One of the most frequent questions I get asked by patients, family, and friends – are about nutrients. Specifically micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
Moreso I get a lot of questions regarding nutrients that are important, and possibly lost for certain diets – such as going vegan, gluten free, and even some nutrients that are really important when a woman is trying to get pregnant/is pregnant!
Have you had your iron today?
Iron is always a popular nutrient that’s brought up. Iron is a mineral, it is really important in our diet because iron is essential for the formation of red blood cells and plays a role in carrying oxygen to deliver to cells. In terms of diet, there are two types of iron: Heme & Non-Heme.
Heme iron sources include meat, fish, & poultry- heme sources of iron are the most readily absorbed in our bodies.
Have no fear veggies- there are plenty of plant foods that provide iron- these will be non-heme sources like: dried fruits, green leafy vegetables, most iron supplements, cereals that have been fortified with iron, beans/lentils, tofu
Heme iron is absorbed easier in our bodies, but have no fear veggie lovers – by including plenty of the non-heme sources I listed above you will never have to fear an iron deficiency, in fact if you’re trying to get more bang for your non-heme buck ,try to take your iron supplements with a cup of OJ, – vitamin C enhances our bodies’ absorption of iron.
Make sure it’s OJ and not a glass of milk! Calcium, tannins (found in tea), phytates (found in legumes, and whole grains) they make it more difficult for our body to absorb calcium. No that doesn’t mean milk is bad for you. It means if you’re taking an iron supplement don’t take it with a glass of milk.
Women do tend to require a little more iron than men do – for what should be obvious reasons – and require even more during pregnancy. Males require about 8-11 mg/day, females require anywhere from 8-18 mg/day depending on their age, and require about 27 mg/day during pregnancy.
Speaking of Calcium…..
Obviously calcium is well known for it’s role in bone health & bone structure.
Respectively your best sources of calcium will be: milk (1 cup), calcium fortified OJ, yogurt (1 cup), part skim cheese (1 oz), raw tofu (calcium precipitated). Other really good sources of calcium are going to be: almonds, kale, garbanzo beans, broccoli, kidney beans, and eggs.
Got greens? Got Folate.
Folate or folic acid is really important in our body, it functions as a coenzyme meaning it helps make a lot of important processes in our bodies possible. Deficiencies can lead to problems like anemia, inadequate DNA synthesis, & cell division, adequate intake during pregnancy and prior to conception has been shown to prevent neural tube defects in infants – which is why most cereals and breads are now fortified with folic acid.
Folic Acid is important to get when you’re pregnant, however it is very important to even start taking a folate supplement or a pre-natal vitamin upon trying to conceive – due to the fact that folic acid is the most needed during the 1st 6-8 weeks of pregnancy.
Folic acid is not a hard vitamin to get, however deficiency can be serious, deficiency typically comes from having a very poor diet, alcoholism, and sometimes as a result of stomach/GI surgeries or problems that cause people to not proprerly absorb vitmins. A true deficiency can lead to megaloblastic anemia, and in women who are pregnant – the infants can be born with neural tube defects (defects in the brain, and/or spinal cord/spine) from women who have low inakes of folate. Low intake of folate during pregnancy can also lead to low infant birthweight, preterm delivery, and learning disabilities.
Sources of folate will include (best sources listed first): beef liver//spinach (really any green leafy vegetable)//black eyed peas//fortified breakfast cereals.
Other good sources will include enriched grains (rices, pastas, breads), asparagus, brussels sprouts, green peas, and beans.
Both adult males and females need about 400 mcg (micrograms) of folic acid/day. Pregnant women require about 600 mcg, and lactating women require about 500 mcg.
1/2 cup black eyed peas = 105 mcg, and 1/2 cup boiled spinach = 131 mcg.
Last but not least I wanted to hit on B-12…”How youuuu doing B-12?” Ok I guess discuss it.
B-12 is super-duper important, it also has a special relationship with folate – getting adequate amount of both folate and B-12 are legit important. B-12 is ESSENTIAL for proper red blood cell formation, B-12 also works in similar fashion to folate in the sense that it helps facilitate a lot of things happening in our beautiful bods.
Deficiency can be common in people who: live a vegan lifestyle, elderly individuals, individuals who have had some type of GI surgery (bariatric surgery, stomach resections etc)- it can be common in these people but avoided.
Deficiency – for a prolonged period of time – can lead to pernicious anemia – a special kind of anemia hell- if untreated it can lead to neurological problems. It’s pretty serious, so you should probably make sure you’re getting enough B-12.
Adults really only need like 2.4 mcg a day, and pregnant women only need a minor increase to 2.6 mcg/day while pregnant/breastfeeding.
The best sources of B-12 are: in a nutshell animal products. Meats, milks, fish, seafood, eggs. This is why people who follow a vegan lifestyle can be at risk for deficiency.
Fortunately there are plenty of fortified cereals, soy milks, nutritional yeast, B-12 fortified meat substitutes. Many times supplementation is necessary, which is fine but I stand firmly by trying to be creative with juggling food selections to try to allow your body to absorb these micros from foods.
A very common theme that you may have notice crop up are the green leafy vegetables, and beans. I don’t like to throw around the term superfoods- but these foods are REALLY nutrient dense, and they are a jack of all trades in terms of the nutrients they contain- except B-12, which is unfortunate.
Stay tuned for more neat stuff from your truly. Remember to follow me on Twitter (@SarahJeanRD), Instagram (HalfRD_HalfHuman), and I’m somewhere on Pinterest.
Office of Dietary Supplements: myds.nih.gov
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