Eating a balanced diet is no walk in the park. We lead busy lives and even in our downtime it can be hard to force ourselves to go shopping for the right foods, let alone cook them! Our health is essential to our hormones, our energy level, our immune system, and the length and quality of our life. Still, even with that knowledge, it's hard to figure out how to include a wide variety of foods to give our bodies what they need in order for us to live our best life. This blog should help in the journey.
What Are Micronutrients?
Your body needs both micro- and macro-nutrients. However, most women aren't getting enough micronutrients. There are about 30 vitamins and minerals that your body cannot manufacture on its own which are all essential micronutrients.
In simple terms micronutrients are mostly vitamins and minerals and macronutrients are proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
Are you getting enough micronutrients?
The question is, what are you eating everyday? Are your meals close to 50% vegetables? Do you eat 3 meals a day or are you snacking and never having a full meal? Or are you skipping the veggies all together? The minerals and vitamins vary between foods so it's best to eat a variety of foods. A well-rounded diet has plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and lean sources of protein. It should also have healthy fats from things like nuts and olive oil.
"You should ideally try to meet your vitamin and mineral needs through your diet rather than supplements," says Dr. Howard D. Sesso, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
What Causes Micronutrient Deficiency?
Even if you're doing everything right, sometimes a micronutrient deficiency can still happen. It could also be possible that essential micronutrients are being depleted by common lifestyle choices.
Here are some ways you could be depleting your micronutrients faster:
- Drinking caffeine or alcohol regularly can deplete your micronutrients.
- Taking oral contraceptives can deplete riboflavin, B6, B12, and folic acid, vitamins C, E and minerals like magnesium, selenium, and zinc.
- Diets with extreme restrictions for weight loss may prevent you from having a well-rounded diet that gives you the micronutrients you need.
- Studies suggest that stress can deplete micronutrients such as magnesium, zinc, calcium, iron, and niacin.
- House-hold products and body care products that are full of toxins.
Why it's important to focus on micronutrients:
Our last blog focused on iron deficiency anemia because it's a condition that affects about 30% of the world's population (over 2 billion people). Iron deficiency anemia is just one example of a micronutrient that people aren't getting enough of. This frequently unrecognizable disease can often effect people long-term and in subtle ways. It can impair their physical and cognitive development, cause depression and fatigue, and even be the cause of premature death.
Here are the most common micronutrient deficiencies in women today!
- Gray hair
- Mouth sores
- Tongue swelling
- Growth problems
More obvious symptoms being:
- Persistent fatigue
- Pale skin
- Shortness of breath
Folate (also known as vitamin B-9 or folic acid) can be found in dark leafy green vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, spinach, and brussel sprouts. It can also be found in different peas like black-eyed peas, green peas and chick peas. As for liquids, drinking orange juice will increase your levels of folic acid.
Typically, after you’ve gone through puberty as a woman, your folate intake should be 400-600 micrograms a day. If you’re trying to get pregnant, it’s important to maintain good folate levels before you conceive. This is one of the reasons why experts advise women to start taking a prenatal vitamin to ensure folate levels are high enough before conception.
2: Vitamin B-12
- Muscle weakness
- Tingling and numbness in your hands, feet or legs
- Difficulty thinking clearly
- Swollen tongue
Vitamin B-12 can be found in beef, liver and chicken, fish such as trout, salmon, tuna fish and clams. It can also be found in eggs, yogurt and cheese. This can make it very hard for women who are vegan as many foods with vitamin B-12 are animal products.
After puberty, a woman’s daily intake should be 2.4 mcg (micrograms) and this number goes up to 2.6 mcg a day if pregnant.
- Brittle nails
- Extreme fatigue
- A sore or swollen tongue
Food that is rich in iron: Shellfish, spinach, liver, red meat, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, eggs, chickpeas, soybeans and turkey.
Menstruation causes us to lose blood which makes women very vulnerable to iron deficiencies. Pregnant women are extremely vulnerable to low iron. Women between 18-50 need about 18 mg (milligrams) of iron a day (which is more than what men need by 10mg). Pregnant women need about 27mg of iron a day but women over the age of 51 need less iron, something around 8 mg.
