It’s no secret that eating well is essential for staying active and productive. Since September is Healthy Aging Month, Fruit & Veggies Month, Whole Grains Month and National Cholesterol Education Month, I thought it would be a perfect time to share a little review of the best whole food sources (e.g. better for you than pills) for the key nutrients that can keep you active and as productive as you want to be!
Some of the most common vitamin and mineral deficiencies include vitamin D, as spending less time outdoors means the body synthesizes less vitamin D through sunlight. Additionally, many people consume less milk and other fortified dairy products due to lactose intolerance. A couple of ideas for increasing your vitamin D intake include herring, which is an excellent sources of this important vitamin, and salmon, also a terrific source. That’s because the richest sources of D are fish liver oils. Cereals are often fortified with vitamin D as well.
B vitamins are an important for converting food to energy in the body. Folate, vitamin B6 and B12 are found in foods of animal origin, like meat, fish and dairy, and are water-soluble. These tend not to be stored in appreciable amounts, which makes their regular consumption a necessity. The greatest concentration of B6 is in meats, whole grains (especially wheat), vegetables and nuts. Turn to liver as a meat source for B6 (but mind your portions as organ meats are a concentrated source of cholesterol), and oatmeal, which is also a superior source. Bananas, white meat chicken, potatoes and avocado are also good. The richest sources of vitamin B12 are liver, kidneys, canned clams and oysters. Dietary folates are absorbed as folic acid, and folate is essential for the formation of both red and white blood cells. You’ll find black-eyed peas, white beans, spinach are all good sources, as are lentils and raisins.
The antioxidants, vitamins A, C, E and Selenium are important for preventing injury to cells and tissues of the body, most importantly the heart. High antioxidant intake has been shown to reduce your risk of heart disease, cancers and cataracts. Very high concentrations of vitamin A occur in cod and halibut, as well as nonfat milk, and dark leafy and yellow-orange vegetables and fruit. In much of the world, carotenoids supply most dietary vitamin A. The deeper colors are generally associated with higher carotenoid levels. Try sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, winter squashes and cantaloupes for great sources of vitamin A, and citrus fruits, bell peppers, strawberries and tomatoes for vitamin C.
Vitamin E is found primarily in plant products, the richest sources being oils. Wheat germ oil is an especially concentrated source, so sprinkling a tablespoonful into your breakfast oatmeal or your morning smoothie are great ways of getting some into your diet naturally. You can also make your salad dressings with vitamin E rich oils, like sunflower oil. Selenium is found in whole grains and poultry, but if you like Brazil nuts – there’s great news! They are one of the single best sources, and so delicious. Mind the portion, though, as they are a concentrated source of calories.
Iron and Zinc are two important minerals that are commonly deficient in older adults. Iron can be problematic because of reduced stomach acid secretion, antacid and other medications that can interfere with absorption. Beef up your nutritional profile (did you get that pun???) with heme (animal) sources of iron found in red meats, dark leafy greens – or up your intake of beans, baked potatoes, and spinach. Add in a good source of vitamin C to your plant iron sources, as the body will take up three times more iron from those plant iron sources. People of all ages use iron for normal functioning, but be mindful of supplementation, as an excess intake may have adverse effects involving the cardiovascular system. That’s why I’m advocating eating natural foods that contain iron and zinc, which also occurs naturally in red meats and poultry. Again, oysters come up on top – this time, as sources of zinc.
Is your menu full? Do you have a good source of calcium? Adequate calcium intake is imperative for preventing bone mineral loss and the development of osteoporosis, for both men and women. The best sources of calcium are dairy foods, tofu, beans and green leafy vegetables, and our systems absorb calcium best in the presence of stomach acid, so start your day with this important mineral for best results.