Updated: Mar 17
Written by Health Writer Gerda Venter
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Daniela Steyn
Food is the basis for our health. Consuming high-quality foods is essential in nourishing your body and protecting yourself from inflammation and oxidative stress. An inadequate intake of nutrients through your diet can result in various conditions, including anything from low energy levels to chronic disease and other severe health conditions.
Nutrients are chemical substances required for the proper functioning of cells, tissues, and different organs in all living organisms. Your body needs an adequate amount of nutrients mainly for various body functions, including growth, repair, and protection against disease-causing microbes. Since your body cannot synthesize these nutrients on its own, they need to be supplied through external sources such as food and supplements.
Having an awareness and understanding of the different types of nutrients in foods, their effects on your bodies, and how to incorporate them into your diet makes it easier to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
There are two different types of nutrients essential to our body:
Macronutrients are plant-based nutrients that are essential in large quantities in your body. Macronutrients provide energy and support the different metabolic systems, growth, and development of your body. Macronutrients include fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.
Micronutrients are mainly responsible for repairing damaged cells and tissues and preventing infectious diseases by fighting against the disease-causing pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc. The human body may only require micronutrients in small doses, but these vitamins and minerals are crucial for essential physiological functions such as metabolism, growth, and development. Deficiencies in one or more of these micronutrients may lead to detrimental health impacts, including chronic diseases. Micronutrient malnutrition includes deficiencies in Iodine, calcium, iron, folate, vitamin A and C, minerals, and Zinc, to name a few.
Functions of micronutrients
The micronutrient content of each food is different, so it is best to eat various foods to consume enough vitamins and minerals. An adequate intake of all micronutrients is necessary for optimal health, as each vitamin and mineral have a specific role in your body. Micronutrients can be divided into four groups:
1. Water-soluble vitamins
Most vitamins dissolve in water and are therefore known as water-soluble. They are not easily stored in your body and get flushed out with urine when consumed in excess. While each water-soluble vitamin has a unique role, its functions are related.
Water-soluble vitamins, their functions and recommended daily intake include:
Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
Vitamin B1 helps convert nutrients into energy and is primarily found in whole grains, meat, and fish. It is recommended that adults above the age of 19 consume between 1.1–1.2 mg of Vitamin B1 per day.
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
Vitamin B2 is necessary for energy production, cell function and fat metabolism. It can be added to your diet by consuming organ meats, eggs, and milk. The recommended daily amount (RDA) is 1.1–1.3 mg for adults above 19.
Vitamin B3 (niacin)
Vitamin B3 drives the production of energy from food. Meat, salmon, leafy greens, and beans are all excellent sources of Vitamin B3. The RDA for adults above 19 years is 14–16 mg.
Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
Vitamin B5 is necessary for fatty acid synthesis. Fatty acid synthesis is a critical anabolic pathway in most organisms. In addition to being the major component of membranes, fatty acids are essential energy storage molecules. Vitamin B5 can be consumed through Organ meats, mushrooms, tuna, and avocado. The RDA is 5 mg for adults above the age of 19.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
Vitamin B6 helps your body release sugar from stored carbohydrates for energy and create red blood cells. Vitamin B6 is primarily found in fish, milk, carrots, and potatoes. The RDA is 1.3 mg for adults above the age of 19.
Vitamin B7 (biotin)
Vitamin B7 plays a role in the metabolism of fatty acids, amino acids, and glucose. Eggs, almonds, spinach, and sweet potatoes are all excellent sources of Vitamin B7. The RDA is 30 mcg for adults above the age of 19.
Vitamin B9 (folate)
Vitamin B9 is necessary for proper cell division. The consumption of beef, liver, black-eyed peas, spinach, and asparagus in recommended amounts of 400mg per day for adults would provide enough Vitamin B9 to your body.
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)
Vitamin B12 is necessary for red blood cell formation and proper nervous system and brain function. Clams, fish, and meat are all excellent sources of Vitamin B12. Consumption of 2.4 mcg per day is recommended for adults older than 19 years.
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
Vitamin C is required for the creation of neurotransmitters and collagen, the main protein in your skin. Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits, bell peppers and brussels sprouts. The RDA is 75-90mg for adults above the age of 19.
2. Fat-soluble vitamins
Unlike water-soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins do not dissolve in water. They are best absorbed when consumed alongside a source of fat. After consumption, fat-soluble vitamins are stored in your liver and fatty tissues for future use.
Fat-soluble vitamins, their functions and recommended daily intake include:
Vitamin A is necessary for good vision and organ function. Vitamin A can be divided into two groups: Retinol (consumed through foods like liver, dairy, and fish) and Carotenoids (consumed through foods like sweet potatoes, carrots, and spinach). You should consume a recommended daily Vitamin A intake of 700-900mg if you are an adult 19 years and older.
