Health Q&A

Healthy Eating: Get All The Vital Nutrients Your Body Needs

May 2, 2018

There are essential micronutrients that your body needs. These serve as building blocks for growth, development and a healthy immune system, so healthy eating plays a vital role in providing you with all the vital nutrients your body needs to function properly.

Most of these micronutrients are not produced naturally so it’s essential that you ensure you get a regular supply of the vitamins and minerals you need with a healthy diet or supplements that will keep you in the best of health.  Failing which, you could put yourself at risk for developing a nutrient deficiency that can lead to long-term effects like osteoporosis or anaemia.

Vitamins & minerals – what’s the difference?

Vitamins are organic compounds found in natural sources like fruit and vegetables while minerals are inorganic compounds found in natural resources like soil and these transfer into natural sources during plant growth.

What is a nutrient deficiency – should I be taking supplements?

A nutrient deficiency occurs when your body has an inadequate supply of, or is unable to absorb the required amount of, a certain vitamin or mineral needed for specific biological processes. This can happen due to poor diet, medications that inhibit the absorption or breakdown of nutrients (like laxatives) or certain medical circumstances and conditions like menopause.

A calcium deficiency will, for instance, compromise your bone health by leading to poor bone mineral density that may result in osteoporosis later in life. An iron deficiency can lead to anaemia and a vitamin D deficiency can compromise your body’s ability to absorb calcium and could increase your risk of developing a weak immune system.

Everyone is unique when it comes to their body’s ideal micronutrient requirements. You may require more of a certain vitamin or mineral based on the fact that you participate in a particular sport, are pregnant, menstruating or have a medical condition like diabetes.

If you feel that you may need to take vitamin or mineral supplements, consult with a medical doctor, dietician or nutritionist to determine what will be best for you.

Lucky 13 for healthy body, bones & brain

There are 13 essential vitamins that your body needs, albeit in small quantities. These are either water soluble or fat soluble. Water soluble vitamins like C and B are absorbed directly into the bloodstream and are used immediately with the excess being excreted out of the body in your urine. So it’s necessary to consume these vitamins daily for best health.

Fat soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K gain entry into the blood via lymph channels in the intestinal wall and are stored in the body’s fatty tissues so don’t have to be consumed quite as frequently.

1. Vitamin A is needed for the growth and maintenance of healthy skin, hair, nails, eyes, teeth and glands. Sources: cheese, eggs, oily fish, fortified milk and yoghurt.

2. Vitamin C is an antioxidant needed for protecting and keeping cells healthy, healing wounds and facilitating the absorption of iron. Sources: citrus fruit, peppers, potatoes, fresh berries and leafy green vegetables.

3. Vitamin D is needed to absorb and maintain appropriate levels of phosphorus and calcium in the blood for bone, teeth and muscle health. Sources: sunshine, oily fish, red meat, eggs and fortified cereals.

4. Vitamin E is an antioxidant used to repair damaged cells, protect the body from free radicals and strengthen the immune system. Sources: vegetable oils, nuts, seeds and fortified cereals

5. Vitamin K is essential for healthy bones and blood clotting. Sources: vegetables like spinach and broccoli, plant oils, nuts, seeds and soya products.

6. Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) is needed for metabolic and digestive functioning; and maintaining a healthy nervous system. Sources: meat, oily fish, vegetables like asparagus and squash, fruit, whole grains and fortified cereals.

7. Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) is needed for energy, metabolism and healthy skin. Sources: fortified milk and cereals, eggs and grains like brown rice.

8. Vitamin B3 (Niacin) is needed for energy metabolism and can lower cholesterol level. Sources: meat, oily fish, eggs and fortified milk.

9. Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid) is needed for energy, metabolism, normalising blood sugar levels and assisting in the synthesis of antibodies and hormones. Sources: nuts, seeds, avocados, vegetables like broccoli and oily fish.

10. Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) assists with the production of red blood cells, maintains brain functioning and supports protein synthesis. Sources: lean meat like chicken, oily fish, whole cereals like oatmeal, eggs, soya products, nuts, fortified milk and potatoes.

11. Vitamin B7 (Biotin) metabolises proteins and carbohydrates; and assists with the production of hormones. Sources: egg yolks, whole grains and nuts.

12. Vitamin B9 (Folate or Folic acid) assists with the formation of red blood cells and the synthesis of DNA  that controls tissue growth and cell function. Sources: organ meat like liver, avocado, fortified cereals and vegetables like asparagus.

13. Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) assists with metabolism, red blood cell production and maintaining the central nervous system Sources: meat, oily fish, dairy, eggs and fortified cereals.

Mineral goodness

Some of the major minerals are calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium. There are also trace elements like iodine and zinc that are important, in small quantities, for good health.

1. Calcium is one of the most important minerals for bone health and is also needed for blood clotting and wound healing. Sources: it’s found in dairy like milk, yoghurt and cheese as well as leafy green vegetables, soya products, fortified cereals and juices; and fish with bones like sardines.

2. Iron assists in red blood cell production and metabolism as it is a proponent of some proteins  and enzymes.  Sources: iron is found in red meat, legumes, nuts, whole grains, fortified cereals and vegetables.

3. Potassium is an electrolyte  controlling muscle contraction, heart functioning, the transmission of nerve signals and converting carbohydrates into energy.  Sources: it’s found in fruit like bananas, vegetables, pulses, potatoes, nuts and seeds.

4. Magnesium is needed to facilitate the body’s chemical reactions. This includes responses that control blood glucose levels and blood pressure. It’s also essential for healthy muscle, nerve and brain functioning, energy, metabolism and protein production. Sources: legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains.

You are what you eat & how you eat it

Following a healthy, balanced diet which includes all the major food groups is the best way to ensure that you get your recommended intake of essential micronutrients. Nature’s bounty is a storehouse of goodness when it comes to vitamins and minerals.

Take care though, not to let those nutrients go down the drain when you’re cooking.

Cooking can alter the nutritional value of food. In some instances cooking can improve the digestion (and certainly the taste) of certain foods but can also compromise the value of the essential vitamins and minerals.

Steaming is one of the healthiest cooking options especially for water soluble vitamins that can leach out during cooking.

Some helpful hints when it comes to preserving nutrients is to cook for as short a recommended period as possible so that the nutrients are not lost, compromised or degraded during the cooking process.

Try to use as little water as possible when boiling and consume this water as it’s packed with nutritional goodness. When it comes to roasting, baking or grilling meat make sure to use the juices that drip out as a gravy or jus as these are also high in nutritional value. Avoid peeling vegetables until they are cooked as this helps to keep the nutrients from leaching out when cooking. And whenever possible, opt for raw food.

At Topmed we recommend following a healthy lifestyle to ensure that you are in the best of health. Part of this involves taking care of your diet. If you have any medical concerns or questions then get in touch with us today and sign-up for cover for you and your family.

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