Authors: Registered Dietitians
(HealthCastle.com) Conventional dietary wisdom suggests that by following a ‘healthy diet’ you’ll get all the nutrients you need to lead a healthy life while greatly reducing the risk for chronic disease. That is, in essence, true. In a perfect world you’d not only get the 45 or so nutrients you need every day, but in amounts known to reduce the risk for poor health and degenerative diseases.
Nowadays, this is the exception and not the rule.
Why? You know why; refined foods, nutrient-poor soils, fast food, processed foods and the like. About one-third of our calories come from ‘junk food’ so we are sadly missing the mark. It’s true, by following Canada’s Food Guide most of the time, you can avoid glaring clinical deficiencies, but if you’re like me, you want to do more than just get a passing grade. With research pouring in everyday, the following five nutrients are a must have for anyone looking to improve their long term health.
Anyone who knows me or follows me on Facebook or Twitter, or who used to get my newsletter or puts up with my nutritional jibber-jabber in general, knows I harbour a less than secret love for this superhero nutrient. Technically not a vitamin but rather a pro-hormone, vitamin D has at least 2700 binding sites on our DNA, near genes that are linked with almost every known chronic and degenerative disease. The list seemingly goes on and on. Year-round higher blood levels (i.e.. 100-125 nmol, with some experts suggesting up 150 nmol versus the average 50-60 nmol of most Canadians) are proving to reduce the risk for many ailments of the civilized world: 20+ cancers, periodontal disease, MS, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, dementia, macular degeneration, depression, rheumatoid arthritis, autism, colds, influenza, fractures, osteoporosis and more.
The problem is that most of us are not getting what nature has provided; vitamin D production via the action of UVB light from the sun. Also, there are virtually no significant natural food sources save fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines or herring and I’m guessing that most of you aren’t gonna eat 6-7 oz of fish everyday to try and get your vitamin D. Even if you wanted to try, you’d only get about 600-800 IU from that valiant attempt.
The answer? Supplements. Most adults need 3000-5000 IU. This amount is perfectly safe, and a healthy body will use this amount daily if it was available; an unhealthy body uses more. Keep in mind that all people, given ideal conditions, can make up to 10,000+ IUs daily. Worried about toxicity? Don't be, studies have clearly shown that you'd have to take 20,000-40,000 IUs everyday for 6 months of more before that started to happen. Be sure to take your vitamin D with a fat-containing meal. For more information, check out The Vitamin D Council and Grassroots Health.
Like all vitamins and minerals, magnesium wears many hats. Think about it, our complex bodies of some 100 trillion cells runs on some 15 vitamins and 15 minerals. Magnesium is no exception, it’s involved in about 350 metabolic pathways. Getting enough magnesium used to be easy. The estimated average intake in the early 1900s was about 500 mg per day, an amount that science is now finding to be the sweet spot but sadly, most of us are only getting about 200-250 mg per day; enter cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, poor energy levels, migraines and vascular calcification (without enough magnesium, and vitamin D for that matter, calcium gets dumped into our blood vessels).
The answer? Include nuts, seeds, 100% whole & intact grains, 85% dark chocolate, dark green leafy vegetables, fish, pulses [chickpeas, lentils, dried peas & beans] and a good supplement like Natural Calm, providing an extra 200-300 mg per day as needed. For more information, check out Nutritional Magnesium Association.
A long forgotten nutrient for most of us after table salt was iodized as a public health measure to prevent goiter, but like many nutrient deficiencies of the past (vitamin D and rickets, vitamin C and scurvy), iodine and goiter are starting to be seen again. Your thyroid needs iodine to produce hormones that drive your metabolism. There's also robust evidence that iodine can help to reduce the risk of both breast and prostate cancer too. With the anti-sodium fervor, many have given up using table salt in cooking and at the table. You might be thinking ‘what about all the sodium in processed foods?’, that sodium is not iodized. Turns out most of us are getting less than half of the minimum recommended 150 mcg we need everyday. Some research suggests that optimal intakes may be as high as 450 mcg per day. To put this into perspective, cultures where seaweeds are a staple can have intakes as high as 5000 mcg per day without any ill effects.
The answer? Continue to reduce your sodium intake from processed foods, but don't throw out the iodized table salt; use it in cooking and at the table (the pinch of table salt is not the problem). Ensure you take a good multivitamin that contains iodine, include iodine-rich foods if you can such as sea vegetables like kelp, dulse, hijiki, and nori. You can buy kelp tablets or dried sea vegetable powders for cooking and smoothies if the lot of sea vegetables turns you off. Learn more about iodine.
Once upon a time, we used to get loads of potassium. In fact, our kidneys are well suited to get rid of extra potassium and hold onto sodium because
potassium was so abundant in our diet and sodium was scarce before the onslaught of processed foods. The result is an increase in blood pressure and calcium loss from our bones. Potassium’s importance is so well recognized that the Institute of Medicine now has a formal recommendation of 4700 mg per day. More important than just reducing one's sodium intake is the
ratio of potassium to sodium: we need to get about 5x as much potassium.
The answer? Not surprisingly, more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and pulses [chickpeas, lentils, dried peas & beans]. One medium avocado: 800-1000 mg, one medium banana: 400 mg, one cup of skim milk yogurt: 425 mg, one cup of low-sodium garden cocktail: 700 mg, one-half cup of kidney beans: 350 mg, one mango: 325 mg, 3 oz halibut: 500 mg. More food sources of potassium.
Vitamin B12 is super crucial to reduce the risk for many problems such as neuropathy (the loss of feeling in the hands and limbs), pernicious anemia,
dementia and brain shrinkage. It is need for red blood cell production and keeping homocysteine low (high homocysteine increases the risk for heart disease). Vitamin B12 deficiency is quite common, risk factors include: being over the age of 50 (due to a decreased ability to absorb it), surgeries where part of the stomach has been removed, diseases of the small intestines such as celiac, or Crohn’s, ulcers, parasites, excessive alcohol intake, auto-immune diseases like lupus or Grave’s or the common use of antacids drugs like proton-pump inhibitors (Prevacid) or H2 antagonists like Zantac. While the required amount of is a
mere 2.4mcg (i.e.. hardly any), not getting enough has dire consequences.
The answer? Eat more vitamin B12-rich foods like beef, pork, lamb, chicken, liver or oysters and clams and fortified foods, most commonly cereals, take a multivitamin (especially if you fit the bill for any of the risk factors above), or an individual B12 supplement. While B12 is poorly absorbed from supplements, making toxicity essentially non-existent, they are still an effective way to prevent, or treat deficiencies. Try to get the best form: methylcoboalamin. Some individuals may need B12 shots from their doctor. Get more vitamin B12 facts.