Every diet needs vitamins and minerals. They keep your body running and they are linked with lessened risk for things like cancer and heart disease. But, many people get what they need from supplements, and much of the research that has been conducted into these dietary staples is focused on vitamin-containing foods. However, supplements aren’t a substitute for a healthy diet.
But, people aren’t perfect. It can be hard to maintain a completely balanced diet, especially if you avoid dairy and animal products. This is why supplements are so often used as a back-up. But, supplements are generally subpar when compared to vitamin and mineral rich foods, and they can even give users micro-nutrients in excess of the amounts recommended for dietary intake, which can be unsafe.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, and it assists the body in forming and maintain connective tissue, blood vessels, skin, and bones. It also helps:
- Regenerate and repair tissues in the body
- Assist in the absorption of iron
- Protect against cancers by battling free radicals
- Decrease overall cholesterol and LDL cholesterol and triglycerides
- Counteract the effects of nitrites
- Support immune function
- Alleviate symptoms of the common cold
It is easy to get vitamin C through foods because it is present in so many of them, including:
- Fortified foods
- Dark leafy greens
- Citrus fruits
You might be surprised to know that red bell peppers have the highest per-serving amount of vitamin C.
Given its presence in bones and teeth, it’s not surprising that calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body. People need it for nerve and muscle function, good bone health, and general cardiovascular health. It is stored in the bones and removed for use in the body. To compensate for calcium loss in the bones, people need to consume a diet rich in calcium.
Dairy products are rich in calcium, but those who do not eat dairy can also get it from:
- Greens: bok choy, collards, kale, and mustard
- Canned sardines and salmon
- Tofu (if it has been coagulated using a calcium compound)
- Soy milk fortified with calcium
- Blackstrap molasses
- Fruit juice fortified with calcium
- Cereals fortified with calcium
Potassium links readily with other minerals and does not happen naturally in an unbound condition. It is considered an essential mineral. People require potassium because it regulated blood pressure, fluid balance, and your body’s base-acid balance. It is also critical to the functioning of the digestive system, heart, muscles, nerves, and kidneys.
Most people already get enough from their diet because it is in most fruits, potatoes, dark leafy greens, bananas, and legumes.
Another mineral, selenium is found in some foods, as well as water and soil. People only need trace amounts, but it is vital in several different metabolic pathways. It also helps:
- Reduce the risk of secondary cancers
- Reduce the risk of prostate cancer
- Prevent cellular impairment from free radicals
- Maintain a strong immune system
- Prevent heart disease
- Prevent cataracts
- Regulate thyroid function
People can get more than enough selenium from foods and are cautioned to avoid getting too much in case they get selenosis, which causes a host of unpleasant effects like gastrointestinal distress and hair loss. Brazil nuts, for instance, are high in selenium, so people are advised to avoid eating them too frequently. Other good sources include:
- Fresh- and saltwater fish
- Brewer’s yeast
- Wheat germ
- Sunflower seeds
Supplements are very alluring, but most people should be able to get the vitamins that they need from natural foods.
George Gomez is a nutritionist and writer. He is in the process of developing a program that he can present at school around the country to teach children the importance of the vitamins and nutrients in the foods that they eat. Generally his writing focuses on health, lifestyle, getting sober, recovery from addictive substances and treatment like treating cocaine addiction.