Health Habit: Eat Your Micronutrients

This week’s health habit: Add at least one food from each vitamin group to your meals. If you’re feeling adventurous, go for more! Your body will thank you.

Eat your fruit and vegetables, they’re good for you.  Does this sound familiar? Has anyone told you why they’re good for you?  If not, allow me to explain why everyone should be eating fruit and vegetables.  The reason is encapsulated in one word; micronutrients.  The prefix micro is a unit used in the metric system meaning one millionth.  A micronutrient is something your body needs in very small amounts to function properly.  The micronutrients found in food are also called vitamins and minerals.  

            Vitamins are micronutrients that regulate certain processes in your body. Your body cannot make them, therefore they’re essential and you must eat them to ensure good health.  They may also prevent deficiency disorders when you eat them in adequate amounts.  When your diet is lacking in plant-based foods such as fruit and vegetables, you’re at risk for deficiency diseases that affect your blood, muscles and bones to name a few.  

            Vitamins are broken down into two categories: fat-soluble and water-soluble.  This article will focus on the fat-soluble ones.  The four fat-soluble vitamins are vitamins A (retinol), D, E (alpha-tocopherol), and K.   These are needed by the body for bone health, growth and development, blood clotting, antioxidant defense, and immune function. 

            Vitamin A is found in animal-derived foods and plants with yellow-orange pigments (carotenoids).  This vitamin is known as a multi-tasker because it has various functions in the body. It is used by the body for growth and development, new cell production, building strong bones, maintaining the lining of your organs and regulating your immune system.  Some fruit and vegetables that contain vitamin A are tomatoes, carrots, oranges, cantaloupe, celery, bell peppers, strawberries, grapes and pineapples.  

            Vitamin D is needed by our bodies for building and maintenance of strong bones, regulating muscular function, and reducing inflammation.  It also enhances the absorption of calcium. Mushrooms are a fabulous plant source of vitamin D, but you can also get vitamin D from eating salmon, cod liver oil, sardines, eggs and tuna.  An interesting point to make; vitamin D isn’t all that widespread in food, so getting sunlight is key.  If you are outside between 5-30 minutes twice a week, you’re most likely getting enough sunlight (in the summer).  

            Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps protect your cell membranes from being damaged by free-radicals.  In other words, it maintains healthy nervous tissue and immune system function, and lowers risks for cancers, atherosclerosis, premature aging and death.  You can find vitamin E in sunflower seeds, almonds and plant oils such as vegetable or olive oils. 

            Vitamin K is needed by the liver to produce blood clotting factors. It also has a role in reducing risk for osteoporosis.  Get your vitamin K with green leafy vegetables such as kale, turnip greens, cabbage and spinach. 

This week’s health habit: Add at least one food from each vitamin group to your meals.  If you’re feeling adventurous, go for more!  Your body will thank you. 

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