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Micronutrients: how many do we need a day?

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 246 views

What are micronutrients?

Micronutrients include vitamins (water and fat soluble), minerals, trace elements and some amino and fatty acids. They are essential for life, but the human body does not produce them for the most part itself or in insufficient quantities. So we have to get them through food.

The body stores some micronutrients, but we have to absorb others every day so that there is no deficiency. If that happens, the processes in the body get out of step.

Without nutrients, nothing works in our body. While the macronutrients fat , protein and carbohydrates provide energy, the micronutrients are responsible for all kinds of bodily functions such as muscle work, blood formation, the immune system or skin and hair health.

In contrast to the macronutrients, we usually only need a few milligrams or micrograms of the micronutrients, but it is still important to eat healthy and varied in order to cover our daily needs through food.

Micronutrients are found in foods in very different amounts. However, a healthy adult usually has no problems meeting their daily needs.

Micronutrients at a glance

Micronutrients are so called because the body only needs them in small amounts, they are the smallest nutrient components.

Nevertheless, they are essential, which means we need them to survive, because they are involved in a wide variety of processes in the body; among other things on the metabolism, mental and physical performance, healing processes and the immune system. The micronutrients include the following groups:


There are fat and water soluble vitamins. They differ in how the body absorbs, processes, stores and excretes them.

The fat-soluble variety includes vitamins A, D, E and K. Fat is necessary for the body to process them. That is why it is advisable to eat carrots with olive oil , for example. As a result, the intestine absorbs and converts the vitamin A precursor beta-carotene.

The body stores fat-soluble vitamins. That’s why you don’t have to ingest them quite as regularly through food. It is different with water-soluble vitamins, which include, for example, vitamin C or the B vitamins. As the name suggests, they dissolve in water and are excreted through the small intestine.

Vitamins are responsible for, among other things

  • antioxidant processes (protect the body cells from aggressive oxygen compounds, the free radicals)
  • immune defense
  • regulation of cell growth
  • Regulation of various metabolic processes (carbohydrate, fat, protein metabolism as well as phosphate and calcium metabolism)

Small vitamin bombs are above all different types of fruit and vegetables such as apples , kiwis, citrus fruits, berries, cabbage, tomatoes or pumpkin .


Minerals are divided into bulk elements and trace elements. The bulk elements, often simply referred to as “minerals”, are present in the body in higher amounts (concentration over 50 mg/kg body weight).

It is necessary to supply these minerals in larger amounts than the trace elements. The bulk elements include, for example, calcium, magnesium, sodium or potassium.

Minerals are involved in, among other things

  • the muscle work
  • the release of hormones
  • of bone formation
  • the energy metabolism
  • of blood clotting

Good sources of minerals or bulk elements are liver, poultry and fish, nuts, potatoes, spinach leaves, berries, oranges or bananas.

trace elements

Trace elements are minerals that the body only needs in very small amounts (less than 50 mg/kg body weight), i.e. only in traces. Iodine, zinc , fluorine, copper or iron belong to this type of mineral. However, it is not always possible to draw a clear line between what is a bulk element, for example in the case of iron.

Trace elements are vital for the human organism. You play a part in

  • the excitation line
  • the oxygen transport
  • as a cofactor in enzymatic reactions; that is, certain enzymes require them for their respective function

Trace elements can be found in nuts, whole grain products, offal or dairy products, as well as in sea fish and mussels (iodine).

The most important micronutrients and their function

There are a lot of micronutrients, each with different tasks. The most important for humans are the following.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A includes a group of compounds that have a similar effect, such as retinol , retinoic acid or retinal, as well as the precursor (provitamin) beta-carotene, from which the body produces vitamin A.

Since it is fat-soluble, like vitamins D, E and K, it is stored in our bodies. Vitamin A is important for the skin, bones, teeth and eyes, among other things. It is found, for example, in liver, sea fish, dairy products and in yellow and red fruits and vegetables.

Vitamin B1

Vitamin B1, also called thiamine, is a water-soluble vitamin. It is important for various metabolic processes, such as carbohydrate breakdown or energy metabolism.

Since the brain and heart need a lot of energy, vitamin B1 also influences these two organs and helps in the transmission of impulses between nerves and muscles. Foods that contain vitamin B1 include muscle meat and legumes such as beans, peas, and lentils). It is also found in oatmeal and whole grain products.

