The role of vitamins and minerals

Introduction to nutrient density

To put ourselves in context, it is important to emphasize that the paleo diet is a nutritionally dense diet, which means that it contains a high proportion of high micronutrient concentration per calorie of feed. We usually refer to micronutrients in a simplified manner as vitamins and mineralsbut it also includes the phytochemicals, fatty acids, and essential amino acids.

Although micronutrients do not have an energetic function and therefore are not no caloriesplay a fundamental role in the proper functioning of our organism. Nutrients have several functions, one of them is to be the building blocks with which our cells are formed. That is why we need to ensure their consumption, so that the cells can continue to do their respective jobs.

A low nutrient diet, on the other hand, concentrates far fewer nutrients per calorie of food. An example would be fast food typically high in added sugars, refined grains, highly processed oils... which happens to be high in calories without a high nutrient intake. That is why in advanced societies it is normal for the population to be overfed with calories and at the same time undernourished..

foods with more vitamins

Vitamins and minerals

These micronutrients are considered essential because of the role they play in the human body.

Vitamins

Vitamins are molecules that are needed in small quantities for the proper functioning, growth and maintenance of the body's tissues. Our body is unable to synthesize on its own the daily requirement and that is why we need to ingest them in food.

Vitamins are usually classified according to whether they can be dissolved in fats (fat-soluble) or water (water-soluble). This is important in recognizing how they are absorbed and used by the body.

  • LiposolubleVitamins A, D, E and K. They are usually found in fatty foods (except K).
  • Water solubleB group of vitamins and vitamin C. They are usually abundant in foods with more protein and carbohydrates.
TypeNameFunctionFoods with more %
Vitamin ARetinolBone growth. Mineralization of teeth. Skin health. Vision. Reproductive system. Immune system.Animal source: liver, eggs, quality dairy products, fish and seafood (especially shrimp, salmon, sardines and tuna).
Vitamin B1ThiamineMetabolizes energy. Cellular function. Variety of organ functions.Animal organs, pork, seeds, pumpkin, fish (especially trout, mackerel, salmon and tuna) and legumes.
Vitamin B2RiboflavinHelps in the production of B3 and B6. Metabolize energy. Antioxidant.Animal organs, mushrooms, green leafy vegetables, eggs, legumes and pumpkin.
Vitamin B3NiacinImproves circulation. Helps control stress and sex hormones. Suppresses inflammation.Animal organs, poultry, fish, seafood, red meat, mushrooms, green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin B5Pantothenic acidAssist in energy metabolism. Production of red blood cells, sex hormones and stress hormones. Helps to maintain the proper functioning of the digestive system and to be able to use vitamin B2.Animal organs, mushrooms, fatty fish, avocados, red meat (especially lamb and beef) and seeds.
Vitamin B6PyridoxineMetabolism of cells and production of hemoglobin (carries oxygen in the blood). Vital for the production of neurotransmitters, dopamine, serotonin.Green leafy vegetables, tubers, fruits (especially bananas), red meat, poultry and seeds (especially sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds)
Vitamin B7BiotinIt is involved in many metabolic functions, in particular in the metabolism of fat and sugar. Maintains good skin and hair health.Eggs, liver, nuts (especially almonds and walnuts), tubers and tomatoes.
Vitamin B9FolateIt intervenes in detox processes and in the sending of neuronal signals. Cardivascular and reproductive health and red blood cell production.Animal organs, green vegetables, legumes, beet, avocado, fruits (especially papaya, strawberry and pomegranate)
Vitamin B12CobalaminInvolved in energy metabolism. Basic in the development of DNA, cardiovascular health, brain and nervous system.Created only in microorganisms: fish (especially sardines, salmon, tuna, cod), shellfish (especially shrimp, scallops), animal organs, veal, poultry, eggs.
CholineConstruction of cellular membranes. Heart health, intestinal motility, muscle movement in general.Fish and seafood, liver, eggs, poultry, green vegetables.
Vitamin CImmune system.Red peppers, green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, papaya, melon, red fruits.
Vitamin DCalcium absorption, immune system, bone development, cell growth, neuromuscular functions, reduction of inflammation.Through the sun's rays. And in foods such as fish oil, mushrooms, fish roe, liver and eggs.
Vitamin EProtect against free radical damage, oxidation of LDL ("bad") cholesterol, and improve cardiovascular health.Nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, fatty fish, animal organs, avocados and olives.
Vitamin KMaintain bone health. Important in the creation of proteins that regulate blood clotting. Improving the cardiovascular system.Cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts), green leafy vegetables (such as spinach, kale, chard), asparagus, eggs, butter and liver.
UbiquinolIt prevents cardiovascular problems, diabetes, gum problems, muscular dystrophy, chronic fatigue and breast cancer.Beef, pork, mackerel, chicken. To a lesser extent in broccoli and parsley.

