Micronutrients the vitamins and minerals

In addition to an adequate source of metabolic fuels (carbohydrates, fats and proteins, see Chapter 5) and protein (Chapter 9), there is a requirement for very much smaller amounts of other nutrients: the vitamins and minerals. Collectively these are referred to as micronutrients because of the small amounts that are required.

Vitamins are organic compounds which are required for the maintenance of normal health and metabolic integrity. They cannot be synthesized in the body, but must be provided in the diet. They are required in very small amounts, of the order of mg or |g/day, and thus can be distinguished from the essential fatty acids (section 4.3.1.1 and section 5.6.1.1) and the essential amino acids (section 9.1.3), which are required in amounts of grams/day.

The essential minerals are those inorganic elements which have a physiological function in the body. Obviously, since they are elements, they must be provided in the diet, because elements cannot be interconverted. The amounts required vary from grams/day for sodium and calcium, through mg/day (e.g. iron) to |g/day for the trace elements (so called because they are required in such small amounts).

After reading this chapter you should be able to:

  • Describe and explain the way in which micronutrient requirements are determined and how reference intakes are calculated; explain how it is that different national and international authorities have different reference intakes for some nutrients.
  • Describe and explain the chemistry, metabolic functions and deficiency signs associated with each of the vitamins and the main minerals.
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