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Behind the Science of Micro Nutrients

Welcome to our comprehensive exploration of the fascinating world of micro nutrients! In this in-depth blog post, we will delve into the science behind these tiny yet mighty components that play a crucial role in maintaining our health and well-being. Micro nutrients are often overlooked, overshadowed by their macronutrient counterparts, but their importance should not be underestimated. So, join us as we unravel the mysteries behind the science of micro nutrients and uncover their remarkable impact on our bodies.

Understanding Micro Nutrients

Let’s start by understanding what micro nutrients actually are. Micro nutrients are a group of essential substances that our bodies require in relatively small quantities for various physiological processes. They include vitamins, minerals, and trace elements, which act as co-factors, catalysts, and regulators in countless biochemical reactions within our cells. While they may be needed in smaller amounts compared to macronutrients like carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, their significance is immense.

The Importance of Micro Nutrients for Human Health

Micro nutrients are like the unsung heroes of our body’s functioning. They are involved in a wide range of vital processes, such as energy production, DNA synthesis, hormone regulation, immune function, and maintenance of healthy bones, skin, and eyes. They also play a crucial role in maintaining optimal brain function, supporting cardiovascular health, and protecting against oxidative stress and cellular damage.

Differentiating Micro Nutrients from Macronutrients

Before we dive deeper into the science of micro nutrients, it’s important to understand the key distinctions between micro and macronutrients. While both are essential for our overall health, macronutrients provide us with energy in the form of calories, whereas micro nutrients do not. Instead, micro nutrients act as facilitators and regulators of various metabolic processes, ensuring that our bodies can effectively utilize the energy derived from macronutrients.

Common Types of Micro Nutrients and Their Functions

Micro nutrients encompass a diverse range of vitamins, minerals, and trace elements, each with their own unique functions and contributions to our well-being. For example, vitamins such as vitamin A, C, D, E, and the B-complex vitamins are involved in processes like vision, collagen synthesis, calcium absorption, antioxidant defense, and energy production. Similarly, minerals like calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, and selenium play critical roles in bone health, oxygen transport, immune function, enzyme activity, and cellular metabolism.

Now that we have a solid foundation, let’s delve into the fascinating science behind micro nutrients. Join us in the next section as we explore the chemistry and biochemistry that underpins their absorption, utilization, and overall impact on our bodies.

The Science of Micro Nutrients

Micro nutrients are not just tiny particles floating around in our bodies; there is a fascinating science behind their absorption, metabolism, and utilization. To truly appreciate the significance of micro nutrients, we need to explore the chemistry and biochemistry that underpins their functions.

Chemistry of Micro Nutrients

Micro nutrients are primarily organic compounds, such as vitamins, or inorganic substances, such as minerals, that are essential for our bodies. These compounds contain specific chemical structures that enable them to carry out their respective roles. For instance, vitamins are often composed of complex molecular structures that allow them to act as co-factors or co-enzymes in enzymatic reactions. Minerals, on the other hand, exist as ions and are involved in various physiological processes due to their electrical properties.

Absorption and Metabolism

Once we consume foods or supplements containing micro nutrients, our bodies initiate the process of absorption. Absorption primarily takes place in the gastrointestinal tract, where micro nutrients are broken down and transported into the bloodstream for distribution to various organs and tissues. The absorption process can differ depending on the type of micro nutrient.

For example, fat-soluble vitamins (such as vitamins A, D, E, and K) require the presence of dietary fat for proper absorption. They are incorporated into micelles, which are small lipid droplets, and then transported across the intestinal wall. Water-soluble vitamins (such as vitamin C and B-complex vitamins) generally undergo passive diffusion or active transport mechanisms for absorption.

Minerals, on the other hand, can be absorbed through different mechanisms. Some minerals, like calcium and iron, are absorbed through active transport systems, while others, like zinc and copper, can also undergo passive diffusion. The efficiency of absorption can be influenced by various factors, such as the presence of other nutrients or substances, individual differences in gut health, and the form in which the micro nutrient is consumed.

