Vitamins, minerals, nutrients. Our body is filled with them and requires them to function properly. Each of these vitamins, minerals, and nutrients plays a role in our daily lives and our ability to remain alive. Do you get enough? Too much? Where might you need to pay more attention? How do you know what foods to eat? This guide will give you the tools you need to live a healthy life and chose the right supplements for your diet.
Vitamin A is a fat soluble organic compound comprised of retinol, retinal, and retinyl esters. Vitamin A plays a role in the body's immune stability, vision, reproduction and cellular communications. Commonly found in dairy, fish and meat, here are some foods with the highest concentration of vitamin A: beef liver, sweet potato, spinach, carrots, and ricotta cheese.
Deficiency & Excess
A deficiency in vitamin A can lead to some pretty severe consequences. One of which is cancer. Scientists have found a correlation between cancer and vitamin A deficiencies since vitamin A plays a role in cell communication, particularly cell reproduction, regulation and differentiation. Another is macular degeneration. Macular degeneration occurs most frequently in elderly. The elderly are particularly susceptible to vitamin A deficiency which places them at risk of developing macular degeneration, since vitamin A is critical to vision as it bonds to a protein, rhodopsin, which is what allows the retinal receptors to absorb light. It is also found in the conjunctiva, the clear membrane that covers the front of the eye, and the cornea.
Since vitamin A is involved in the maintenance of the immune system it has been studied that vitamin A deficiencies place children at risk of measles. And, in those children who possessed measles when studied, it was found that vitamin A reduced the symptoms of measles. Vitamin A is fat soluble, which means that it has the ability to accumulate as it is stored in the liver. This can result in liver issues including irreversible damage caused by hypervitaminosis A. It also reduces bone density which can lead to a risk of fracture and bone related ailments such as pain in the bones and joints. Other conditions related to excess vitamin A intake include intracranial pressure, headaches, nausea, dizziness, coma, skin irritation and (in severe cases) death.
Vitamin A Fact: Vanilla soft serve ice cream and pumpkin pie provide 20% - 200%, respectively, of your required daily value of vitamin A!
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxal)
Vitamin B6 is involved in over 100 enzyme reactions for metabolism. Vitamin B6 is also crucial to brain development in pregnancy and infancy, as well as immunity. Organ meat, poultry, fish, starchy vegetables and fruits (not including citrus) are all good sources of vitamin B6.
Deficiency & Excess
The recommended dose of B6 is typically obtained through natural sources. Despite this, there are a host of conditions that make obtaining enough vitamin B6 difficult. Those with kidney problems, are on dialysis or have had a kidney transplant are just one example. Autoimmune disorders or immune related conditions also struggle to obtain enough B6 including those with celiac disease, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn's disease. Additionally, those with alcohol dependence who have weakened their immune system. Those with vitamin B6 deficiency may experience symptoms of anemia, scaly lip skin, cracks at the corners of the mouth, swollen tongue, itchy rash, depression, confusion and a weakened immune system. In infants, B6 deficiency can cause sensitive hearing, irritability or seizures. Typically, excess B6 is not a problem. Although, it has shown in some cases of individuals taking a B6 supplement long term to cause nerve damage and lead to a loss of muscular control.=
Vitamin B6 Fact: While it is still in the early stages of research, there is evidence to suggest that, by taking a vitamin B6 supplement, symptoms of premenstrual syndrome were reduced; including irritability, moodiness, forgetfulness, anxiety, and bloating.
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
Cobalamin, or Vitamin B12, helps make DNA. It also prevents megaloblastic anemia, a type of blood disease in which one feels tired or weak. Absorbing vitamin B12 is a two-step process. To start, B12, which is bound to a protein in food, is separated from that protein by hydrochloric acid in the stomach. Then it is recombined with a new protein, the intrinsic factor, which is native to the stomach, and absorbed. Vitamin B12 can only be naturally obtained through animal foods such as fish, meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs. The best of these sources are beef liver and clams.
Deficiency & Excess
Because B12 can only be obtained naturally through animal foods, vegetarians and vegans must either take a supplement or eat fortified vegetables. Individuals who have difficulty absorbing vitamin B12, such as those with pernicious anemia, whose bodies do not make the intrinsic factor, will need to supplement. Elderly adults often do not have enough hydrochloric acid which is necessary for the absorption of B12, and are at risk. Others at risk of being deficient in vitamin B12 are those who have gastrointestinal disorders (ex. celiac disease, Crohn's disease) or have had gastrointestinal surgery may have a decreased ability to absorb B12.
Low amounts of vitamin B12 can result in fatigue, weakness, constipation, weight loss or loss of appetite. Symptoms may also include those relating to the nervous system such as numbness or tingling in limbs, soreness of tongue or mouth. Cognitive symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency can be balance problems, depression, confusion or poor memory, or dementia. Infants with a low B12 count tend to have movement issues, delays in development, failure to thrive (inappropriate weight gain or loss; developmental disorder), and megaloblastic anemia.
Vitamin B12 Fact: A deficiency in B12 causes progressive damage to the nervous system. Symptoms of a B12 deficiency can be hidden through a large intake of folic acid. It is for this reason that it is important to conduct preventative maintenance through regular blood testing to ensure proper intake of vitamin B12, especially for those who are at risk.
