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Are There Specific Nutrients That Support Healthy Weight Management?
The diet industry is a multi-billion dollar business, so it’s no surprise that you are constantly bombarded with ads for the hottest diet or supplement promising quick fixes. In reality, weight management is a complicated balance of hormones, stress, sleep, movement, and genetics.
Weight management is often focused on macronutrients – or how much protein, carbs, or fat you should eat each day. Balancing these foods is critical for establishing a healthy diet, but what’s often left out of the conversation is the importance of micronutrients. It’s the combination of macro and micronutrients that provides optimal support for a healthy weight.
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals necessary for the body to function. They must be obtained through your diet and are involved in metabolism, immune health, cellular function, and more.
Taking an extra dose of a specific vitamin or mineral won’t cause weight to fall off. Still, it can support the optimal function of the physiological processes necessary for weight management support.
Multivitamins can fill in nutritional gaps while following a diet
To understand how micronutrients can foundationally support your healthy weight journey, it’s helpful to consider what happens when you cut calories from your diet.
Diets that focus primarily on macronutrients can be low in calories or even restrict specific foods, making it more challenging to meet vitamin and mineral needs. Add the increased calories burned with exercise (as many people add physical activity to diet plans), and you have a set up for nutrient gaps.
For some, making healthy diet changes can improve the quality of what you eat and possibly lead to improvements in micronutrient intake as you eat more nutrient-rich foods like fruits and vegetables. However, if calorie restriction is part of the plan, it can lead to unintentionally low intake of many vitamins and minerals simply because you aren’t eating as much food. As nutrient needs vary depending on age, gender, activity levels, and more, a low-calorie diet likely won’t meet micronutrient needs for all individuals.
One study that examined people who successfully maintained a healthy weight after following a diet program found that many did not eat enough to meet potassium, calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, and vitamin E needs. The authors also noted that those who did improve their overall micronutrient intake were also taking a multivitamin.
Similarly, another study found that participants who followed a very low-calorie diet found that most people did not meet estimated needs for many micronutrients even after including a vitamin and mineral fortified nutrition drink.
Restrictive meal patterns
Several popular diets also add to this concern. Low-carb diets continue to grow as top choices for weight management, but certain micronutrients found in carbohydrates can be easily missed without proper meal planning.
For example, grains are usually eliminated from low-carb diets as they are high in carbohydrates. But grains are particularly rich in magnesium and B vitamins like thiamin, riboflavin, and folate. Unless you follow a well-designed meal plan to make up for these foods, you can easily miss out.
A study that examined a sample three-day meal plan for two popular low carb diets found that daily estimated needs for twenty-seven different micronutrients were not met. The results of this study suggest that even people following a guided meal plan may need multivitamins to ensure nutrient needs are met.
Plant-based or vegan diets are another example. While eating a balanced vegan diet that meets your nutrient needs is absolutely possible, it takes extra planning. Nutrients like calcium and iron are often low if you aren’t familiar with plant-based or fortified foods. Further, vitamin B12 can only be obtained from animal products, so it is absolutely essential to supplement while on a vegan diet.
A multivitamin can be used as a backup plan to support your needs while following any of these meal patterns or significantly cutting calories.
Supportive nutrients for weight management
Many nutrients can support your efforts to maintain a healthy weight. While none of these will lead to weight reduction on their own, they make sure that essential supportive processes in the body are working optimally.
Nutrients to support metabolism
Metabolic functions require a wide range of nutrients to work effectively. While there are many types of vitamins and minerals involved, B vitamins are critical for a well-firing metabolism. B vitamins don’t necessarily change your metabolism, but they support it to make sure it works efficiently.
Nearly all of the eight B vitamins play a role in cellular energy production. Even suboptimal intake of one B vitamin can limit how effectively the body creates and burns energy. 6 For example, vitamin B6 is a critical cofactor for amino acid and lipid metabolism – or how the body utilizes these nutrients. Low levels of vitamin B12 have also been associated with higher BMI and blood sugar imbalances, even in children born to mothers with a low B12 status.
Ideally, these nutrients come from food, but certain situations may make supplementation necessary to make up for lower intake, as noted above.
Nutrients to support blood sugar
As blood sugar imbalances can make it more challenging to maintain a healthy weight, micronutrients that contribute to the body’s ability to effectively regulate can help.
Insulin, the hormone that initiates the movement of glucose out of the blood and into the cells, also increases the production of fatty acids. If your body is resistant to insulin, it will continue to release more from the pancreas to decrease blood sugar levels. Over time, these high insulin levels can mean a vicious cycle of challenges with weight control.
A recent systematic review found that high insulin levels are often present before significant weight gain. This finding suggests that if your body is constantly pumping out insulin, it can be a risk factor for weight gain.
Why do micronutrients matter for blood sugar and insulin balance? Diet is fundamental in supporting healthy blood sugar levels. While we primarily focus on macronutrients like carbohydrates and protein, micronutrients are a vital part of the team. For example, magnesium, the mineral associated with muscle function and relaxation, also supports the healthy regulation of blood sugar levels.
Studies have found that people who eat more magnesium-rich foods are less likely to develop blood-sugar imbalances. This may be because magnesium helps with the metabolism of sugar to energy in the body. Daily magnesium intake has been shown to significantly improve glycemic control for people with high blood sugar and insulin levels after three months of supplementation.
Although magnesium is found in many foods, research suggests that people often don’t eat enough. If you don’t have blood sugar imbalances, then additional magnesium supplementation is likely unnecessary for this specific reason, but it may help those with high glucose or insulin levels.
Nutrients to support overall wellness
The many benefits of vitamin D may extend to weight management. Observational studies have found that people with a higher body weight often have a lower vitamin D status. Researchers are still trying to better understand this relationship but suggest that fatty tissue (also called adipose tissue) may inappropriately hold onto vitamin D. Some studies have found that people with higher amounts of adipose tissue take up and store more vitamin D.
While it’s not clear if vitamin D plays a direct role in weight management or if having a higher body weight predisposes you to lower vitamin D levels, these studies do suggest that it’s crucial to know your vitamin D status if you have a higher body weight as fatty tissue can disrupt normal circulating levels of vitamin D. Supplementation could be necessary to bring your vitamin D up to healthy levels while you are on a diet or until you reach your healthy weight.
Micronutrients to support your health journey
While they are often ignored as part of the overarching solution for weight management, micronutrients play an important role in your journey.
No matter what type of diet pattern you follow, make sure you are eating enough of these critical vitamins or minerals to support your body and efforts to reach your goals. Supplementation with a multivitamin or specific nutrients can help you meet needs when lacking in the diet or if you need extra support for specific health conditions.
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