Once absorbed, micro nutrients enter the bloodstream and are transported to their target tissues or organs. Within the cells, these micro nutrients undergo various metabolic processes to fulfill their specific functions. For example, B-complex vitamins play crucial roles in energy metabolism, where they act as co-enzymes that facilitate the breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the body’s primary energy source.

Enzymes and Co-factors

Micro nutrients often work in conjunction with enzymes and co-factors to carry out their functions effectively. Enzymes are proteins that act as catalysts, speeding up the rate of chemical reactions in the body. Co-factors are non-protein molecules that bind to enzymes, allowing them to function optimally. Many micro nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, serve as co-factors or are involved in the synthesis of co-factors.

For instance, vitamin B12 is required for the activation of an enzyme called methionine synthase, which plays a vital role in DNA synthesis and red blood cell production. Similarly, minerals like magnesium and zinc are essential for the activity of numerous enzymes involved in energy metabolism, protein synthesis, and immune function.

By working hand in hand with enzymes and co-factors, micro nutrients ensure that biochemical reactions occur efficiently and that essential processes in the body are properly regulated.

Understanding the science behind micro nutrients gives us a deeper appreciation for their intricate roles in maintaining our health. In the next section, we will explore the specific micro nutrients that are essential for optimal health and their respective functions in the body.

Essential Micro Nutrients for Optimal Health

Now that we have explored the science behind micro nutrients, it’s time to delve into the specific micro nutrients that are essential for our overall health and well-being. These micro nutrients, including vitamins and minerals, perform a wide array of functions in our bodies, playing vital roles in maintaining various physiological processes. Let’s explore these essential micro nutrients in detail.

Vitamins

Vitamins are organic compounds that our bodies require in small amounts to carry out numerous functions. They are classified into two categories: fat-soluble vitamins and water-soluble vitamins.

  1. Fat-Soluble Vitamins:
  • Vitamin A: This essential micronutrient is crucial for maintaining healthy vision, immune function, and cell differentiation. It also plays a role in reproductive health and growth. Good dietary sources of vitamin A include liver, dairy products, and colorful fruits and vegetables.
  • Vitamin D: Known as the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D is crucial for calcium absorption and bone health. It also plays a role in immune function and may have implications in reducing the risk of certain diseases. Our bodies can produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, and dietary sources include fatty fish, fortified dairy products, and egg yolks.
  • Vitamin E: As a potent antioxidant, vitamin E protects cells from damage caused by free radicals. It also supports immune function and helps maintain healthy skin. Sources of vitamin E include nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, and leafy green vegetables.
  • Vitamin K: This vitamin is essential for blood clotting and bone health. It also has potential roles in regulating cell growth and preventing certain age-related conditions. Leafy green vegetables, broccoli, and vegetable oils are good sources of vitamin K.
  1. Water-Soluble Vitamins:
  • Vitamin C: This powerful antioxidant supports immune function, collagen synthesis, and wound healing. It also aids in iron absorption and protects against damage from harmful free radicals. Citrus fruits, strawberries, bell peppers, and leafy green vegetables are rich sources of vitamin C.
  • B-complex Vitamins: The B-complex vitamins include thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), biotin (B7), folate (B9), and cobalamin (B12). These vitamins are involved in energy metabolism, red blood cell production, DNA synthesis, and nerve function. They can be found in a wide variety of foods, including whole grains, legumes, meats, dairy products, and leafy green vegetables.

Minerals

Minerals are inorganic elements that are essential for various bodily functions. They can be divided into two categories: major minerals and trace minerals.

