Micronutrients and macronutrients help to supply our bodies with a supply of raw materials to maintain our immune system, blood circulation, bones, muscles, nerves, skin, and brain.
We need an ample supply of macronutrients, which are made up of carbohydrates, fats, and protein.
On the other hand, we only require having a small number of micronutrients — minerals and vitamins. However, not getting even those small quantities of minerals and vitamins can practically guarantee disease.
The Value of Micronutrients
Our bodies cannot manufacture about 30 vitamins and minerals in sufficient amounts. These vitamins and minerals are called essential micronutrients.
Centuries ago, British sailors learned that living for months without vegetables or fresh fruits — a main source of vitamin C — caused the scurvy and bleeding gums. Even today, people living in low-income countries often suffer from a variety of nutrient-deficiency diseases.
The lack of a single nutrient leading directly to a specific ailment and actual vitamin and mineral deficiencies is rare in the United States. Our extensive supply of economical food — plus the enrichment of many common foods with some key nutrients — helps in supplying us most vitamins and minerals.
However, eating less than optimal amounts of important minerals, vitamins, and other necessary compounds can still contribute to a number of major illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and cancer.
Therefore, concern about insufficiency is a key driver of both the mass marketing of over-the-counter supplements and U.S. dietary guidelines.
Getting Enough Micronutrients
How can we be certain we are fulfilling our nutrient needs? A flurry of conflicting studies has led many people in a state of confusion. So many studies direct us to new marketing claims. And some of these claims may or may not stand up to later research.
Nevertheless, according to Harvard University Medical School “the best way to get vitamins and minerals is from a well-rounded diet, with plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and lean sources of protein, along with healthy fats, such as nuts and olive oil.”
Dr. Howard D. Sesso, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School advises as follows.
“You should ideally try to meet your vitamin and mineral needs through your diet rather than supplements.”
Foods to Heighten Your Immune System
Five micronutrients help in maintaining your immune function. The five micronutrients are vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium, and zinc.
Supplements containing these micronutrients are often sold as immune boosters in doses that significantly exceed the recommended daily allowance. However, there’s no evidence that these supplements have more benefits than simply following a healthy diet.
Instead of popping pills to get these micronutrients, you’re much better off to consume various foods to boost your immune system.
Here are a few suggestions of micronutrients and food sources to help improve your immune system.
- Vitamin B6 — Bananas, potatoes with skin, cereals, chicken, pork loin
- Magnesium — Nuts, whole wheat, seeds, legumes
- Vitamin C — Broccoli, sweet peppers, citrus fruit, tomatoes, and kiwi fruit
- Vitamin E — Almonds, peanut butter, sunflower seeds and oil, and safflower oil
- Zinc — Turkey (dark meat), Alaskan king crab, beef shank, and oysters
Well-Rounded Diet versus Supplements
Nearly half of all Americans regularly take dietary supplements. The most common supplements are multivitamin and multimineral supplements.
However, there is no convincing proof to support this common practice. For the most part, studies of people who eat diets rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and fish show that they actually consume higher levels of vitamins and minerals from these foods. They also have a reduced risk of many diseases, including diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and cancers.
In contrast, clinical trials that test the effect of selected vitamins or minerals as pill supplements have typically shown very little influence on health. The main exception may be fish oil supplements. Some trials have shown a lower risk of heart disease and possibly vitamin D.
Nevertheless, consuming a well-rounded, balanced diet that includes essential micronutrients and macronutrients our bodies need is most beneficial — a wiser and healthier choice.