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Micronutrients: Why They’re Important for Gut Health and How to Get Enough of Them

Written by Gabrielle McGrath MS, RD of Baze

Your gut is literally and metaphorically at the core of your overall health. Playing a key role in immunity, stress, metabolism, and mental health to name a few, a healthy gut contributes to a healthy mind and body. 

As research on gut health expands, the recommendations for making improvements in this area will continue to as well. This piece will focus on two foundational aspects: vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids, and—with gut health and the low FODMAP diet in mind—how to get enough of them.

Essential nutrients for supporting your gut health

1.  B vitamins, iron, and vitamin C
Your digestive system craves B vitamins to help your body create red blood cells and gain energy from food, but it is primarily vitamin B12 that is helpful for boosting your gut health. Adequate levels of B12 and vitamin C aid in iron absorption as well. Your gut bacteria need iron to function effectively, and iron may also help your healthy gut bacteria to grow.
2.  Vitamin D
Vitamin D supports digestion, immunity, and helps with calcium absorption. 
3.  Selenium
Selenium protects the lining of your gut and enhances your gut’s response to inflammation. 
4.  Zinc
Zinc supports the production of digestive enzymes, which can reduce the risk for leaky gut syndrome
5.  Magnesium
As well as helping relax your muscles, balance your blood sugar levels, and cope with stress, magnesium can also minimize inflammation within your gut.
6.  Omega-3
Omega-3 essential fatty acids are helpful for supporting a normal anti-inflammatory response and cardiovascular health. These healthy fats may also increase the good bacteria in your gut.

Sometimes, it’s hard to get enough micronutrients 

While it’s clear that micronutrients play collaborative roles in supporting gut health, many Americans fall short on the recommended intake for essential vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids. There’s a wide range of reasons as to why this is the case; this piece focuses on the role of diet and medical conditions, particuarly gut health, in suboptimal micronutrient intake.

Diet

For many, this is due to the standard American diet, which tends to be higher in saturated fats, added sugars, and refined grains and lower in fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, and healthy fats. For others, fad diets which tend to be more restrictive and/or lower in calories play a role, leading to lower nutrient intake.

Medical conditions

Certain medical conditions place people at greater risk of not getting enough micronutrients. This can be due to the medical condition itself playing a role. Certain GI conditions such as Crohn’s, for example, increase the risk of impaired nutrient absorption within the gastrointestinal tract. Certain medications, like metformin for diabetes, increase the risk of vitamin B12 deficiency because of changes within the gut, which can impact B12 absorption. Finally, specific diets aimed to support managing a medical condition may also inherently be more restrictive and lead to a lower nutrient intake. 

One special diet, where that could potentially be the case is the Low FODMAP diet, if not followed correctly. A recent study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showed that the “mean daily intake of most micronutrients remained stable and within recommended allowances” for patients on a Low FODMAP diet. And, it is very possible to meet micronutrient needs on a low FODMAP diet that is not over-restrictive and includes a variety of foods, including proteins. However, without the proper guidance from a healthcare provider and/or dietitian, it could inadvertently cause suboptimal micronutrient intake due to when not followed correctly.

Low FODMAP Diet

The Low FODMAP Diet is often recommended by health professionals to those struggling with gut health issues and/or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). 

FODMAPs are a collection of short-chain carbohydrates that aren’t absorbed properly in the gut, which can trigger symptoms in people with IBS. FODMAPs are found naturally in many common foods and additives such as wheat, apples, pears, onion, garlic, honey, agave syrup, sugar free gum, mints, and some medicines. 

Research has shown that a low FODMAP diet protocol can improve gastrointestinal symptoms such as gas and bloating. Most people aren’t sensitive to all categories of FODMAPs so it’s crucial to find your specific FODMAP trigger foods so you can successfully manage your IBS symptoms for good.

The Low FODMAP program is based on Monash University’s research, which indicates that approximately 75% of people will feel better after completing a low FODMAP protocol. The program generally takes 8 weeks and consists of 3 phases:

  1. Elimination
  2. Reintroduction
  3. Personalization

The goal is to learn what your trigger foods are so you can take back your life and eat confidently without fear of triggering your IBS symptoms.