It turns out, what you eat with iron rich foods, actually changes how your body absorbs the iron. If you have vitamin C or citric acid (like 100% orange juice) while eating those chickpeas and shellfish (lol sounds so gross) it will actually help your body process the iron in those foods. A better idea might be adding some lemon juice to your shellfish or doing a lemon sauce on your chickpeas and spinach dish.
*Symptoms often don’t show until it’s too late (often when a bone breaks and you’re already at the doctors office).
What you should eat to increase your calcium levels: milk, yogurt and cheese are high in calcium. If you’re drinking soy or almond milk which calcium is added to, shake it before using it as the calcium often settles at the bottom.
Calcium is super critical! It’s crucial for bone health but also a lot of other things. Calcium enables our blood to clot, our muscles to contract and our heart to beat according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.
Our bodies don’t produce calcium but we use it and lose it though our skin, nails, sweat, and when we use the restroom. Which is why it’s so important for us to get enough calcium in our diet.
If you’re 50 or younger, you need about 1000 mg (milligrams) of calcium a day, and if you’re older than 51, you need about 1,200 mg of calcium per day but get this… you want to try and have calcium rich foods throughout your day, not all at once. Your body absorbs calcium best when taken in amounts of about 500mg or less (this is the same for calcium found in food and or if you’re taking a calcium supplement - complicated right? As if we don’t have enough to deal with). It’s also best, if you’re using a calcium supplement, to take it with food as your stomach acid helps your body absorb the calcium supplement.
5. Vitamin D
- Getting sick or getting infections often
- Slow healing of wounds
- Hair loss
- Muscle pain
Vitamin D plays an important role in your immune system, helping you fight off viruses and bacteria. Found in foods like fatty fish and dairy products, egg yolk and orange juice. You can also get enough vitamin D from spending 15-30 minutes in the sun a day. Your body makes vitamin D from cholesterol when your skin is exposed to sunlight.
Vitamin D deficiencies are very common, in fact we’ve talked about the importance of Vitamin D before in this blog.
- Weight gain
- Feeling cold all the time
- Thinning hair
- Swelling of the neck
- Dry, flaky skin
- Changes in your Heart Rate
- Trouble learning or remembering
- Problems during pregnancy
- Heavy or Irregular periods
Iodine can be found in low fat yogurt, low fat milk, and enriched white bread, seaweed, and dried prunes. It’s also common for iodine to be added to salt. It’s an essential mineral found in a lot of seafood.
You’re body uses it in your thyroid gland to make thyroid hormones. This is used in your body to control growth, repair damaged cells and support a healthy metabolism. Iodine deficiencies are actually rare in the United States as a lot of the mineral is in our food supply.
If you’re pregnant, you might be at a higher risk to have an Iodine deficiency. If you have an under-active thyroid you might be feeling fatigue or your unable to get warm. In your baby, an iodine deficiency could stunt your babies brain development and physical growth *Please consult a doctor if you’re pregnant and worried about this deficiency.
Heavy periods? If you have heavy periods it’s possible you have low thyroid hormone levels and are experiencing heavy bleeding paired with more frequent menstrual cycles from an iodine deficiency. This happens because low thyroid hormone levels disrupt the signals of your hormones that are part of your menstrual cycle.
What can you do?
Start a food diary or make a calendar at the beginning of each month with recipes that include essential micronutrient foods. Make a list of micronutrient foods and search recipes involving those ingredients. Try to stick to recipes that have clean, healthy ingredients. Here is another helpful list of food items to add to your list.
Calcium: broccoli, dark, leafy greens, and sardines
Potassium: Bananas, cantaloupe, raisins, nuts, fish, and spinach and other dark greens
Magnesium: Spinach, black beans, peas, and almonds
Vitamin A: Eggs, carrots, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupe
Vitamin C: Oranges, strawberries, tomatoes, kiwi, broccoli, and red and green bell peppers
Vitamin E: Avocados, nuts, seeds, whole-grain foods, and spinach and other dark leafy greens
The more you learn, and practice good habits, the easier it will be. Soon you'll have your go to recipes and you'll know what to include in your diet without having to look at your list. Keep in mind you can also get some of these micronutrients from supplements like S'moo but you should never use a supplement instead of healthy eating.
This content is strictly the opinion of S'moo and is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of medical advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither S'moo nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.