When talking about food most people immediately think calories. How many calories are in this? Is that too many calories? Can I afford to eat that many calories? Calories are even listed at the top of a nutrition label. While our society has decided that calories should hold a high honor when discussing nutrition they are not the end all be all. In fact, the types of nutrients we are consuming are more important than the calories.
So that must mean macronutrients: Carbohydrates, Protein and Fat? Not exactly, while these are important and we want to be well rounded when it comes to macronutrients, we often forget about micronutrients. While they are small and we need less of them in our diet, they are a mighty part of nutrition. When talking about micronutrients we are referring to vitamins and minerals such as: Vit A, B, C, D, E, K, calcium, iodine, iron, potassium, sodium and zinc.
A few functions: Vitamin A helps with our vision and building healthy skin. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects cells from damage. Vitamin K is needed for blood clotting and iodine is needed for normal thyroid function. This does not cover all of the functions of all micronutrients, but it gives you an idea of how important they are in our diet.
There is no need to memorize the function of every vitamin and mineral, but be aware of some simple ways to incorporate them into your diet. One tip is to choose foods over supplements. Adding variety to your diet will decrease the need for supplements. Start by eating a wide variety of food groups and incorporate varying colors. There is not one food out there that can provide all of the micronutrients we need and adding variety to our diet will help incorporate different micronutrients.
In addition to choosing foods over supplements try adding items that are either fresh or frozen since air, light and processing can decrease the vitamin availability. When cooking, boiling is the worst option as this process will breakdown the vitamins and minerals more than steaming, sautéing or roasting. Know how nutrients interact so that you can optimize your absorption. Vitamin C increases iron absorption. Fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K are best absorbed with a healthy fat. Meat sources of iron are better absorbed than plant sources.
The take away: Eating a wide variety of foods and incorporating many different colors will provide a wider range of micro and macronutrients. Do not focus on individual components, but instead think about eating a healthy diet that is full of variety.