Ask the Dietitian: Are Micronutrients Helpful for Weight Loss?

by Trinh Le, MPH, RD
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Ask the Dietitian: Are Micronutrients Helpful for Weight Loss?

Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals, the dynamic duo that makes superfoods possible. Whether you want to lose weight or not, getting adequate micronutrients is critical for good overall health. Any given vitamin or mineral carries out a variety of functions in the body. Take vitamin A, for example. It helps maintain healthy eyes, as well as a strong immune system. It also helps cell generation.

With a total of 27 vitamins and minerals, it can be overwhelming to know and remember what each micronutrient does. The key to remember is a well-balanced, varied diet helps most healthy adults meet their micronutrient needs. So, what’s the catch on weight management? While low-carb, ketogenic and Atkins diets target specific macronutrients to induce weight loss, how can micronutrients support weight loss?


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THE MICRONUTRIENTS & WEIGHT CONNECTION

Weight gain is often seen as a result of eating too much food or too many calories. However, this doesn’t mean that someone who weighs more or eats a lot is properly nourished. In fact, data suggests that micronutrient deficiency may be more common in overweight and obese individuals due to poor food choices.

Even if the data shows there is a relationship between weight and nutrient deficiency, that doesn’t mean it’s causal. Just because many people with micronutrient deficiencies have a higher body weight doesn’t mean those deficiencies cause weight gain. In fact, it might be the other way around. Having a higher body weight could mean an individual is more likely to eat a nutrient-poor diet. The top sources of calories include carb-heavy foods like pasta, pizza, bread and desserts, sugar-laden drinks and meat-heavy meals.

The good news is that as far as micronutrients are concerned, these foods contain vitamins and minerals. For example, meat is full of B-vitamins, iron, zinc, iodine, copper, selenium and choline. Bread and other grain-based foods are often fortified with thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, folate and iron.

The downside of a meat- and grain-heavy diet is these foods are higher in calories relative to the nutrients they provide. They also won’t provide you with all the vitamins and minerals you need. Meanwhile, plant-based foods, like fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds are higher in other vitamins and minerals, namely vitamins A, C, E, K, potassium, magnesium and calcium. This is why you should think twice about trying a diet that eliminates whole food groups.

While there is a connection between micronutrient deficiency and higher body weight, it seems unlikely that a deficiency would be the sole cause of weight gain. As you know, your body weight and metabolism are influenced by many factors including genetics, age, hormones and activity level.


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SHOULD I TAKE A SUPPLEMENT?

Micronutrients are important for good health, but they aren’t miracle workers. Not all supplements are created equal, and we don’t have strong enough regulations and data to guarantee vitamins and minerals will cure all your health problems, or that they’re even safe. To that end, be wary of claims that a nutrient deficiency is to blame for bloat, constipation, fatigue or irritability.

Because micronutrient deficiencies can impair your health in the long run, it depends on which vitamins and minerals you’re deficient in and to what extent. Ultimately, getting a variety of micronutrients through a balanced diet is more important than focusing on supplementation.

THE VERDICT

Even though micronutrients aren’t the star players in weight loss, when you’re trying to lose weight it’s important to focus on more than just calories in, calories out. It’s the quality of those calories that matter, and that is determined by the foods you choose to put in your body.

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  • Viv

    Thanks for highlighting important caveats to your studies and focusing on evidence based writing.

  • Kian Wilson

    I dont completely agree, it is reconised that intensive farming methods reduce the essential nutrients in foods. Also individual health conditions may increase the requirements for certain nutrients. So there is a case for eating healthy foods and for supplementing specific nutirents for specific individuals.

  • valerie laing

    You do know the word superfoods by definition is ‘a marketing term not commonly used by experts, dietitians and nutrition scientists ‘