Popping a vitamin pill or chugging back a green juice have become the go-to way to fill nutritional gaps. However, for those in the know, getting a good balance of minerals is a non-negotiable. This often-overlooked group of micronutrients are often described as the ‘spark plugs’ of the body, due to their indispensable role in jumpstarting multiple metabolic processes.
Micronutrient minerals fall under two different categories. Macro-minerals, which tend to be required by the body in larger amounts, and micro-minerals (also known as trace minerals) which are needed in tiny amounts. Though their significance is not to be underestimated. Low levels can result in a major health decline, and they are considered crucial for energy, mental focus, a healthy metabolism, hormonal balance and more.
If you’re not getting your eight hours, magnesium could help to overhaul your bedtime routine. “Magnesium activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps calm the body and mind, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep,’”explains Gabi Zaromskyte, nutritionist & founder of Honestly Nutrition (honestly-nutrition.com).
Muscle cramps and restless legs could be signs that you’re not acquiring the recommended daily allowance (300mg for men and 270mg for women) of this macro-mineral. If this sounds familiar, try adding magnesium-rich green leafy vegetables to your weekly shopping list. Throw a handful of spinach into a breakfast smoothie or snack on homemade kale crisps.
Nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes are also good sources of this mineral, and eating these magnesium-packed foods with good fats like avocado and oily fish will enhance absorption.
Energy levels often take a nosedive during winter, but if extra rest doesn’t help to shake off that groggy feeling, you could need an iron top up. “Iron is essential for the production of haemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout your body. When iron levels are low, the body can’t produce enough haemoglobin, leading to reduced oxygen delivery to tissues and organs. This results in fatigue and weakness,” says Zaromskyte.
Low iron puts you at an increased risk of iron deficiency anaemia which, according to the WHO affects 30 per cent of the world’s population. This makes it the most common global nutritional deficiency.
Unfortunately, following a plant-based diet increases susceptibility of deficiency as heme iron, (the more easily absorbed form of iron) is only found in animal products. Combining vitamin C and iron foods can enhance the absorption of non-heme iron. This means chowing on citrus fruits, strawberries and red peppers alongside iron-rich foods, while avoiding tea and coffee. This is because the tannin compounds naturally found in caffeinated drinks inhibit iron absorption.
Support the skin barrier
Cold weather combined with exposure to central heating wreaks havoc on skin, causing dryness and redness. Though slathering on moisturiser isn’t the only way to keep skin happy and healthy. In fact zinc is your best friend when it comes to skin health. This trace mineral, (of which men require 9.5 mg whilst women need 7mg daily) supports the growth and repair of tissues including the skin and nails. It also helps protect against oxidative stress, so that you look and feel your best.
”Zinc is best absorbed from animal sources and when consumed with protein and vitamin C-rich foods. However, substances called phytates found in whole grains and legumes, can inhibit zinc absorption. There’s no need to worry, as when eating a balanced diet, rich in a variety of nutrients that come from diverse sources, the body will get its fair share of zinc,” explains Zaromskyte.
Good snack ideas include Greek yoghurt with strawberries and pumpkin seeds, or a boiled egg with wholemeal toast.
Master your metabolism
Cold weather comes with specific woes, and if you suffer from an under-active thyroid, you might find common symptoms like weight gain, sluggishness, and mood changes worsen in winter. This is generally because the thyroid gland, (which controls the production of thyroid hormones responsible for metabolism) need to work harder to keep up with the body’s temperature demands.
The trace mineral iodine is a key component of the thyroid hormones, which help regulate the metabolism. To obtain the recommended 140 mcg of this micronutrient swap table salt for iodised salt and fill up on seaweed and dairy products.
”Supplementing with iodine can help correct the imbalance and improve thyroid function, but it’s essential to note that excessive iodine intake can be harmful, so it’s crucial to seek advice from a healthcare professional,” advises Zaromskyte.
Selenium is another important micronutrient. The daily recommended intake for adults is approximately 60-75 mcg. “Selenium is needed for the conversion of thyroid hormones from their inactive to active form, and it also helps protect the thyroid gland from oxidative damage. You can find it in Brazil nuts, seafood, poultry, and whole grains,” says Zaromskyte.