A lot of you will have heard about Macros. Hell, you can’t even look at a Facebook page vaguely related to fitness without people banging on about macros. Don’t get me wrong, tracking macros can be useful however, when it comes to health, arguably the more important thing to focus on is micro-nutrients.
Micro-nutrients are the things that make your immune system strong, keep your hormones balanced, allow your body to grow and develop. They really are essential for your body to act how it should, in a good healthy way.
Micro-nutrients can be broken down into vitamins and minerals. The difference between the two are from their structure and interaction with things like air, heat etc. For the purposes of health though, they really are equally important – you need enough vitamins and minerals to make your body work.
From the outset, we can simply say that the best way to get your vitamins and minerals are from whole foods. It’s the safest way, as having too much of some vitamins and minerals can be extremely dangerous. It’s very difficult to have too much in natural whole food plant based diet, but if you use supplement tablets it becomes very easy to overdo it.
When you get your vitamins and minerals from whole foods you get the added benefits from the fibre, calories and slow release of the foods. That being said, we have suggested some supplementation might be needed, depending on your circumstances, to ensure you get the optimal amount. Read more about which ones you might consider supplementing in our article here.
Below I’ll go into what the main vitamins and minerals do and which plant foods provide a good source of it.
The essential vitamins for your body are A, C, D, E, K and the B vitamin group (divided into B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 and B12). Each of these have important functions for your body.
Vitamin A – It plays a vital role in cell growth and development, including promoting strong healthy hair and good vision. Some good sources of vitamin A include: kale (you’ll see this come up a bit – which is why it’s achieved such a “health status”), squash, sweet potato, carrots and red peppers.
Vitamin C – Supports your immune system, is a key anti-oxidant and helps your body to heal. Good sources of vitamin C include: oranges, melons, berries, broccoli and kale.
Vitamin D – Helps build strong bones and teeth, and also improves mood. Good sources of vitamin D include: sunlight, mushrooms and fortified plant milks.
Vitamin E – A vital anti-oxidant which helps muscle function and helps maintain red blood cells. Good sources of vitamin E include: sunflower seeds, avocados, almonds and spinach.
Vitamin K – Helps blood clot, bone metabolism and regulates calcium levels. Good sources of vitamin K include: spinach, kale, parsley and broccoli.
Vitamin B – Whilst the group have varying types of roles depending on which B vitamin they are, the most common functions throughout are that they help release energy from food, and keep the nervous system healthy. Foods high in various vitamin B’s: broccoli, whole grain rice, soya beans and kale. The one you may struggle to get from food is B12, however many plant milks and vegan products are fortified with B12 for this very reason.
Some of the most common minerals (which you’ve probably heard of) are: calcium, iron, zinc, iodine, potassium and magnesium. I’ll go into a bit of an overview of them and where to get them below:
Calcium – Maintains strong bones, regulates muscle contractions and clots blood. Foods high in calcium include: broccoli (again!), kale (again!), chia seeds, beans and lentils.
Iron – helps make red blood cells which carry oxygen around the body. Foods high in iron include: beans, whole grain rice, legumes, spinach and kale (I told you!).
Zinc – Promotes cell growth and functioning of immune system. Foods high in zinc include: mushrooms, green peas, spinach and asparagus.
Iodine – Essential for the production of the thyroid hormones – which control the body’s metabolism. Iodine is a bit tougher to get in everyday veg, but some sources include: Potatoes (with the skin), navy beans and seaweed.
Potassium – Regulates fluid balance, muscle contractions and nerve signals. Some good sources of potassium include: navy beans, beetroot, sweet potato and spinach.
Magnesium – Maintains normal nerve and muscle function, helps immune system and keeps bone strong. Some good source of magnesium include: almonds, avocado, cashews, black beans and lentils.
Whilst this isn’t anywhere near an exhaustive list of the vitamins, minerals and foods which are high in them, it gives you a good idea of the importance of incorporating lots of vegetables, nuts, whole grains and legumes into your diet. When it comes to vegetables, you want to try and get as many different coloured veg in your diet. This is because, as a rule of thumb, the different coloured the veg, the different vitamins and minerals it provides.
Hopefully you’ve found this useful!