Nutrients of concern on a low FODMAP diet

7 nutrients, in particular, can be more difficult to get enough of when following a low FODMAP protocol, which is why this diet should be completed with a trained dietitian to ensure that you are not eliminating more foods than necessary. This service is available through ModifyHealth, where they not only provide you with delicious and convenient low FODMAP meals but they also provide you with guidance from specialty-trained registered dietitians.

  1. Vitamin A
  2. Vitamin B12
  3. Vitamin D
  4. Magnesium
  5. Calcium
  6. Fiber
  7. Iron

While the Low FODMAP diet may increase your risk for suboptimal nutrient intake or nutrient deficiencies when not followed properly or in the case over over-restriction, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t follow it. Awareness is key! Keep reading for a list of low FODMAP foods and ready-to-eat meals that are high in the nutrients listed above as well as micronutrient testing and supplement solutions to cover all the bases.

Nutrient-dense low FODMAP foods 

Gut-balancing food sources
Cultured beverages, cultured foods, bone broth, fermented foods, unprocessed foods, fiber-rich foods, healthy fats, prebiotics, and probiotics

Vitamin A
Arugula, bok choy, cabbage, kale, bell peppers, butternut squash, and sweet potatoes.

Vitamin B12
Plain meat not seasoned with high FODMAP ingredients, poultry, fish, eggs, sardines, dairy-based lactose-free milk, dairy-based cheese, nutritional yeast, tempeh, and fortified almond or soy milk.

Vitamin D
Mushrooms, fatty fish, egg yolks, beef liver, fortified tofu, cheese, and fortified milk, cereal or juices. Choose low FODMAP versions of these when appropriate.

Magnesium
Lentils, chickpeas, nuts, seeds, potatoes, unripe bananas, broccoli, quinoa, and brown rice.

Calcium
Lactose-free milk, rice milk, soy milk, almond milk, cottage cheese, feta cheese, mozzarella cheese, swiss cheese, greek yogurt, and lactose-free yogurt.

Insoluble fiber
Almonds, brazil nuts, pecans, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, potatoes with skin, carrot with skin, cucumber, lentils, kale, eggplant, brown rice, amaranth, quinoa.

Soluble fiber
Strawberries, raspberries, kiwi fruit, firm bananas, avocado, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, oats, and white rice.

Resistant starch
Firm bananas, lentils, and oats.

Iron
Beef, lamb, veal, pork, bacon, eggs, chicken, fish, ham, lentils, firm tofu, spinach, kale, almonds, oats, quinoa, and brown rice.

How to ensure you’re meeting your needs on a Low FODMAP diet 

Meals and foods selected just for you 

ModifyHealth provides fresh, delicious, fully-prepared, low-FODMAP & gluten-free meals delivered to your door. Optional GI-trained dietitian support is available to help you learn your trigger foods and gain ongoing control of your digestive health.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Select your plan
  2. Schedule a consultation with a ModifyHealth dietitian (optional)
  3. Enjoy your meals and gain relief
  4. Learn your trigger foods and control your symptoms
  5. Continue to enjoy low-FODMAP meals when desired for convenience and to maintain ongoing control over your symptoms

Nutrient testing and supplementation 

Baze provides at-home blood nutrient testing so you can be aware of what micronutrients you are suboptimal or deficient in and take action to bring your blood nutrient levels into an optimal range.



Here’s how it works: 

  1. Purchase a Baze Nutrient Test Kit and have it delivered to your door
  2. Complete the simple Nutrient Test in the comfort of your own home 
  3. Mail it back to our certified lab and receive an in-depth Nutrient Report, which shows you what essential nutrients you are optimal, suboptimal, or deficient in
  4. Subscribe to monthly personalized supplements catered to your body’s needs 

References:

  1. https://www.monashfodmap.com/about-fodmap-and-ibs/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25415497
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4260394/ 
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4260394/ 
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5751248/