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Updated: Mar 17, 2022

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

  • Micronutrients

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 en