Often so much attention is played on macronutrients we forget about the different functions vitamins and minerals play in our body and how they work together. In order to absorb one type of vitamin, another mineral may be needed. They are essential in maintaining the health of tissue, muscles, bones, blood and organs. Only needed in small amounts, each micronutrient has a role in the body to ensure our body is working optimally. Without proper consumption of micronutrients, we can suffer from conditions such as rickets (lack of vitamin D) or scurvy (lack of vitamin C).
Vitamin D & Calcium
Calcium is needed for the protection and development of bones and teeth, blood clotting and in the regulation of muscle contractions. To absorb calcium you MUST absorb vitamin D which also has an important role in protecting our bones. Vitamin D enables the formation of a hormone called calcitriol which helps with bone growth and regulates the amount of calcium in the body. Vitamin D is mainly sourced from sunlight and during the winter months it is advised by Public Health England to take a supplementation. Incredible plant-based sources of calcium is numero uno – chia seeds (2x tbsp equates to 631mg of calcium compared to 125mg from a 100g of milk), broccoli and spinach.
Vitamin C and Iron
Iron comes in two categories: heme (meat) and non-heme (plants). The absorption of heme iron is not significantly impacted by other foods, yet non-heme is strongly influenced by those foods which inhibit or enhance its absorption. Non-heme iron is best absorbed when eaten with a vitamin C source that helps the body create a compound that is more easily absorbed. Vegetables are the only foods that contain a significant amount of iron and vitamin C naturally. Dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, chard, mustard greens contain around 1-4mg of iron and 35-53mg of vitamin C.
Zinc & Copper
These two micronutrients have an interesting relationship when the intake of one of these elements causes the other to decrease in your body. For example too much zinc can cause a copper deficiency. When zinc levels are too high, metallothionein, a protein begins to accumulate, attaching itself to the copper and preventing your body from absorbing it. A zinc deficiency can have a serious affect on your skin as it promotes wound healing and can help to take down inflammation. A copper deficiency can have a significant affect on the production of hemoglobin and red blood cells as well as the proper utilisation of iron and oxygen in the blood. Ensuring you have a balanced ratio of each is crucial through consuming foods such as legumes, especially black beans, and seeds such as sunflower, pumpkin and squash.
Sodium & Potassium
Both are two electrolytes that are essential for human survival. Potassium encourages the kidneys to excrete sodium and counters the harmful effects of sodium surplus. Many studies have found a relationship between high potassium intake and lower, healthier blood pressure. Sodium is often consumed in excess whilst potassium is actually deficient in many diets. In short, we need to consume more potassium and far less salt through foods such as bananas, avocados, spinach, sweet potato and pomegranates.
Magnesium & Calcium
Both minerals work together to regulate the contraction and relaxation of the muscles, cell membranes and capillaries. Although not fully understand, the human body needs an adequate level of magnesium in order to properly absorb calcium. Both are also needed to build strong bones and teeth. It has also been found that the two minerals can in fact compete with one another and interfere with the others function if the ratio of both is incorrect. Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, garlic and carrots are great sources of food that are rich in both magnesium and calcium.