With MacroFactor radically expanding its micronutrient analytics, we thought this would be an opportune time to discuss micronutrients: what they are, what micronutrient targets represent, and considerations for tracking micronutrient intake.
This is part four of a five-part series:
1) Understanding Micronutrient and Essential Nutrient Categories
2) Understanding Nutrient Targets
3) Considerations for Micronutrient Tracking: Precision and Difficulty
4) Which Micronutrients Are Worth Monitoring?
5) Micronutrients are Important, But They Aren’t Everything
Our Knowledge Base also has an archive of additional information about each nutrient you can track in MacroFactor, including what the nutrient actually does, the likelihood of insufficient or excessive intake, and good food sources for each nutrient.
With that out of the way, let’s dive in!
Which micronutrients should you monitor?
All micronutrients are important for human health and development, but not all micronutrients are equally worth monitoring. In developed countries, micronutrient deficiencies are very uncommon. Micronutrient intake scales with total energy intake, so micronutrient deficiencies are more common in parts of the world with greater food scarcity. Similarly, insufficient micronutrient intake is less likely when you have access to a greater variety of foods. In parts of the world where a single crop accounts for a disproportionate fraction of total energy intake (for example, parts of southeast Asia where rice accounts for the vast majority of total food consumption), micronutrient insufficiency is more common. Furthermore, targeted food fortification programs have done a lot to reduce rates of insufficient intake for key micronutrients that may be challenging to consume in adequate quantities from a normal varied diet.
However, some micronutrients are still regularly consumed in insufficient quantities, even in developed countries. So, if you track your micronutrient intake, it’s probably worth paying closer attention to the nutrients that many people struggle to consume in adequate quantities.
In the US, more than 25% of adults consume insufficient amounts (less than the EAR) of vitamins A, C, D, E, and K, along with calcium, magnesium, and potassium, and more than 10% of adults consume insufficient amounts of folate, vitamin B6, and zinc. In Europe, vitamin C, vitamin D, folate, calcium, selenium, and iodine are consumed in insufficient quantities by at least 20% of adults.
Similarly, insufficient omega-3 EPA and DHA intake is pretty common. The recommended combined intake of EPA and DHA is 250mg/day, but adults in the US only consume about 90mg/day, on average. Fiber intake is a similar story: Americans average 10-15g of fiber per day, while the recommended intake is 25g for women and 38g for men. Choline intake is also below the recommended levels; the USDA recommends 425mg/day for women 550mg/day for men, while the average intakes are about 275mg/day for women and 400mg/day for men.
On the flip side, many people in developed countries consume more sugar and saturated fat than nutrition researchers and health officials recommend.
The table below roughly summarizes how much attention is warranted for each nutrient you can track in MacroFactor (not just micronutrients). Of note, it’s summarizing the relative likelihood of insufficient or excessive intake – not the magnitude of the risk posed by insufficient or excessive intake of each nutrient.
Keep in mind, the table above roughly summarizes population-level rates of insufficient or excessive intake for each nutrient. The probability that you’ll have insufficient or excessive intake of any particular nutrient depends on a variety of factors. If you have a varied diet largely composed of minimally processed nutrient-dense foods, the likelihood that you’ll have insufficient intake for most nutrients will be lower. Conversely, if you consume a less varied diet (i.e. if you’re a bodybuilder who just consumes chicken, rice, and broccoli, or if you only eat chicken nuggets), the likelihood of insufficient or excessive intake of certain nutrients will increase. The same applies if you consume more “empty calories” from added oils or sugars. Similarly, the likelihood of insufficient micronutrient intake is higher when you’re in a very large energy deficit than when you’re at energetic maintenance or in an energy surplus, simply due to the amount of food you’re consuming. Certain health conditions can affect your micronutrient needs as well.
In short, take the table above in its proper context – it’s meant to provide a starting point for most people, but the list of micronutrients you might benefit from monitoring may be different. It might be a longer list, a shorter list, or a different list altogether, depending on your lifestyle, dietary patterns, life circumstances, and potential disease states.
Of note, insufficient intake shouldn’t be confused with deficient intake. The effects of insufficient intake may be small or even imperceptible on an individual level, while still being associated with slightly worse population-level effects. For instance, insufficient calcium intake is associated with about a 10% increase in osteoporosis risk, but a 10% increase in risk is far from a guarantee that you’ll develop osteoporosis. Full-on calcium deficiency, on the other hand, can cause muscle spasms, kidney damage, severe neurological symptoms, seizures, and congestive heart failure.
If you’re concerned that you might be deficient in a particular micronutrient, or that you might be suffering ill effects from insufficient or excessive intake of a particular nutrient, you should discuss those concerns with a medical doctor or a registered dietician.