What Your Diet May Be Missing
Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD
Research suggests many of us come up short for six important nutrients—vitamins A, C, D, and E, calcium and magnesium—in our diets. Along with a balanced eating plan, a complete multivitamin helps to fulfill vitamin and mineral needs. Here’s why you should make these six, and others, part of your healthy lifestyle.
Vitamin D plays a role in helping the body to absorb and use calcium to support bone health, and for other functions. It also plays a role in cell function, as well as your nervous and immune systems.
Your body makes vitamin D, starting when skin is exposed to strong Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays from the sun. However, it’s virtually impossible for many people to make enough vitamin D for a variety of reasons, ranging from necessary sun exposure and overall aging.
Over 90% of us don’t get enough vitamin D from food alone. That’s really no surprise when you consider how difficult it is to get adequate vitamin D from food. Choices such as salmon, tuna, and milk supply vitamin D, but few people consume enough of these foods on a regular basis, or would need to consume large quantities to meet their vitamin D needs. For example, it takes six 8oz glasses of vitamin D-added milk to satisfy most adults’ daily requirement. It’s more reasonable to get the vitamin D you need with a combination of food and a complete dietary supplement that includes vitamin D.
Calcium supports skeletal strength by serving as the major structural component of bones, yet over 40% of adults in the U.S. fall short on their calcium intake. While nearly all of the body’s calcium resides in bones, the small amount found in the bloodstream and in soft tissues is extremely important because it helps to maintain normal heart rhythm, normal muscle contraction, and efficient communication among nerve cells. If there isn’t enough calcium available, the body borrows calcium from bones to maintain levels in the blood and soft tissues. Consuming adequate calcium every day helps maintain bone calcium levels and may reduce the risk of osteoporosis, a disorder characterized fragile bones that are prone to fracture. Yogurt, milk, cheese, and fortified soy milk or orange juice are excellent calcium sources.
As you age, your body absorbs calcium less efficiently and you need more of the mineral from food, supplements, or both. Women under the age of 50, and men ages 19 to 70, need three dairy servings (or 1000mg) to satisfy calcium needs. Women over age 50 and men over age 70 need four servings daily (or 1200mg).
Magnesium doesn’t generate much buzz, but it’s a nutrient workhorse. Your body relies on magnesium for more than 300 reactions that include supporting the body to make proteins, produce energy, metabolize carbohydrates, maintain normal nerve cell communication, support muscle contraction, and support a regular heart rhythm. Like calcium, magnesium contributes to bone strength; about 50% of the magnesium in your body is in bone tissue. Some scientific evidence suggests that magnesium deficiency may be a risk factor for osteoporosis after menopause. More than half of Americans (52%) don’t get the magnesium we need, probably because we don’t eat adequate amounts of plant foods such as spinach, black beans, and avocado.
Vitamin A is found in everyday foods such as fortified milk and cereal, eggs, salmon, and tuna, yet over 40% of Americans don’t get enough of it on a regular basis. Vitamin A supports eye health by accumulating in the retina, which is responsible for transmitting images to the brain, and helping to make it possible to see in low light. Vitamin A is also supports immune function, as it maintains the integrity of skin, and the linings of the digestive system, urinary tract, and lungs, to help prevent germs from entering your body. In addition, vitamin A plays a role in developing and activating white blood cells, which help prevent or destroy harmful bacteria and viruses, and is necessary for reproduction.
Here’s a little known fact about Vitamin C: it helps support the formation of collagen , a structural component of blood vessels, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, bone, and skin. Vitamin C’s more well-known function is its role in immunity support – its antioxidant abilities play a role in the protection of white blood cells from damage, and vitamin C may also stimulate the production and function of white blood cells.
Almost 90% of Americans fall short of vitamin E – your “cellular bodyguard”. It functions primarily as an antioxidant to protect cells from damage due to normal daily metabolism and from exposure to pollution, UVB rays, and cigarette smoke. Vitamin E supports heart and brain health as well as immune function. Top vitamin E sources include wheat germ oil, sunflower seeds, almonds, sunflower oil, and hazelnuts.
Now you know how vitamins A, C, D, and E, calcium, and magnesium support health, and how often most of us come up short for these 6 important vitamins and minerals. You’re making efforts to live healthy, and there’s always room for improvement! In addition to a balanced diet, a complete multivitamin helps you fill in gaps for these vital nutrients, along with many others, and helps you feel your best.
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