What to Know About Micronutrients

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, RD, LD, MPH on July 14, 2023
3 min read

You need to get enough nutrition to stay healthy. To do that, it helps to learn about vitamins and minerals, also known as micronutrients. You can get them from food or dietary supplements. 

Here’s what you need to know about micronutrients and how to add them to your diet. 

All foods have macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. These are the main elements of nutrition. Your body needs all of them in significant amounts every day. 

Vitamins and minerals. Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. They are just as important as macronutrients. There are guidelines about the amounts of different types of nutrients you need in your diet. The guidance varies based on your age and sex. 

If you don't eat enough of certain micronutrients, you can wind up with health problems due to malnutrition. Most types of vitamin deficiencies are rare in the U.S., though. 

There are four main kinds of micronutrients that you should have in your diet: 

Water-soluble vitamins. Two of the main water-soluble vitamins are B vitamins and vitamin C. These vitamins all dissolve in water. Your body can't hang on to them to use later, so you need to get more of them daily. Any water-soluble vitamins that your body doesn't use right away are flushed out of your system as urine.

They also help your body get energy. Plus, they strengthen your cells, including red blood cells. 

Fat-soluble vitamins. Unlike water-soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins dissolve in fat, not water. These include vitamins A, D, E, and K. Once you get them, they can stay in your body for later use. Your body stores them in fatty tissue and your liver. They are important for eye health and immune system support. They also help your body to heal injuries. 

Microminerals. These are essential nutrients. They include calcium, magnesium, sodium, and potassium. They’re crucial for muscle and bone health. They also play a role in controlling your blood pressure. 

Trace minerals. The other minerals you need include iron, manganese, copper, zinc, and selenium. Trace minerals are critical for muscle health, nervous system function, and repairing damage to cells. 

All of the nutrients you need are in different types of foods. Most experts agree that eating a variety of foods is the best way to get them. These fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy products all have some micronutrients:

  • Foods with trace minerals: oysters, spinach, nuts such as cashews, legumes such as peanuts
  • Foods with water-soluble vitamins: citrus fruits, bell peppers, whole grains, eggs, dark leafy greens, fish, and lean meats
  • Foods with fat-soluble vitamins: leafy greens, soybeans, almonds, sweet potatoes, and milk
  • Foods with microminerals: dairy products, black beans and lentils, bananas, and fish ‌

Many prepared foods, such as cereals and baked goods, are fortified with nutrients. You can check the nutrition label on the package to see what's in the food you buy.  

If you're concerned that you’re not getting enough nutrition from food, have a conversation with your doctor or a registered dietitian nutritionist. They might do tests to find out if you’re low on any nutrients. If you are, they might recommend a dietary supplement. Don’t try a new supplement without talking to your doctor first.

Multivitamins are the most common supplement that people use to try to get more micronutrients. These are supplements that contain a variety of recommended nutrients in one dose. You can find them in your grocery store or pharmacy. 

Supplements can be part of your healthy diet, but they aren't a perfect replacement for eating a variety of foods. Most vitamins don't contain the total recommended dose of nutrients, such as calcium. The pills would be too large to swallow if they did. 

Your nutritional needs will vary based on your age, sex, and other health conditions. Different types of multivitamins address some of these differences. For example, there are formulas specifically for women or for people over 50.  

You can also find supplements that contain a single micronutrient. You can ask your doctor if one of these might be right for you if they tell you that you’re low on a specific nutrient.