As promised, I am finally getting around to sharing my thoughts on how to track micronutrients. I have known for a few years that it would probably be a good idea for me to be more micronutrient focused but I have not been sure how to keep track of the details.
Joel Fuhrman’s PBS special was probably the first time that I was exposed to the Nutritarian diet. He focuses on maximizing micronutrient intake through a plant-based diet. I have, of course, known that there are a variety of vitamins and minerals that we need in order to support our bodily functions. Those who eat a raw vegan diet have a greater need to track micronutrients, particularly B vitamins, which are primarily found in animal proteins.
Most diets focus on macronutrients, I suspect, because they are easier than tracking micronutrients. However, technology has made it easier to keep tabs on more information.
Micronutrients are the vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients only needed in small quantities but they are essential for optimal health. Deficiencies in micronutrients can cause life threatening health problems. They are essential for the healthy functioning of the body’s systems, from bone growth to brain function. Our bodies cannot produce micronutrients, so they must be ingested. Eating a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables is the best way to get adequate nutrients on the micro level.
Why bother tracking micronutrients? I tried a vegetarian diet in the past with limited success. In my experience, after a period of time (weeks to months) I always found myself craving meat. I figured that if my body was craving it there must be some reason. In retrospect, it is likely that I had some deficiency that I needed to satisfy. Most of us do not have access to and do not eat a very wide variety of foods. Additionally, the
Iron, B vitamins, vitamin D, zinc, and calcium are all known potential deficiencies in a strict vegan diet. It is also more difficult to consume a balance of the necessary amino acids. I decided this time around to at least attempt to track micronutrients over a few weeks just to confirm that I have been getting a wide enough variety of foods and that I should not have any significant deficiencies. Of course, the only way to know for sure is to have blood work, which I will be doing at my doctor’s appointment later this year
I have used a number of food tracking apps over the last few years. Each app has certain strengths and certain weaknesses. In other words, there is no comprehensive solution.
The barcode scanners on some of the most popular apps (MyFitnessPal, FatSecret, etc.) have greatly simplified food tracking, particularly if you are consuming a lot of prepared and pre-packaged foods. MyFitnessPal also has a fantastic recipe grabber that will automatically import any recipe from a URL. You can also type in a recipe manually. However it only tracks about 15 nutrients including the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat). But these apps are free (with ads) so they are worth a try. MyFitnessPal has the most comprehensive integrations with other health apps that I have seen.
I found that eating a raw food diet actually changed the way I use the food diaries and MyFitnessPal is less useful to me. Now that I am preparing my own fresh food the barcode scanner and URL recipe option are not as handy.
I discovered another app, Cronometer, that has a much more detailed micronutrient profile with around 50 nutritional indicators measured. The details are sourced from the USDA and NCCD8 databases. It is without question a little more time consuming to use, each item in a recipe has to be entered individually from the database, although you can create and save recipes that you use often. Also, Cronometer has a gold subscription for $34.99 a year, but there is a free option that has ads and limited functionality. It has a limited integration capability with just FitBit and Withings available (I just happen to use both of those).
I also looked at SuperTracker, the USDA food and activity tracker which offered a detailed nutritional analysis report as well. (Update: as of June 2018 SuperTracker has been discontinued.)
For the time being, I am comfortable with the balance of nutrients I am consuming and as long as I feel well, I will continue with this plan. We’ll cross the next hurdle when we get there.
Frequently asked questions about tracking micronutrients.
All of the micronutrients perform specific roles in facilitating bodily functions. It is difficult to say which is most important.
What is important is to track micronutrients over the medium to long-term and with the assistance of your physician and blood work, ensure that you do not have any long-term deficiencies.
The apps we suggest allow you to track your food intake over a period of time and see where there might be room for improvement. Any deficiency would obviously become a priority for your diet
Food is always the preferred method of absorbing micronutrients. Micronutrients are only needed in small amounts generally speaking.
The first step is to ensure that you are eating a wide variety of foods. That should prevent any major imbalances or deficiencies.
Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School
Micronutrients have major impact on health: Foods to boost your immune system and increase vitamin and mineral intake
Micronutrients in health and disease
Centers for Disease Control
Aug 12 2019
Linus Pauling Institute
Micronutrients for Health