Top 10 Vitamins and Minerals Women Need

August 10th, 2007

With trends in vitamin and mineral supplements changing in time with the hippest hem lengths, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by — not to mention skeptical of — the nutritional advice you hear on the evening news. And since recent studies have shown that taking certain vitamin supplements might even be bad for you, it’s best to play it safe.

Instead of depending on a pill for your nutritional needs, focus on good food sources.

“For ultimate health, you need food, glorious food,” says Liz Pearson, a registered dietitian and coauthor of Ultimate Foods for Ultimate Health (Whitecap Books, 2007). “The complex, disease-protective power of nutrient-rich, fibre-rich, omega-3-rich, antioxidant-rich and plant-compound rich foods like vegetables, fruit, beans, fish, flax, nuts and whole grains just can’t be beat.”

Here are 10 vitamins and minerals women need to deliver a health boost.

1. Iron

“Most women,” says Pearson, “especially pre-menopausal women, don’t get enough iron.” Red meat is a great source of this essential mineral; however, she recommends limiting your intake to two to three servings per week, since high red meat intake is linked to a higher risk of colon cancer and possibly breast cancer.

Limit your portion sizes, suggests Pearson, opt for leaner cuts and choose fresh meat over processed. Other good sources of iron include fortified cereals, whole grains, dried fruits, nuts and seeds. And by combining these foods with ingredients that are high in vitamin C, your body will best be able to absorb the iron.

2. Vitamin D

While vitamin D deficiency has long been known as a cause of the childhood disease rickets, this vitamin made news recently as an essential nutrient for cancer prevention, osteoporosis and other diseases as well. And in northern countries like Canada, it’s not always easy to get enough vitamin D from sunlight alone. “The majority of adults don’t meet recommended intakes for vitamin D,” says Pearson. So in addition to daily unprotected exposure to sunlight (15 minutes is usually recommended — the Canadian Cancer Society offers recommendations on its website), include food sources of vitamin D in your diet, including vitamin D-fortified milk and milk substitutes, fatty fish such as salmon, and vitamin D-fortified yogurt (note that unlike milk, not all yogurts are fortified.)

3. Calcium

Along with vitamin D, calcium is an essential nutrient for bone health, says Pearson, who recommends milk and other dairy products as good sources of calcium.

Other foods to eat include almonds, beans, sesame seeds and broccoli.

Pearson stresses that it’s difficult to get enough calcium in your diet without milk products or fortified soy milk in your diet.

4. Selenium

This lesser-known mineral, says Pearson, supports the immune system, reduces inflammation and helps protect against cancer. One of the best sources of selenium is Brazil nuts — just one contains more than your daily need of selenium.

Other good sources include sunflower seeds, fish and shellfish and red meat.

5. Vitamin C

While scurvy is practically unknown in a world where fresh fruits and vegetables are available year-round, that doesn’t mean you should neglect your intake of vitamin C. It’s an antioxidant vitamin that is believed to have numerous health benefits, including protecting the brain from damage caused by Alzheimer’s, helping the body better respond to stress and, yes, preventing the common cold.

A glass of orange juice is a classic source, but Pearson recommends limiting your juice intake to one cup a day (because it’s so high in sugar) and choosing whole foods the rest of the time. Try eating citrus fruits, bell peppers, kiwifruit, papaya, broccoli, dark leafy greens and strawberries to boost your vitamin C intake.

6. Vitamin K

“Vitamin K doesn’t get the attention it deserves,” says Pearson. “It plays a crucial role in bone strength, blood clotting and heart health by preventing hardening of the arteries.”

Pearson recommends dark, leafy greens as the best source of vitamin K — try spinach, kale or Swiss chard — as well as pine nuts and avocados.

7. Folate

Popeye was right. You should eat plenty of spinach — but not for its iron content, which is mostly unavailable to the body. Instead, eat spinach for its other health properties, including the cancer-fighting B vitamin folate, which “may slash your risk of Alzheimer’s as well as reduce your risk of having a baby with neural tube defects during pregnancy,” says Pearson.

Other good sources of folate include beans, peanuts, broccoli, corn, lentils and oranges.

8. Vitamin E

The antioxidant vitamin E, which fights free radicals and may reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s and some cancers, is an essential part of a healthy diet. And since the jury’s still out on whether to take vitamin E supplements, it’s best to get it from food.

To boost your intake of vitamin E, try a daily serving of nuts and seeds such as almonds and sunflower seeds.

9. Magnesium

Magnesium is an important mineral that helps build strong bones and may lower your risk of diabetes by enhancing the action of insulin, says Pearson.

Beans are a great source of magnesium, as are nuts, seeds and green vegetables such as spinach.

10. Potassium

Sufficient potassium is essential for a healthy diet, and many people don’t get enough, says Pearson, who adds that it helps to maintain blood pressure and may reduce your risk of stroke.

Beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, bananas, dried fruits, winter squash, cantaloupe, kiwi, orange juice, prune juice and avocados are good sources.

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