I am talking about vitamins and minerals. (Oye! what did you think?)
You may be a health freak or a fast food junkie or yo-yo-ing between the two states (as I often tend to do). And am sure you sometimes worry about whether your food is supplying you with all the vitamins and minerals you need. If you live on fast food, you probably have someone or other telling you to eat healthy.
There was a time in my life, when I used to regularly have one huge veg burger and a cola packed with ice for lunch. Luckily I managed to balance it off during other meal times. Even if you are the sort who sticks to a proper diet of fruits, veg, whole grains and zero trans-fats, don’t be surprised to discover a vitamin deficiency.
According to doctors, practically every one can handle some extra Vitamin D, E and calcium. As far as women are concerned, statistics show that they do not get adequate quantities of these and folic acid.
So let us take a look at the essential vitamins and minerals we need, why we need them, some rich sources and how to take action.
Here we go!
We need it for building strong bones and teeth, preventing or treating high blood pressure and relieving PMS. Deficiencies can result in osteoporosis or weak and brittle bones.
Sources for Calcium are milk and dairy products (yogurt, cheese) broccoli, dark green leafy vegetables, soy products and calcium-fortified foods.
Take action: Try and get at least three servings of Calcium rich foods every day. Go for fat-free or low-fat options to avoid raising your cholesterol levels. Add leafy greens in your diet.
Vitamin D always makes me think of that sad looking child with rickets in my school text book. We need Vitamin D to help absorb calcium and balance calcium and phosphorus levels in our blood. This strengthens our bones and teeth. Deficiencies can cause rickets, where the bones become soft and deformed. Vitamin D also makes the immune system stronger.
Good sources for Vitamin D are eggs, oily fish (salmon), liver, fortified milk, dairy products, fortified cereals and orange juice.
According to research, you have to include fortified foods to get enough Vitamin D in your diet. Check with your doc about a supplement. Getting scorched in the sun won’t help.
This is a mineral that not only helps keep the bones and teeth strong, but also plays a big role in the biochemical processes in our body. It helps maintain muscle and soft tissue health. It also stabilizes blood pressure and regulates blood sugar levels while metabolizing carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
Get Magnesium from spinach and other green vegetables, legumes like beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, bananas and (drumroll!) chocolate. Yum!
One usually gets adequate amounts of magnesium from the daily diet. Supplementation is usually recommended only if you have a health condition that keeps you from getting enough.
We need Phosphorus to keep teeth and bones strong, metabolize carbs, fats and proteins. Phosphorus also helps in the functioning of enzymes and vitamin B.
Phosphorus is present in high protein foods like meat, fish, poultry, eggs, legumes, nuts, milk, cheese and other dairy products. You are probably getting enough phosphorus through your diet, if you are eating healthy.
Iron is responsible for enabling the red blood cells transport oxygen to different parts of our body. When you have an iron deficiency, it develops into anemia which causes weakness, exhaustion and dizziness. This is quite common.
Foods rich in iron are meat, pork, fish, shellfish, poultry, lentils, beans, soy, leafy green vegetables, raisins and fortified flours, cereals and grain products.
Iron deficiency anemia is not sexy. If you face the risk, see your doctor. Now. Do not self-medicate with an iron supplement.
We need Vitamin A for cell growth and development, healthy skin, good vision and building a strong immune system.
You can get Vitamin A from milk, eggs, liver and fortified cereals. Since our body converts beta-carotene into Vitamin A, get your beta-carotene from orange and yellow fruits and vegetables. Examples are apricots, peaches, papayas and mangos, carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkins, spinach, etc.
Make sure you get lots of dark green and orange vegetables and fruits in your diet so that your body gets enough Vitamin A.
Vitamin B Complex
The vitamin B complex has eight water soluble vitamins that work together to boost metabolism, enhance the immune system and nervous system, keep the skin and muscles healthy, and stimulate cell growth and division, and other benefits to your body. B complex also keeps your skin, eyes, nails and hair healthy. Folic Acid or B9 is a critical vitamin that prevents neural tube defects in the fetus, which is why women are advised to get enough during pregnancy. Vitamin C helps reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.
Great sources of Vitamin B are meat, fish, eggs, dried beans, soy products, peas, whole grains and enriched bread and cereals, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, banana, nuts, berries, tomatoes, orange juice, grapefruit. (I think that just about covers almost everything!)
It is best (and easiest) to get Vitamin C from your food since you will also be absorbing antioxidants and other nutrients at the same time. If you are a smoker, talk to a doc about taking supplements. Or just kick the butt, the cigarette butt.
We need zinc to metabolize carbs, fats, protein and alcohol, for DNA and RNA synthesis, for insulin and sperm health, to keep the immune system strong and help growth and development throughout life. Zinc controls sexual potency in men and sexual response in women.
Zinc is available from oysters, meat, poultry, legumes, yogurt and whole grains. The best source of zinc is via food. And overdose can cause gastrointestinal problems. Don’t take a supplement without your doctor’s advice as this can screw up the mineral balance in your body.
We are done with the vitamins and minerals. But I might as well sneak in a word about Omega-3 fatty acids, which are part of the critical nutrient list. We need these to control inflammation in the body and reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer and arthritis. Pregnant women need Omega-3s for normal fetal growth. Omega-3s guards our brain as we age. You can get this from fish, fish oil, fortified milk, yogurt, canola, olive oil, flaxseeds and walnuts. You need at least three servings a week.
The bottom line
Just make sure you follow this mantra:
- eat healthy,
- get enough physical exercise and
- sufficient sleep.