Now that we’ve tackled macronutrients (the big guys), let’s turn to micronutrients (the little guys). Micronutrients are equally important, but required in much smaller amounts that macronutrients. Choosing whole, nutrient dense plant-based foods will help to get a balance of both macro- and micronutrients. Here’s a list of important micronutrients, including their role in your health—and the foods you can find them in:
Ever wonder why carrots were supposed to help your eyes? That’s because beta carotene—the type of vitamin A stored in orange, yellow, and most green vegetables—supports eye health.
Vitamin B (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6) and Folate
All the B vitamins help to metabolize macronutrients at different points in energy metabolism. Load up on whole grains, beans, avocados, leafy greens, quinoa, and seeds.
Vitamin B 12
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps to maintain cellular integrity. Pair vitamin C-rich foods with iron-rich foods to increase absorption of iron. Look for vitamin C in citrus fruits, red bell peppers, and strawberries.
Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, build strong bones, and effectively contract your muscles. Your body can synthesize its own vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. But if you’re working in an office all day, or live at a northern latitude, it’s best to supplement your diet. Vitamin D, found in nutritional yeast, chlorella, and UV-exposed mushrooms, but you may need to supplement additionally.
Antioxidant vitamin E is fat-soluble, which means you’ll obtain greater absorption if you eat it with healthy fats. Luckily, vitamin E is found in plant-based sources of fat, including avocado, nuts, seeds, cold-pressed hempseed oil, and Vega Antioxidant Omega Oil.
Who knows what happened to vitamins F through J but we do know that vitamin K plays a crucial role in blood clotting and cardiovascular health. Leafy green vegetables are rich in vitamin K. If you are on a blood thinning medication, you should talk to a health care practitioner if you’re increasing the amount of green vegetables in your diet.
Iron forms your red blood cells, which deliver oxygen throughout your body. Symptoms of low iron levels are fatigue, difficulty concentrating and reduced athletic performance. Spinach, legumes, and pumpkin seeds are plant-based sources of iron, and all are best paired with vitamin C rich foods to support iron absorption. If you have chronically low levels of iron, you should speak to a health professional about supplementing further.
You don’t need dairy to get enough calcium in your diet to build and maintain strong bones. Not only are most non-dairy milks and yogurts fortified with calcium, there are plenty of vegetables that contain calcium. Check out this infographic for how much calcium you need and which plant-based foods to find it in.
A key player in immune health, zinc also has an essential role in wound healing, protein synthesis, enzyme production and cellular metabolism. Plant-based sources of zinc include pseudograins, seeds, nutritional yeast, legumes and nuts.
A mineral that acts as an antioxidant, selenium is concentrated in Brazil nuts. It only take a couple nuts to reach your daily value!
Iodine is essential for normal thyroid function. Sea vegetables and iodized salt are good choices in a plant-based diet.
Potassium, magnesium, chloride and sodium are the chief electrolytes. They are essential for muscle contractions and metabolism. Electrolytes are lost through sweat—whether that sweat is caused by a hot day or a brutal training session. While they are found in most vegetables, it’s important to replace electrolytes lost through sweat in the form of coconut water, homemade sports drink or an electrolyte replacement.
Supplement or Food?
Whether you should (or can) get enough micronutrients from food is up for debate. While a varied diet should provide enough of all the micronutrients, there are some exceptions. With careful inclusion of a variety of plant-based foods, you can have a balanced diet. If you’re on a calorically-restricted diet, you will want to supplement with a multivitamin blend. If you’re worried you aren’t getting enough of certain micronutrients, Vega One contains 50% of your daily value for all of these vitamins and minerals.Mahan LK, Escott-Stump S.(2008) Krause’s Food and Nutrition Therapy. Saunders Elsevier, 12th ed