  1. Major Minerals:
  • Calcium: This mineral is vital for strong bones and teeth. It also plays a role in muscle function, nerve transmission, and hormone secretion. Dairy products, leafy green vegetables, and fortified foods are excellent sources of calcium.
  • Magnesium: Essential for hundreds of enzymatic reactions in the body, magnesium is involved in energy production, muscle function, and bone health. Sources of magnesium include nuts, seeds, whole grains, and leafy green vegetables.
  • Potassium: This mineral is crucial for maintaining proper fluid balance, nerve function, and muscle contractions. It also plays a role in blood pressure regulation. Good dietary sources of potassium include bananas, potatoes, leafy green vegetables, and beans.
  • Sodium: While sodium is often associated with negative health effects in excessive amounts, it is still an essential mineral required for proper nerve and muscle function, as well as fluid balance. Sodium is commonly found in table salt, processed foods, and condiments.
  1. Trace Minerals:
  • Iron: This mineral is necessary for oxygen transport and plays a key role in the production of red blood cells. Iron deficiency can lead to anemia. Good sources of iron include lean meats, seafood, legumes, and fortified cereals.
  • Zinc: Essential for immune function, wound healing, and DNA synthesis, zinc is involved in numerous enzymatic reactions in the body. It can be found in foods like meat, shellfish, legumes, and nuts.
  • Selenium: As a powerful antioxidant, selenium protects against oxidative stress and supports thyroid function. Good dietary sources of selenium include Brazil nuts, seafood, whole grains, and eggs.
  • Copper: This trace mineral is involved in the production of red blood cells, collagen synthesis, and antioxidant defense. It can be found in foods such as organ meats, shellfish, nuts, and seeds.

Understanding the diverse functions of these essential micro nutrients allows us to appreciate their significance in maintaining optimal health. In the next section, we will explore how micro nutrients play a pivotal role in disease prevention and management.

The Role of Micro Nutrients in Disease Prevention and Management

Micro nutrients play a pivotal role in our overall health and well-being, with their deficiency or excess having profound implications for disease prevention and management. These tiny substances act as key players in various physiological processes, supporting our immune system, protecting against chronic diseases, and aiding in the management of existing health conditions. Let’s explore the significant role of micro nutrients in disease prevention and management.

Supporting the Immune System

A robust immune system is vital for defending our bodies against harmful pathogens and maintaining overall health. Micro nutrients, particularly vitamins and minerals, play crucial roles in supporting immune function. For example, vitamin C is well-known for its immune-boosting properties, as it enhances the production and function of immune cells. It also acts as an antioxidant, protecting against oxidative stress that can compromise immune responses.

Vitamin D is another micro nutrient that plays a vital role in immune function. It aids in the regulation of immune cell activity and helps prevent excessive inflammation. Adequate vitamin D levels have been associated with a reduced risk of respiratory infections, autoimmune disorders, and certain types of cancer.

Other micro nutrients, such as zinc, selenium, and vitamin E, also contribute to immune function by supporting the growth and activity of immune cells and promoting the production of antibodies. Their deficiencies can impair immune responses and increase susceptibility to infections. Therefore, maintaining optimal levels of micro nutrients is crucial for a well-functioning immune system.

Disease-Fighting Properties

Micro nutrients have been extensively studied for their potential in preventing and reducing the risk of chronic diseases. Their antioxidant properties, ability to modulate inflammation, and involvement in key physiological processes make them important components of disease prevention strategies. Here are some examples of micro nutrients known for their disease-fighting properties:

  1. Antioxidant Vitamins:
  • Vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene (a precursor of vitamin A) are potent antioxidants that protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can lead to oxidative stress, which is associated with chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative disorders.
  1. B Vitamins:
  • Folate (vitamin B9), vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 play crucial roles in DNA synthesis, repair, and methylation. Their deficiencies have been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, neural tube defects, cognitive decline, and certain types of cancer.
  1. Minerals:
  • Calcium and vitamin D work together to promote bone health and reduce the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
  • Magnesium has been associated with a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.
  • Selenium is known for its potential in reducing the risk of certain types of cancer, such as prostate cancer.
  • Potassium-rich diets have been associated with a lower risk of hypertension and stroke.

Micro Nutrient Supplementation in Disease Management

In addition to their preventive role, micro nutrients can also play a significant role in the management of existing health conditions. In some cases, specific micro nutrient supplementation may be recommended as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. Here are a few examples:

  1. Iron Supplementation:
  • Iron deficiency anemia is a common condition that requires iron supplementation to restore iron levels and improve symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, and pale skin.
  1. Vitamin D Supplementation:
  • Individuals with vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency may require vitamin D supplementation to maintain adequate levels, particularly in regions with limited sunlight exposure. This is often recommended for bone health, but emerging research suggests potential benefits in autoimmune diseases and mental health.
  1. Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation:
  • Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and may be beneficial in managing conditions such as cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and mood disorders.

