, egg yolkRickets in children, loss of bone density in adults & osteoporosisInadequate exposure to sunshine, liquid paraffinLoss of appetite, weakness & constipation, calcium deposits in organs
Vitamin EAntioxidant. Preserves fatty acids, helps form red blood cells, muscles & other tissueCereal germ, nuts, seed & veg oils, dairy products, green leafy vegVery rare - disorders of spinal cord & nervous systemHigh intake of polyunsaturated fatty acidsGastro intestinal disturbance, fatigue & weakness
Vitamin KAids blood clotting, bone healthGreen veg, liverDefective blood coagulationNot knownJaundice in infants

Mineral Chart:

MineralFunctionSourcesDeficiency SignsRequirements Raised BySigns Of Excess
CalciumBone, tooth & nail formation, promotes muscle & nerve function, clotting of blood, helps absorption of B12Diary products, sardines, salmon, oysters, nuts, molasses, dried figs, spinach, broccoliRickets in children, poor muscle tone, osteoporosis in adultsSmoking, alcohol, certain diseasesConstipation, calckum deposits in body tissue, kidney stones. Hinders iron absorption
MagnesiumHelps maintain healthy nervous system & metabolism, helps with energy releaseGreen leafy veg, nuts, legumes, popcorn, wheat germ & cereal grainsMuscle weakness, cramps, twitching, irritability, cardiac arrhythmiasSmoking, drugs, alcohol, chronic diarrhoeaDiarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure
PhosphorusHelps maintain healthy bones, metabolism, nerve & muscle functionMeat, dairy products, poultry, fish, nuts, lentils, egg yolk, cereal productsRareAlcohol, Vit D deficiency & certain drugsHinders calcium absorption, diarrhoea, tiredness, headache, dizziness, increased thirst, tingling around lips, hands & feet
PotassiumElectrolyte, needed for cellular metabolic processes, helps maintain regular fluid balancePeanuts, bananas, potato, pulses, orange juice, broccoli, sunflower seeds, mushrooms, green beans, watermelonMuscle weakness, mood & mental changes, nauseaExcessive diarrhoea, excessive vomitingRare
IronEssential for making haemoglobin which transports oxygen in the blood to produce energyRed meat, fish, beans, raisins, lentils, peas, spinach, wheat germ, bran & oatsChronic fatigue, weakness, anaemia, learning problems in children, shortness of breath, headaches, skin pallorPregnancy, breastfeeding, coffee, tea, antacids, diarrhoea, shortage of zinc & calciumStomach pain, cramps, constipation, nausea & vomiting
ZincCell division, protein synthesis, growth, virtually all enzyme activity, immune system, metabolism of Vit A, B Complex & fatty acids, all aspects of reproduction, energy production, condition of skin, hair & nailsOysters, liver, shrimp, crab, beef, sardines, whole grains, legumes, eggs, cheeseWhite spots on nails, poor condition of hair & skin, delayed wound healing, slow healing of wounds, loss of taste, smell & appetite, retarded growth, slow mental developmentPregnancy, breastfeeding, alcohol, smoking, burnsNausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, can interfere with copper absorption
SeleniumAntioxidant. Works with Vit E to prevent breakdown of fats & body chemicalsGrains, seafood, liver, lean red meatLightness of colour of the fingernail beds, muscle discomfort or weaknessSmokingFinger nail changes, hair loss
ManganeseNeeded for tendon & bone structure, an activator for enzymes, co-factor in lipid, protein & carbohydrate metabolismWhole grains, cereal products, tea, fruits & vegNot knownNot knownNot known
CopperNeeded to make skin, hair & other pigments, helps with iron absorption, needed to make red blood cells, connective tissue & nerve fibresLiver, seafood, nuts & seedsRareExcessive zinc intakeVomiting, diarrhoea, liver disease
SodiumElectrolyteSalt, oysters, mussels, tuna, milk, bananas, mushrooms, meatNot KnownExcessive diarrhoea & vomitingNausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, cramps, thirst, sweating, fever, fast heartbeat, hypertension, reduced salivation

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