Vitamin D promotes proper immune function and assists in calcium absorption and bone growth. Sunlight, fish oil and milk are good sources of Vitamin D. The RDA is 600-800 IU for adults above the age of 19.
Vitamin E assists immune function and acts as an antioxidant that protects cells from damage. Sources of Vitamin E are sunflower seeds, wheat germ, and almonds. The RDA of Vitamin E is 15 mg for adults above the age of 19.
Vitamin K is required for the prevention of blood clotting and proper bone development. Consume Vitamin K through leafy greens, soybeans, and pumpkin in quantities of a recommended daily amount of 90-120 mcg for adults above 19 years.
Macrominerals are inorganic nutrients that the human body requires in large quantities because they carry out several critical bodily functions. Macrominerals are needed in more significant amounts than trace minerals to perform their specific roles in your body.
Macrominerals, their functions and recommended daily intake are:
Calcium is necessary for the proper structure and function of bones and teeth. It also assists in muscle function and blood vessel contraction. Calcium can be consumed through milk products, leafy greens, and broccoli. The RDA is 2,000–2,500 mg for adults above the age of 19.
Phosphorus is a big part of bone and cell membrane structure. Salmon, yogurt, and turkey are all excellent sources of Phosphorus. The RDA is 700mg for adults above the age of 19.
Magnesium assists with over 300 enzyme reactions, including the regulation of blood pressure. Consume foods like almonds, cashews, and black beans to ensure an RDA of 310–420 mg for adults 19 years and above.
Sodium is the electrolyte that aids fluid balance and maintenance of blood pressure. Foods that contain Sodium are salt, processed foods and canned soup. The RDA is 2,300 mg for adults 19 years and above.
Chloride is often found in combination with Sodium. It helps maintain fluid balance and is used to make digestive juices. Seaweed, salt, and celery are all excellent sources of Chloride. It is recommended to consume between 1,800 – 2,300 mg of Chloride daily if you are older than 19 years.
Potassium is an electrolyte that maintains fluid status in cells and helps with nerve transmission and muscle function. Adults above 19 should consume foods like lentils, acorn squash, and bananas in quantities of 4,700mg daily.
Sulphur is a part of every living tissue and is contained in the amino acids methionine and cysteine. Sulphur can be found in foods like garlic, onions, Brussels sprouts, and eggs. It has not been established what the RDA of Sulphur is.
4. Trace minerals
Trace minerals are needed in smaller amounts than macrominerals but still enable essential functions in your body.
Trace minerals, some of their functions and recommended daily intake are:
Iron helps provide oxygen to muscles and assists in the creation of certain hormones. Oysters, white beans, and spinach are all excellent sources of Iron. For an adult 19 years and above, 8-18 mg of iron should be consumed daily to avoid iron deficiency.
Manganese assists in carbohydrate, amino acid and cholesterol metabolism. Consume Manganese through foods like pineapple, pecans, and peanuts. The RDA for Manganese is 1.8–2.3 mg for adults 19 years and above.
Copper is required for connective tissue formation, as well as normal brain and nervous system function. Copper can be found in foods like liver, crab, and cashews. The RDA for copper is 900 mcg for adults 19 years and above.
Zinc is necessary for normal growth, immune function, and wound healing. Foods that contain Zinc include oysters, crab, and chickpeas. Adults above 19 years should ideally consume 8-11 mg of Zinc daily.
Iodine is vital in thyroid regulation. Seaweed, cod, and yogurt are all good sources of Iodine. The RDA of Iodine is 150 mcg for adults above 19 years.
Fluoride is necessary for the development of bones and teeth. Fruit juice, water, and crab are examples of sources that contain Fluoride. The recommended daily intake is 3-4 mg for adults above 19 years of age.
Selenium is vital for thyroid health, reproduction, and defense against oxidative damage. Adults above 19 should consume foods like Brazilian nuts, sardines, and ham to ensure the recommended daily intake of 55 mcg.
Achieving these daily intake goals is often not possible, and it can be overwhelming to know whether you have a micronutrient deficiency or not. The safest and most effective way to get adequate vitamin and mineral intake appears to be from a variety of healthy food sources.
Unfortunately, our soil is so depleted of minerals, so even people with a great organic diet are still at risk of developing some micronutrient deficiencies. People at risk of specific nutrient deficiencies may benefit from taking supplements under the supervision of a doctor. Evaluating nutrient deficiencies during a clinical assessment is essential in identifying the underlying cause of many chronic symptoms and conditions. Due to the essential nature of micronutrients at the cellular level, addressing one or more micronutrient deficiencies can resolve many health issues.
At Wellness MD, we use a framework that prioritizes a comprehensive view of your medical history and current symptoms, including nutrition intake and specialized testing, to determine appropriate interventions. Our approach also enables you to be fully involved in your treatment plan while we support you during your journey to wellness.