While micro nutrient supplementation can be beneficial in certain cases, it’s important to note that it should not replace a healthy, balanced diet. Whole foods provide a complex array of micro nutrients, fiber, and other beneficial compounds that work synergistically for optimal health.

Understanding the role of micro nutrients in disease prevention and management highlights the importance of a well-rounded and nutrient-rich diet. In the next section, we will explore the factors that can affect micro nutrient bioavailability in food and discuss strategies to optimize micro nutrient intake for optimal health.

Optimizing Micro Nutrient Intake

Ensuring that we are getting an adequate supply of micro nutrients is essential for maintaining optimal health. While consuming a diverse and balanced diet is the best way to obtain micro nutrients, there are various factors that can affect the bioavailability of these nutrients in the foods we eat. Additionally, certain cooking and storage practices can either preserve or diminish the micro nutrient content of our meals. In this section, we will explore strategies to optimize micro nutrient intake and maximize their bioavailability.

Factors Affecting Micro Nutrient Bioavailability

Bioavailability refers to the extent to which micro nutrients are absorbed and utilized by the body. Several factors can influence the bioavailability of micro nutrients from the foods we consume:

  1. Food Processing and Cooking Methods:
  • Processing techniques such as milling, refining, and canning can reduce the micro nutrient content of foods. For example, refining grains removes the nutrient-rich bran and germ, resulting in a loss of vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber.
  • Cooking methods, such as boiling, steaming, or frying, can also affect the bioavailability of micro nutrients. Some vitamins, like vitamin C and certain B vitamins, are heat-sensitive and can be easily destroyed during cooking. On the other hand, cooking certain foods can enhance the availability of certain micro nutrients. For instance, lightly cooking tomatoes increases the bioavailability of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant.
  1. Food Combinations:
  • Some micro nutrients can enhance or inhibit the absorption of others when consumed together. For example, consuming vitamin C-rich foods alongside iron-rich foods can enhance iron absorption due to the vitamin C’s ability to enhance the solubility of non-heme iron found in plant-based foods.
  • On the other hand, certain components in foods, such as phytic acid found in whole grains and legumes, can bind to minerals like zinc and reduce their absorption. However, soaking, fermenting, or sprouting these foods can help reduce the phytic acid content and improve mineral bioavailability.
  1. Individual Factors:
  • Factors such as age, genetics, and underlying health conditions can influence the absorption and utilization of micro nutrients. For example, as we age, our bodies may experience reduced absorption and increased excretion of certain micro nutrients, making it important to ensure adequate intake.
  • Certain genetic variations can affect how efficiently our bodies utilize specific micro nutrients. For instance, individuals with a certain genetic variation may have increased requirements for folate due to impaired folate metabolism.

Best Practices for Preserving Micro Nutrient Content

To maximize the micro nutrient content in our meals, it is important to adopt practices that preserve their integrity during food preparation and storage:

  1. Choose Fresh, Whole Foods:
  • Opt for fresh, whole foods whenever possible, as they generally have higher micro nutrient content compared to processed or packaged foods. Fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and legumes are excellent choices.
  1. Minimize Cooking Time and Temperature:
  • To preserve heat-sensitive vitamins, it is best to cook foods for the shortest amount of time possible using low-heat methods such as steaming or stir-frying. Avoid overcooking or boiling foods for extended periods, as this can lead to nutrient loss.
  1. Store Foods Properly:
  • Proper storage of fruits, vegetables, and other perishable foods is crucial to maintain their micro nutrient content. Store these foods in cool, dark places or refrigerate them to slow down the degradation of vitamins and minerals.
  1. Practice Proper Food Preparation Techniques:
  • Practice techniques such as washing fruits and vegetables before consumption to remove any dirt or contaminants while minimizing nutrient loss. Use minimal amounts of water when washing, as some water-soluble vitamins can leach out.
  1. Opt for Minimal Processing:
  • Choose food products that have undergone minimal processing, as they are more likely to retain their micro nutrient content. For example, whole-grain breads and cereals are better choices than refined versions.

