Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies: Are You Starving Your Body?

Pamela Egan Practical Practitioner


By: Pamela Egan, FNP-C CDE



Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies: Are You Starving Your Body?



Research has consistently shown that fresh foods are usually our best source of valuable nutrients. Processed foods have deprived us of getting the necessary nutrients from our diet.

Most people don’t realize that choosing the right foods and food combinations allow you to consume these vital nutrients in a form that is most bio-available, meaning the food components are efficiently digested, absorbed and assimilated.

To maximize the bioavailability of nutrients in your food consider the following strategies. Iron is a mineral that is critical for brain function and helps your immune system function normally by increasing your resistance to stress and disease. Iron can help you avoid symptoms of fatigue, weakness, and irritability. Plant foods are rarely a good source of iron. For example, the fiber and plant chemicals in the spinach leaf bind to iron, inhibiting the mineral’s bioavailability. Meat, liver, beef, dark meat turkey, are the best sources of iron. Tofu and seafood are also rich in iron.

Zinc is a mineral that is essential for a healthy immune system. It is highly bio-available in red meat, though some zinc also is found in nuts (almonds and walnuts). Poultry is another good source of zinc. Oysters are one of the richest sources of zinc.

Up to 75% of Americans are deficient in Magnesium which is needed for heart health, strong bones and blood sugar control. Vegetables are among the richest sources of magnesium. Eat raw or lightly steamed vegetables.

Sardines are an often overlooked source of calcium. Green, leafy vegetables do not provide ample amounts of the mineral in a bio-available form.

Dairy foods remain the best regular source of calcium. 1% or 2% Milk is a good choice, however, skim milk is not recommended because the fat-soluble vitamins, such as Vitamin D, have been diminished when you remove all the fat from milk.

The best means of achieving ideal Vitamin D intake is to have direct sun exposure to skin. Humans covert the sunlight into the most bioavailable form of the nutrient, Vitamin D3. Most Vitamin D supplements contain the inferior Vitamin D2, which is not nearly as bioavailable or effective as is D3.

Selenium is the best cancer fighting mineral in the soil in which plants are grown. Soil contains adequate levels of selenium, so products made from whole-grain wheat, are generally good sources of selenium. If you are at increased risk for cancer, consider taking 50 mcg to 200 mcg selenium supplement.

More than 600 nutritious plant compounds known as Carotenoids can be found in vegetables and fruits. Lycopene, found in tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit, may help prevent prostate cancer and lutein and zeaxanthin, found in dark green, leafy vegetables and corn, may help prevent and treat macular degeneration. This disease is the leading cause of vision loss in people over age 65.

Carotenoids are fat-soluble nutrients (they require some amount of dietary fat for optimal absorption), consume carotenoid-rich foods with olive oil or other healthful fat sources.

Protein such as meat, poultry, fish and eggs are among the best sources of protein. Aim for 50 g to 120 g of protein daily (one-half of a salmon fillet contains 42 grams, one-half of a chicken breast contains 27 grams, three ounces of top sirloin contains 25 grams). For a convenient protein source that lasts for several days, roast a turkey breast or chicken in an oven, slice it up and use it during the week. One scoop of whey protein powder is an excellent source of protein derived from milk. If you are allergic to whey protein consider soy powder.

If you eat a vegan diet (no animal products of any kind), take a multivitamin as nutritional insurance. Plant-based diets do not contain adequate amounts of all nutrients.


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