Vitamin B2

Just like vitamin B1, riboflavin , as vitamin B2 is also called, also belongs to the water-soluble vitamins. Among other things, it is important for the proteins in the lens of the eye and plays a role in nerve function, the immune system and various metabolic processes.

Vitamin B2 is contained in offal, pollock, mackerel, in some types of cheese such as Emmental or Camembert, as well as in kale, mushrooms, peas, nuts and oilseeds.

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is not a single vitamin but a compound group of pyridoxine, pyridoxal and pyridoxamine. It is important so that the body can convert and incorporate proteins. Vitamin B6 also helps build and protect nerve connections and strengthens the immune system.

The water-soluble vitamin B6 is found in many plant and animal foods, for example in dairy products, beef, chicken or turkey muscle, salmon, dairy products, avocados or nuts. Since vitamin B6 is heat sensitive, only cook it gently.

Vitamin B7

Biotin or vitamin B7 protects hair and skin. As an enzyme component, it is also involved in various metabolic processes and in the growth of blood cells, nerve tissue and sebaceous glands. Vitamin B7 also regulates cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Vitamin B7 is found in beef liver, peanuts, tomatoes, cheese, meat or tomatoes, among other things.

Vitamin B9

Vitamin B9 is another term for folic acid or folate. Folic acid refers to the synthetically produced vitamin B9, folate to the natural one. We need it to form red and white blood cells and it is involved in the production of genetic material.

Good folate suppliers are legumes, nuts, sprouts, green (leaf) vegetables, whole grain products, liver or eggs.

Vitamin B12

This vitamin is the only water-soluble vitamin that the body can store; even over several years. The multiple compound vitamin B12 , also known as cobalamin, plays a role in the formation of red blood cells, in the construction of nerve cells in the spinal cord and is important for protein and nucleic acid metabolism. Nucleic acids contain the genetic information, i.e. a kind of blueprint for the organism.

Vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria and blue-green algae, and it accumulates in animal products such as meat, dairy products, liver and eggs. It is also found in microbially produced foods such as sauerkraut.

Vitamin C

The chemical name of water-soluble vitamin C is ascorbic acid. As a “common cold vitamin” it is partly responsible for the immune system functioning well, it promotes the absorption of iron, intercepts cell-damaging free radicals and plays a role in various metabolic processes. It is mainly found in fresh vegetables and citrus fruits.

Learn more about vitamin C here.

Vitamin D

This vitamin is one of the fat-soluble vitamins. It is important for bone health, the immune system, for strong muscles; and it has a special feature: the body produces vitamin D itself with the help of sunlight. This covers 80 to 90 percent of the demand.

Vitamin D is therefore often also called the “sunshine vitamin” or, due to its positive effect on the psyche , also “feel good vitamin”. By definition, vitamin D is not actually one of the vitamins, because these are organic compounds that humans have to regularly ingest through food.

Vitamin D is found in relevant amounts in only a few foods – mainly in animal foods such as oysters, eel, herring, Camembert, Emmental or Gouda.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is another fat-soluble vitamin. It stands for a group of similar compounds: the tocopherols. They have an antioxidant effect, which means they protect the body from aggressive oxygen compounds, the free radicals, and thus from cell damage.

Vitamin E also reduces inflammatory reactions and protects memory. Only plants can produce it, for example it is contained in rapeseed or sunflower oil. However, it also gets into animal foods such as butter or eggs in smaller quantities via the food chain .

Vitamin K

The fat-soluble vitamin K consists of vitamin K1 (phylloquinone) and vitamin K2 (menaquinone). Its main task is to produce blood clotting factors. However, it is also involved in cell division, in the regeneration of the eyes, kidneys or liver and in preventing calcium deposits in the blood vessels.

Good sources of vitamin K1 are primarily green vegetables and cabbage such as lettuce, broccoli or Brussels sprouts. Meat and dairy products contain small amounts of K2.


Iron is one of the trace elements, which means that the body only needs very small amounts of it, which is why the body only stores a few grams. One third of it in the liver, spleen, intestinal mucosa and bone marrow, two thirds in the blood. There it binds inhaled oxygen and transports it to the organs.

Iron contain foods such as liverwurst, veal, whole grain bread or nuts, especially pistachios .

Calcium (Calcium)

This vital mineral is involved, among other things, in blood clotting, bone metabolism and the transmission of stimuli in the nerve cells. The body stores it – mainly in the skeletal bones.

A lot of calcium is found in milk and dairy products, but also in some vegetables such as kale, broccoli and rocket, as well as in hazelnuts or Brazil nuts.