* About the consumption of legumes and dairy products within the framework of the paleo dietyou can consult these articles: legumes and dairy.

** Do not confuse the folate (vitamin b9) with folic acid. More details in this post.

Minerals

Minerals are a chemical element of the periodic table of elements that we studied in school. Most of them are considered essential and can be divided into:

  • MacromineralsThe nutritional requirement is 100 milligrams per day and includes sodium, chlorine, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, sulfur and calcium.
  • MicromineralsWe need them in smaller quantities, 1-100 milligrams per day, and they are copper, chromium, fluorine, iodine, iron, selenium, manganese, selenium and zinc.

The amount to be ingested of each depends on personal circumstances such as age, sex, state of health of each person, level of physical activity... the amount mentioned is a starting reference.

TypeNameFunctionFoods with more %
BBoronMaintains bone health. Facilitates the utilization of vitamin D and calcium.Nuts, avocado, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, legumes, fruit (especially apples, carrots, pears, olives)
CaCalciumBone formation. Essential in the functioning of muscle cells and neurotransmitters (including the heart).Dark green vegetables, sesame seeds, dairy products, sardines with shavings and pumpkin.
ClChlorineProduce hydrochloric acid for the stomach. Maintain electrolyte and body fluid balance.Seaweed, tomatoes, olives, celery, lettuce.
CrChromeIt is involved in the metabolism of sugar and fats.Oysters, liver, broccoli, green beans, green leafy vegetables, mushrooms and tomatoes.
CuCopperIt acts in the process of absorption, storage and metabolism of iron. Important for building tissues and cellular energy.Oysters, shellfish, legumes, nuts, animal organs and mushrooms.
IIodineConstitutes thyroid hormones. Important in infants. Helps the immune system.Sea vegetables (especially wakame and kelp), fish, shellfish, eggs and dairy products.
FaithIronA key component of hemoglobin, the protein in the blood that carries oxygen throughout the body. Supports energy production and proper metabolism in muscles and active organs.Liver, green leafy vegetables, red meat, legumes and olives.
MgMagnesiumIndispensable for cellular life. Helps in the control of inflammation and keeps the nervous system balanced.Green vegetables, nuts, seeds, fish, legumes and avocados.
MnManganeseNecessary to protect and repair free radical damage. Important for bone production, skin health and blood sugar control.Seafood, nuts, seeds, legumes, green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts, turnip greens)
MoMolybdenumKey for the enzymes that are in charge of liver detoxification. Fundamental for the nervous system.Legumes, egg, tomato, lettuce, celery, fennel, cucumber.
PPhosphorusIntervenes in every metabolic reaction. Supports the central bone system.Dairy products, seafood, seeds and legumes.
KPotassiumBasic to the cellular function of the nervous, cardiac and muscular systems. Helps transmit electrical impulses throughout the body.Green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, banana, melon, orange vegetables (e.g. carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato)
SeeSeleniumNecessary for the activity of enzymes that protect the brain and other tissues from oxidative damage. Aids in the proper functioning of the thyroid.Red meat, poultry, fish and seafood, brazil nuts and mushrooms.
NaSodiumNecessary for electrolyte balance, regulating blood pressure, fluid across cell membranes and neuron function.Table salt, salt-cured foods (such as olives, some meats), seaweed, celery, turnip, artichokes, spinach, green beans.
YesSiliconIt is required in the formation of connective tissues and bones. It helps in the good health of hair, nails and skin.Bananas, green beans, legumes, apples and cabbage.
SSulfurStructural component of many proteins necessary for the function of enzymes and antioxidants.Cruciferous vegetables, onion, garlic, eggs, fish and meat.
ZnZincImportant for almost every cellular function. Basic for skin, sensory organs and the immune system.Oysters, red meat, poultry, nuts, seeds and legumes,

Amino acids

Although vitamins and minerals are the best known micronutrients, they are not the only ones in this group. Amino acids are the basic building blocks of the protein that is abundant in our bodies.

Within the great variety of amino acids (there are an estimated 500) only 20 are used in the construction of our organism. They are usually classified into:

  • Essential amino acids:

    We can only get them through food because our body is not able to create them. They are: leucine, isoleucine, valine, methionine, lysine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, threonine, histidine.

  • Near-essential amino acids:

    our body can produce them but the process is very inefficient, in this group is arginine.

  • Non-essential amino acids:

    our body can synthesize these amino acids with a diet with sufficient protein.

Most foods from animal sources (meat, eggs, fish, dairy products) provide complete proteins.. On the other hand, most plants contain incomplete proteins that are not easily digested by our organism.

Although fruits and vegetables play a very important role in maintaining our body's good health, they are not the best source of protein. Even if we add legumes, nuts and seeds that have a higher percentage than fruits and vegetables, they do not come close to the richness of animal proteins. And that is why, to avoid imbalances, a diet should at least include fish and seafood.