By adopting these best practices, we can maximize the bioavailability and preserve the micro nutrient content of the foods we consume, ensuring that we are reaping the full benefits of these essential components.

In the final section, we will discuss the importance of balancing micro nutrient needs with calorie intake for weight management and overall health.

Balancing Micro Nutrient Needs with Calorie Intake

Maintaining an optimal balance between micro nutrient needs and calorie intake is crucial for both weight management and overall health. While micro nutrients are essential for our well-being, it’s important to ensure that we are not overconsuming or underconsuming them in relation to our energy requirements. In this section, we will explore the importance of this balance and discuss strategies for achieving it.

Energy Balance and Micro Nutrient Needs

Energy balance refers to the equilibrium between the calories we consume through food and beverages and the calories we expend through various activities. When it comes to micro nutrient needs, it’s important to consider the concept of nutrient density—obtaining the maximum amount of micro nutrients from the calories we consume.

Foods that are nutrient-dense provide a high concentration of micro nutrients relative to their calorie content. For example, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products are nutrient-dense choices. On the other hand, foods that are energy-dense but nutrient-poor, such as sugary snacks, fried foods, and sugary beverages, provide a high number of calories but little nutritional value.

Calorie Restriction and Micro Nutrient Deficiencies

In some instances, individuals may adopt calorie-restricted diets for weight loss purposes. While weight loss can have numerous health benefits, it’s crucial to ensure that the diet still provides adequate micro nutrient intake. Severe calorie restriction without proper attention to micro nutrient needs can lead to deficiencies and potential health consequences.

Certain micro nutrients, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K, are fat-soluble and require dietary fat for absorption. Therefore, extremely low-fat diets may result in inadequate absorption of these micro nutrients. Additionally, severely restricted diets may limit the variety of foods consumed, leading to potential deficiencies in specific micro nutrients. It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian when considering a calorie-restricted diet to ensure nutritional adequacy.

Nutrient-Dense Eating for Weight Management

On the other side of the spectrum, individuals seeking weight gain or weight maintenance can also benefit from focusing on nutrient-dense eating. Choosing foods that provide a high amount of micro nutrients per calorie can help meet nutritional needs while managing calorie intake.

Incorporating a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats can increase micro nutrient intake without significantly increasing calorie intake. These foods not only provide essential micro nutrients but also tend to be more satiating, which can help prevent overeating and support weight management goals.

Personalized Approach to Micro Nutrient Intake

It’s important to note that everyone’s micro nutrient needs may vary based on factors such as age, sex, activity level, and overall health. The best approach to ensuring optimal micro nutrient intake while managing calorie intake is to adopt a personalized approach.

Working with a registered dietitian can help assess individual micro nutrient needs and provide personalized recommendations. They can help create a balanced meal plan that considers calorie requirements, macronutrient distribution, and micro nutrient needs. This personalized approach ensures that individuals receive adequate micro nutrient intake while maintaining a healthy weight and overall well-being.

Monitoring and Adjusting Micro Nutrient Intake

Regular monitoring of micro nutrient intake is crucial to identify potential deficiencies or excesses. Keeping a food diary or utilizing online tools or mobile apps can help track daily food intake and assess micro nutrient intake. This information can then be used to make adjustments to the diet as needed.

If deficiencies or excesses are identified, adjustments can be made by incorporating more micro nutrient-rich foods or considering targeted supplementation under the guidance of a healthcare professional. However, it’s important to remember that obtaining micro nutrients from whole foods is generally preferred over relying solely on supplements, as whole foods provide a wide range of beneficial compounds that work synergistically.

By striking a balance between micro nutrient needs and calorie intake, individuals can optimize their nutritional status, support weight management goals, and promote overall health and well-being.

In the final section, we will explore the future of micro nutrient research and the importance of continued education and awareness in this field.

