Well, they’ve been saying it for ages, but the more we study food, the more we realize: you are what you eat. With our modern diets causing a number of debilitating diseases, there’s no better time to learn the ins and outs of basic nutrition, as you can with this nutrition for beginners course.
If you’ve got kids, it’s even more important for you to set them up for a lifetime of nutritional success, so get some great tips with this course. For a basic rundown of macronutrients and micronutrients, stick around.
Your Body’s Micronutrient Needs
Most of the time, macronutrients refers to caloric nutrients such as fats, protein and carbohydrates, but it can also sometimes refer to the minerals we require in large amounts—like a 1000mg or so a day. Let’s look at those more closely.
Did you know your body is about 2% calcium? We’ve all heard that you need calcium to build strong bones, but calcium is also necessary for proper muscle and nerve function. It plays a critical role in balancing the pH of our blood supply. If your blood pH is out of balance, your body triggers hormones that leech calcium from your bones in order to keep your blood at the right acid/alkaline ratio. That process means the amount of calcium you need can vary greatly from person to person dependent on dietary and lifestyle factors. Muscle spasms or cramping may indicate a need for calcium. You don’t have to get your calcium from cow’s milk either. Tofu, kale and collard greens, sardines and sesame seed all contain high levels of calcium.
The dairy industry has done a great job of keeping consumers informed of the downside of not getting enough calcium, but few people understand the downside of not getting enough magnesium. Magnesium is also critical for bone health and preventing osteoporosis. Most Americans are 30% shy of the magnesium levels they need and this low-grade deficiency may be contributing to a host of chronic ailments, osteoporosis included. Magnesium is essential for energy production and metabolism, so if you consistently feel tired or lethargic, low magnesium may be the culprit.
For almost one hundred years, research has suggested that low magnesium may also contribute to depression. Back in the 1930’s, magnesium was used to treat acute asthma and it is still used in the ER today for some critical attacks, but we almost never hear about it. In nature, magnesium is present in most foods in a ratio of 2:1 over calcium, but these days our dairy consumption throws that proportion out of balance. If you suffer from constipation, asthma, TMJ, depression or hypertension, it might be worth looking into a magnesium supplement to help your body get back in balance. Alternatively, start incorporating more leafy greens and seeds into your diet – learn more with this course.
Calcium and magnesium have a complex relationship in the body which means that achieving an adequate balance of both nutrients is essential for lifelong health and well-being. Nature does a great job of balancing nutrients, so when you can opt for dietary diversity over supplements. That said, getting optimal levels of everything would probably mean consuming more calories than we should. Find the right balance for you.
Potassium supports normal blood pressure, kidney health and works with sodium to maintain proper cell functioning. Potassium is essential for nerve and brain operation. Because of its complex relationship with sodium, it’s essential to consume large amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables in order to counterbalance our modern high-salt diet. About half the US population does not get enough potassium in their diets, which can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. If you want to control your blood pressure naturally, check out this course.
Sodium is the only other essential nutrient we need in large amounts, but since most of us get a whopping dose of sodium daily, there’s little chance of deficiency. Besides, in order to cause problems, sodium deficiency needs to be coupled with excess water intake, so just don’t enter a water drinking competition if you haven’t eaten some salt recently.
Micronutrients are also essential for health and well-being but they are not required in the amounts that macrominerals are. For most of us, scurvy and beriberi are old-fashioned ailments only of concern to wayward pirates. Unfortunately, even though we have access to abundant fresh fruits and vegetables, our over-processed diet has left many of us lacking. If you’re diet has taken a wrong turn why not try out the Paleo Diet with this course, so you can get back to dietary basics.
Make Mine Micro
Here’s a quick list of some of the micronutrients our bodies depend on.
- Vitamin A
Vitamin A is well known for its role in vision and skin care, but it also contributes to health by controlling the inflammation process and immune system. It’s important for bone health and helps the reproductive system of both men and women. However, before you go supplementing like mad, be wary of the fact that vitamin A does have toxicity effects which can cause birth defects or other complications.
- Vitamin B
The B family of vitamins includes thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, biotin, folate, and cobalmins. They are critical for health and wellbeing serving various functions including energy metabolism, brain health and nervous system integrity. Most B vitamins are water soluble making it hard to overdose and a number are impacted by over the counter medications like birth control pills, so a supplement might be a wise consideration.
- Vitamin C
Vitamin C is essential for collagen and serotonin production—fortunately most fruits contain abundant amounts.
- Vitamin D
The sunshine vitamin is essential for absorption of calcium and therefore bone health, but did you know it can also help keep your immune system strong and your blood sugar levels in check? It’s also known to improve mood, so give yourself a few minutes in the sun before you slather on the sunscreen.
Iodine profoundly affects your thyroid hormones and metabolism. Deficiency in pregnant women can cause mental impairment of the child. Just because you don’t have a goiter, doesn’t mean you’re getting enough iodine. Feelings of fatigue and muscle weakness can indicate a deficiency and that’s not good because you need iodine for proper immune function. If you don’t eat a lot of sushi, consider a kelp supplement because kelp and seaweed contain lots of iodine. As with any supplement, check with your doctor first, because obviously you don’t want to overdo it.
Selenium works with iodine to keep the thyroid functioning properly. It’s also an element needed for certain enzymes to detox the body. Fortunately, you can keep levels where they need to be by eating 2-3 brazil nuts each day.
Iron travels in our blood carrying oxygen around our bodies. Iron deficiency is the most common deficiency in the whole world and in the US. In small children, it can slow mental and physical development. Not enough iron contributes to fatigue, irritability and poor memory. Iron deficiency is not only caused by not consuming enough iron in the diet, but can also be attribute to poor uptake by the body. You probably already know that iron is found in red meat but it is also found in vegetables and legumes like spinach, kale and lentils. Chronic iron deficiency can have negative health effects, so speak to your doctor if you suspect you’re deficient.
Zinc is quickly becoming the nutrient to keep immunity up. From colds and flus to skin conditions like eczema, zinc is showing promise for ameliorating all sorts of skin conditions. Some research suggests that a simple zinc deficiency may be a contributing factor to vision decline and reduced immune function in the elderly. Zinc is present in most healthy foods, so if you’re eating a proper diet, you should be fine. If you’re not, check out this course on healthy eating.
There you have it: a quick and dirty list of some of the macronutrients and micronutrients you need for good health. The foundation for a healthy lifestyle starts with the food you eat, so honor yourself and your body with good food choices. If your health isn’t what you want it to be, make Food Your Best Medicine with this course. After all, you deserve the best of what life has to offer.