A busy mineral: Magnesium is involved in more than 300 metabolic processes, for example in the function of muscle cells or the transmission of impulses in the nerve and certain heart muscle cells.

Foods containing magnesium are, for example, cocoa, dark chocolate, raspberries , bananas, sunflower seeds and whole grain products.


Another trace element and one that is involved in many biological processes. Whether immune system, growth or wound healing – zinc is involved everywhere.

Since the body only stores it for a short time and in small amounts, it is important to get it regularly through food, which is usually easy to do. Zinc sources are, for example, vegetables, legumes or cereals.


Iodine is a trace element. The body needs it to build up the thyroid hormones triiodothyronine and thyroxine. These are involved in processes such as bone formation, energy metabolism, growth and brain development.

The need for iodine is increased during pregnancy and breastfeeding, but the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) also warns that the natural iodine content of our food is not sufficient to ensure adequate intake.

This is why the BfR, among others, recommends using iodised table salt. Otherwise, iodine is also found in foods such as sea fish, milk and dairy products or foods that are made with iodized salt, such as meat or sausage.

The BfR recommends eating or drinking:

  • Sea fish once or twice a week
  • milk and milk products daily
  • prefers foods made with iodised salt

What is the daily requirement of vitamins and minerals?

How high the daily requirement for micronutrients is depends, among other things, on age, gender and life situation (e.g. pregnancy, breastfeeding). Institutions such as the German Society for Nutrition have created reference values ​​for daily intake.

These are theoretically derived amounts of nutrients that should ensure a sufficient intake in healthy people. An overview of the reference values ​​for the most important micronutrients can be found in this table:

Micronutrients at a glance

4 bis < 7 J. 7 bis < 10 J. 10 J. 11 bis <13 J. 13 bis < 15 J. 15 bis < 19 J. < 65 J. ≥ 65 J. pregnant women breastfeeding
Vitamin A (mg/Tag) 0,35 0,45 0,6 0,6 0,80 (m)/0,70 (w) 0,95 (m)/0,80 0,85 (m)/0,70 (w) 0,80 (m)/0,70 (w) 0,8 1,3
Vitamin B1 (mg/Tag) 0,7 0,9 (m)/0,8 (w) 1,0 (m)/0,9 (w) 1,0 (m)/0,9 (w) 1,2 (m)/1,0 (w) 1,4 (m)/1,1 (w) 1,1-1,3 (m)/1,0 (w) 1,1-1,3 (m)/1,0 (w) 1,2 (2. Trimester) 1,3 (3. Trimester) 1,3
Vitamin B2 (mg/Tag) 1,0(m)/0,9 (w) 1,1 (m)/1,0 (w) 1,1 (m)/1,0 (w) 1,4 (m)/1,1 (w) 1,6 (m)/1,2 (w) 1,31,4 (m)/1,0-1,1 (w) 1,31,4 (m)/1,0-1,1 (w) 1,3 (2. Trimester) 1,4 (3. Trimester) 1,4
Vitamin B6 (mg/Tag) 0,7 1,2 1,2 1,2 1,5 (m)/1,4 (w) 1,6 (m)/1,4 (w) 1,5 (m)/1,4 (w) 1,5 (m)/1,4 (w) 1,5 (1. Trimester) 1,8 (2 + 3. Trimester) 1,6
Vitamin B7 (µg/day) 25 25 35 35 35 40 40 40 40 45
Vitamin B9 (µg FÄ*/Tag) 140 180 240 240 300 300 300 300 550 450
Vitamin B12 (µg/Tag) 2 2,5 3,5 3,5 4 4 4 4 4,5 5,5
Vitamin C (mg/Tag) 30 45 65 65 85 105 (m)/90 (w) 19 bis <25 J.: 105 (m)/90 (w) 25Bis <65 J.: 110 (m)/95 (w) 110 (m)/95 (w) 105 125
Vitamin D (µg/Tag) 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20
Vitamin E (mg/Tag) 8 10 (m)/9 (w) 13 (m)/11 (w) 13 (m)/11 (w) 14 (m)/12 (w) 15 (m)/12 (w) 20 bis <25 J.: 15 (m)/12 (w) 25 bis <51 J.: 14 (m)/12 (w) 51 bis <65 J.: 13 (m)/12 (w) 12 (m)/11 (w) 13 17
Vitamin K (µg/Tag) 20 30 40 40 50 70 (m)/60 (w) < 51 J.: 70 (m)/60 (w) 51<65 J.: 80 (m)/66 (w) 80 (m)/65 (w) 60 60
Iron (mg/day) 8 10 12 (m)/15 (w) 12 (m)/15 (w) 12 (m)/15 (w) 12 (m)/15 (w) 19 bis <51 J.: 10 (m)/15 (w) 51 bis <65 J.: 10 10 30 20
Calcium (mg/day) 750 900 1100 1100 1200 1200 1200 1200 1000 (< 19 years: 1200) 1000
Magnesium (mg/Tag) 120 170 230 (m)/250 (w) 230 (m)/250 (w) 310 400 (m)/350 (w) 19 bis <25 J.: 400 (m)/350 (w) ≥ 25 J.: 350 (m)/300 (w) k. A. k. A. 19 bis <25 J.: 350 ≥ 25 J.: 300
Zink (mg/Tag) k. A. k. A. k. A. k. A. k. A. 11 (m)/14 (w) 330 – 7 (m)/11 (w) 660 – 8 (m)/14 (w) 990 – 10 (m)/16 (w) k. A. k. A.
Iodine (µg/Tag) 120 140 180 180 200 200 18 to 50: 200 51 to 64: 180 180 230 260