The Future of Micro Nutrient Research

As our understanding of micro nutrients continues to evolve, ongoing research plays a vital role in expanding our knowledge and uncovering new insights into their importance for human health. The field of micro nutrient research is dynamic and ever-changing, with scientists constantly exploring new avenues to improve our understanding of these essential components. In this final section, we will explore the future of micro nutrient research and emphasize the importance of continued education and awareness in this field.

Current Trends and Advancements

Advancements in technology and scientific techniques have opened up new avenues for micro nutrient research. Here are some current trends and advancements in the field:

  1. Nutrigenomics and Nutrigenetics:
  • Nutrigenomics explores how micro nutrients interact with our genes and how these interactions influence our health. It focuses on understanding how specific micro nutrients affect gene expression, metabolism, and disease risk.
  • Nutrigenetics examines how genetic variations can impact an individual’s response to micro nutrient intake. It aims to identify genetic markers that can help personalize dietary recommendations based on an individual’s genetic makeup.
  1. Microbiome and Micro Nutrients:
  • The microbiome, the complex community of microorganisms living in our bodies, has been found to play a crucial role in micro nutrient metabolism and absorption. Research is uncovering how our gut microbiota interacts with micro nutrients and influences their utilization and impact on health.
  1. Micronutrient Interactions:
  • Scientists are exploring the complex interactions between different micro nutrients and how they affect each other’s absorption, utilization, and overall impact on health. Understanding these interactions can help optimize dietary recommendations and improve health outcomes.

Potential Areas of Future Exploration

While much has been discovered about micro nutrients, there are still many areas that require further exploration. Here are some potential areas of future research:

  1. Optimal Micronutrient Ranges:
  • Determining the optimal ranges of micro nutrient intake for different populations and health conditions is an ongoing challenge. Research is needed to establish precise guidelines that consider factors such as age, sex, genetics, and underlying health conditions.
  1. Micro Nutrients and Mental Health:
  • Growing evidence suggests that micro nutrients may play a role in mental health and well-being. Future research could focus on exploring the relationship between micro nutrient status and conditions such as depression, anxiety, and cognitive decline.
  1. Micro Nutrients and Aging:
  • As the global population continues to age, understanding the impact of micro nutrients on healthy aging becomes increasingly important. Research can explore how micro nutrient requirements change with age and how optimizing intake can support healthy aging and disease prevention.
  1. Micro Nutrients and Chronic Diseases:
  • While there is existing research on the role of micro nutrients in chronic diseases, ongoing studies can further investigate their potential preventive and therapeutic effects. This includes exploring the mechanisms behind micro nutrient action and the development of targeted interventions.

Importance of Continued Research and Education

Continued research and education in the field of micro nutrients are crucial for several reasons:

  1. Improved Public Health:
  • Advancements in micro nutrient research can lead to improved public health strategies and policies. By further understanding the impact of micro nutrients on disease prevention, management, and overall well-being, we can develop evidence-based guidelines and recommendations.
  1. Personalized Nutrition:
  • The field of nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics holds great promise for personalized nutrition. Continued research can help identify genetic markers that influence micro nutrient requirements, allowing for tailored dietary recommendations based on an individual’s unique genetic profile.
  1. Enhanced Treatment Approaches:
  • Micro nutrient research can contribute to the development of innovative treatment approaches for various health conditions. By understanding the mechanisms of action and potential interactions, researchers can explore new therapeutic avenues to optimize health outcomes.
  1. Consumer Awareness and Education:
  • Continued research and education help promote consumer awareness about the importance of micro nutrients and their impact on health. This empowers individuals to make informed choices about their dietary habits and encourages them to prioritize micro nutrient-rich foods.

In conclusion, the future of micro nutrient research is promising, with ongoing advancements and discoveries that will further enhance our understanding of their role in human health. Continued research, education, and awareness are key to unlocking the full potential of micro nutrients and their impact on our well-being. By staying informed and adapting our dietary habits accordingly, we can ensure that we are nourishing our bodies with the essential micro nutrients they need for optimal health and vitality.

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