Fatty acids

They constitute the building blocks of the fat that is used not only as energy source but also as part of the basic structures of our body such as the membranes of each of our cells.. One of the classifications divides them into:

  • Saturated fatty acids:

    very stable fats that do not oxidize easily, that is why they are the best choice for cooking with them as they do not favor the oxidative process. Moreover, it is the set of fats that the body synthesizes more easily to obtain energy.

  • Monounsaturated fatty acids:

    are not as stable and energy is not obtained in such a direct way.

  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids:

    oxidize easily and produce free radicals that can damage our organism. They are known as the:

    • Omega 3
    • Omega 6

To learn more about the importance between the omega 3/omega 6 ratio and its health implications, consultation this post.

vitamins micronutrients

Phytochemicals

Even if they are not considered essential because we can live without them, their role in good health and disease prevention is vital. It has been shown that certain types can:

  • decrease the growth of cancer cells,
  • help regulate hormone levels,
  • prevent DNA damage,
  • protect against oxidative stress,
  • reduce inflammation
  • and induce a process of elimination of damaged cells.

Phytochemicals are the responsible for giving color and aroma to fruits and vegetables. Each color group groups different types of phytochemicals, so it is recommended to "eat the rainbow" in order to consume a wide variety of this micronutrient. Another source of phytochemicals are the fresh herbs, infusions and quality teas.

Fiber

Fiber is not considered an essential micronutrient but it plays a fundamental role in the maintenance of health status.

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that comes from the walls of plants, let's say that it works as their skeleton since it helps them to maintain their shape. The difference with the rest of carbohydrates (sugars and starches) is that our body cannot break fiber into smaller components, so it passes through our intestinal tract intact..

Fiber plays an important basic role in the good health of our intestines and our endocrine system.

Its main functions are:

  • Add volume to the stool to make it easier to pass.
  • Feed the bacteria that produce a type of fatty acid that maintains the health of our intestinal barrier. These fatty acids also help regulate the body by aiding in the absorption of minerals, aiding digestion and the immune system.
  • To regulate the rhythm with which our intestines move.
  • Stimulate the release of the hormone ghrelin, which controls the sensation of hunger.
  • Slowing down the absorption of simple sugars.

Diets rich in fiber may reduce the risk of cancer (especially of the colon, liver and pancreas), cardiovascular diseases and inflammatory processes in general.

Fiber types:

  • Soluble: forms a gel in our intestines that slows down the process.
  • Insoluble: tends to accelerate the passage of material through our intestines.

Normally fruits and vegetables contain a mixture of both types of fiber, although some contain a higher percentage of one type than the other. That is why you can adjust your diet according to your needs. If you usually have very solid stools, it is recommended to add foods with insoluble fiber (green leafy vegetables) and on the contrary, with looser stools, it is recommended to increase the consumption of soluble fiber (starches).

Importance of micronutrient intake to health

Every cell, tissue, organ and system in our body needs a specific amount of nutrients to function the way it was created to. They are essential for something as basic as BREATHING.

Carrying a deficiency, however small, of a particular micronutrient can have negative consequences for our health.

With a varied diet based on real food, nutritional needs are usually met without effort.

Problems of insufficient consumption

Some direct correlations between micronutrient insufficiency and health effects:

  • Low iron levels: anemia
  • Zinc deficiency: increased likelihood of infection by not being able to help the immune system in its work.
  • Low iodine: disorders in the thyroid.
  • Vitamin A and B9 deficiencies: birth defects in the neuronal had. More details in this post about nutrition during pregnancy.

Some studies link diets poor in nutritional density to the obesity epidemic. The Paleo diet offers far more nutritional value than the conventional diet.

Supplementation is not the solution

If you are one of those who think that by taking a pill you will have fixed the gaps in your diet, you are wrong. There is no better way to obtain optimal micronutrient levels than through a healthy diet.

The micronutrients in synthetic form from supplements are not well absorbed by our body.

In addition, many nutrients work synergistically so that they need to be consumed in certain combinations to achieve the expected effect. Some nutrients are complemented by another for their absorption or use, so consuming them in isolation and not in the way they are naturally present in some foods, makes it of little benefit.

How to improve consumption

One of the foods that have appeared most frequently in the micronutrient lists have been liver, animal organs in general, fish, seafood and fruits and vegetables of all kinds, but especially green leafy vegetables and cruciferous vegetables. So we should make sure that our diet is rich in this type of food.

As we have mentioned, the Paleo framework is the best scenario to comply with a diet rich not only in vitamins and minerals, but in all the basic micronutrients to ensure a good state of health. If you want a guide to accompany you in this process, see my book I am Paleo.

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