What are the effects of a lack of vitamins and minerals?

Depending on which micronutrient there is a deficiency, this manifests itself differently. Too little vitamin A is noticeable, for example, through dry skin, brittle fingernails and reduced visual acuity in dim light or through night blindness.

In the case of a vitamin B1 deficiency, those affected get headaches and/or stomach pains, difficulty concentrating or even beriberi disease with cardiac muscle weakness, skeletal muscle atrophy, water retention in the tissue and depression.

If we don’t get enough vitamin B12, this is reflected in tiredness, paleness, tingling in the hands and feet, and vitamin E deficiency causes muscle weakness, among other things.

A magnesium deficiency leads to muscle twitching, irritability, indigestion, irritability or tachycardia. Insufficient calcium sometimes causes tingling around the mouth, hands and feet, slow heartbeat and anxiety.

According to the German Society for Nutrition (DGE), however, vitamin deficiencies or an undersupply of minerals hardly ever occur in Germany At least not in the case of fundamentally healthy people who eat a variety of foods.

Is there too much of micronutrients?

It is hardly possible to consume too many micronutrients purely through diet. The situation is different with dietary supplements in which they are isolated and contained in high concentrations.

While the body simply excretes water-soluble vitamins that it does not need, it is primarily the fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E (K is an exception, the body stores it only in small amounts) that can become dangerous because the body she saves.

If he gets too much of it, in the worst case a hypervitaminosis develops, which manifests itself in symptoms such as

But too much of other micronutrients can also mess up the processes in the body. If you are predisposed to it, too much calcium can cause, for example, kidney stones or disrupt kidney function.

An overdose of the vitamin A precursor beta-carotene increases the risk of lung cancer in smokers. If men take folic acid, there is a risk of prostate cancer, and if you overdose on zinc, you risk symptoms of poisoning such as nausea, diarrhea, abdominal cramps or headaches.

Are dietary supplements a useful addition?

In principle, it is possible in this country to cover the need for micronutrients solely through diet. Therefore, it only makes sense to take appropriate dietary supplements in exceptional situations; and then only in consultation with a doctor, for example in these cases:

  • Vitamin K in newborns to prevent hypobleeding.
  • Vitamin D in infants up to the age of one because the need for healthy bone formation is increased.
  • Vitamin D in people who spend little or no time outdoors.
  • Folic acid in pregnant women to prevent complications (e.g. spinal ulcer) in the child or premature birth.
  • Iodine in pregnancy for the physical and mental development of the child
  • Iron in proven iron deficiency, for example during menopause or pregnancy; a deficiency occasionally leads to premature birth or low birth weight of the child.

There are also some risk groups in which a lack of micronutrients is more likely due to certain conditions. This includes people who

  • Consume fewer than 1,500 calories per day (e.g. when dieting , due to an eating disorder or in old age)
  • suffer from digestive or utilization disorders
  • follow extreme forms of nutrition or have a very one-sided diet
  • are suffering from alcoholism
  • regularly take certain medications such as antibiotics or anticoagulants

If you suspect a micronutrient deficiency, make an appointment with your family doctor. He or she will check the supply and, if necessary, recommend suitable nutritional supplements or refer you to a specialist.

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