There’s More to Nutrition Than Carbs and Fat: Why Micronutrients Matter

Can you be overweight and undernourished?

By Michael Ormsbee, PhDFlorida State University
Edited by Kate Findley and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, The Great Courses Daily

If you’ve been counting calories or carbs to manage your weight, there’s one element you might be overlooking: micronutrients. Professor Ormsbee explains why this component is crucial.

Vegetables and fruit on background
Selecting food choices from the five color groups of foods provides your body with the micronutrients of vitamins and minerals that it needs from fruits and vegetables to maintain optimal health. Photo By Elena Eryomenko / Shutterstock

Micronutrients and Health

When we’re trying to lose weight or be healthier, we often focus on the macronutrient content of our meals—the amount of carbohydrate, fat, and protein. However, we should also consider the micronutrients, or the amount of smaller nutrients like vitamins and minerals that our food contains.

The reason we often overlook these micronutrients is because they are required in relatively small amounts compared to the macronutrients. However, the micronutrients are absolutely critical to regulating many different cell processes, metabolic pathways, and other physiological needs in our bodies. 

Additionally, it is not as rare as you might think to be deficient in one or more micronutrient. 

“In fact, after I analyze the dietary intakes of my clients, I often see deficiencies in at least one of the micronutrients,” Professor Ormsbee said. 

If a micronutrient deficiency is present for any prolonged period of time, physical symptoms may emerge. Depending on which micronutrient is low in your diet, these symptoms can include stomach upset, hunger, appetite loss, fatigue, or even changes in your physical appearance.

We don’t usually see many clinical syndromes of vitamin deficiency in Western culture. However, some experts are quick to point out that despite this fact, cases of suboptimal vitamin status are likely very high. 

Vitamin Deficiencies

Research has shown that a micronutrient deficiency is associated with becoming overweight or obese, and also it’s linked to various cancers, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis. Additionally, many of the most popular diets on the market today are linked to micronutrient deficiencies. 

Thus, is it now advised for adults to take at least one multivitamin pill each day. One of the authors of the 2002 study that led to this recommendation said even people who eat five daily servings of fruits and vegetables may not get enough of certain vitamins for optimum health. 

Most people, for example, cannot get the healthiest levels of folate and vitamin D and E from recommended diets. More evidence shows that nearly 80% of Americans do not eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, which is the recommended minimum amount believed to provide sufficient essential nutrients. 

With the exception of vitamin D, humans cannot synthesize their own vitamins, meaning that we must rely entirely on our food intake to get them. There is no doubt about it; we need to make sure we get adequate amounts of the micronutrients from our foods and supplements. 

If we don’t get them, our performance and our health can go downhill. However, adding extra vitamins alone won’t make you healthier or perform better. How you exercise and live your life can influence your micronutrient status, too.

Water and Health

Another consideration for optimal health and body composition is the amount of water that you consume. You may be amazed at how many important roles water plays in your body and how influential proper water intake can be to improving your body composition, health, and performance. 

In fact, water is needed for optimal digestion and absorption of the macro and micronutrients and makes up a significant portion of our bodies—over 60%. Even though most people know that they should drink water, it has been reported that nearly three-fourths of Americans don’t meet the current recommendations set by the Institute of Medicine

Research also demonstrates that just a one- to two-percent decrease in your total body water, which is very easy to lose, is associated with impaired mental processing, coordination, and a drop in performance. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds (lb.), then a reduction of body water by just 1.5 to 3 lbs., measured by body weight, could lead to any of these issues, especially if this continues over a long time. 

A weight change this small could come from simply not drinking enough fluid or not eating foods that have a high water content. It could also occur during exercise depending on how much you sweat and how hot and humid it is where you exercise.

This flux in weight might happen in just one day—especially in women, as fluctuations in body water are often affected by the menstrual cycle. If you learn that you have a micronutrient deficiency from an analysis of your blood and nutrient intake, it’s important to look further into the overall quality of your diet. 

Because of the link between micronutrients and metabolism, it’s important to know as much as you can about the micronutrients in order to optimize your own body composition. Likewise, having too little water intake—which is more common that you’d think—can lead to changes in food intake, cell structure, blood volume, and even body composition changes. 

This article was edited by Kate Findley, Writer for The Great Courses Daily, and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Proofreader and Copy Editor for The Great Courses Daily.
Dr. Ormsbee is an Associate Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food, and Exercise Sciences and Interim Director of the Institute of Sports Sciences and Medicine in the College of Human Sciences at Florida State University.

Michael Ormsbee is an Associate Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food, and Exercise Sciences and Interim Director of the Institute of Sports Sciences and Medicine in the College of Human Sciences at Florida State University. He received his MS in Exercise Physiology from South Dakota State University and his PhD in Bioenergetics from East Carolina University.

About Kate Findley 321 Articles
Kate is a writer, novelist, and blogger living in Los Angeles. She has been writing for The Great Courses since 2017. It incorporates her two favorite things: writing and learning.