Biotin is a compound that converts protein, carbohydrates and fats into energy. Biotin is also classified as Vitamin B7. Biotin can be found in seeds and nuts, sweet potatoes, spinach, broccoli, meat, fish and eggs.
Deficiency & Excess
Since most obtain their recommended intake of biotin from their diet, it is rare to have a biotin deficiency. However, there are a few disorders or circumstances that require more biotin: a genetic disorder, biotinidase deficiency; those with dependence on alcohol; and pregnant or breastfeeding women. Symptoms of biotin deficiency include: high levels of acid in the blood/urine, thinning and loss of hair; rash around the eyes, nose, mouth and anus; skin infection; brittle nails; seizures; pinkeye; and problems with the nervous system. Biotin has not shown to cause any harm, however, it can return false results on tests that involve hormones, such as the thyroid hormone.
Biotin Fact: Many believe that by taking a dietary supplement of biotin they will improve their overall beauty health including hair, skin and nails. There is lacking serious evidence to support this belief, and, even with the evidence we do have, it is not conclusive enough to state definitively if biotin even affects these beauty areas.
Vitamin C is a water soluble nutrient. Often also referred to as ascorbic acid vitamin C plays the role of an antioxidant. Vitamin C plays a huge role in reducing the amount of and protecting cells from free radicals, which make their way into the body through the food we eat and other external factors. Due to this, vitamin C is crucial to immune health. Vitamin C helps the body to produce a protein called collagen, which plays a role in skin cell reproduction (wound healing) and elasticity. Vitamin C also helps aid the body in the absorption of iron from plant foods. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries, cantaloupe, red and green peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, and baked potatoes.
Deficiency & Excess
For many Americans, vitamin C is not something that they need to supplement in their diet. However, some individuals may need to do so. For smokers, and those exposed to secondhand smoke, it is recommended they add 35 mg more vitamin C to their diet to combat the free radicals they introduce through smoking. Individuals with a limited diet or certain medical conditions (malabsorption for example) may need to supplement their diet. Infants are of particular concern if they do not drink breast milk or formula because evaporated milk and cow's milk do not supply the necessary amount required for function, which places them at risk for immune related illness.
Symptoms of vitamin C deficiency are inflammation of the gums, spots on the skin, fatigue, joint pain, poor wound healing and hair that curls into a corkscrew. In the earlier centuries until the 19th century, sailors would develop scurvy, a well-known form of vitamin C deficiency. Scurvy often presents as swollen, bleeding gums and loss of teeth in addition to the other symptoms. An excess of vitamin C can cause nausea and stomach cramps, as well as diarrhea.
Vitamin C Fact: Before the end of the 18th century a Scottish Royal Naval surgeon conducted trials and determined that citrus fruit would treat scurvy. This was such a revolutionary discovery that, during the Napoleonic wars, British sailors were supplied a standard issue lemon! Other citrus fruits were often used as was their juice depending on the ships capacity. It is actually believed that this is what led to the English victory over Napoleon. Furthermore, English sailors are often referred to as “Limeys” due to their heavy consumption of limes.
Calcium is a mineral stored in bones and teeth. It is here that it supports the strength of bones and teeth, while also allowing the body to perform other essential functions such as muscle movement and nerve communication. Calcium also helps with circulation as well as ensuring the release of certain hormones and enzymes. The ability to obtain calcium from the diet is very achievable thanks to the abundance of calcium rich foods. Calcium is heavily concentrated in milk, yogurt and cheese. Soft-boned fish, such as salmon or sardines, contain calcium; as does broccoli, kale and Chinese cabbage. Many dietary foods have calcium added to them such as cereal, fruit juices, soy or rice milk, and tofu. Many individuals can often obtain calcium, even though it is only a small amount, from grains.
Deficiency & Excess
Pre-teens, particularly girls, and elderly often do not receive the recommended amount of calcium. Certain individuals that are more likely to be calcium deficient are postmenopausal women. Postmenopausal women often are more susceptible to bone related ailments such as osteoporosis due to their predisposition towards inferior calcium absorption. Women between 15 - 35 who suffer from menstrual irregularity due to heavy exercise and over/under consumption of food have a decreased absorption of calcium. This slows down the formation of new bone and can affect future pregnancies. Lactose intolerance or vegans, those who are unable to digest lactose or avoid its consumption are also at risk of calcium deficiency. Consumption of alcohol or caffeine increases the body's excretion of calcium through waste, though this is not believed to be effective enough to cause calcium deficiency on its own.
The immediate effects of insufficient amounts of calcium is not immediately apparent. Calcium levels are maintained by blood as it takes it from the bone where it is stored. Without enough calcium to restore that which is taken from the bone, bones become weakened. This can lead to increased likelihood of bone fractures and lower bone density. Symptoms of calcium deficiency can be minor such as tingling or numbness in fingers, to major such as convulsions and arrhythmia. Other conditions caused by calcium deficiency include cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, preeclampsia, and cancer. An excess of calcium may affect the body's absorption of iron and zinc. Constipation is another symptom of too much calcium along with kidney stones. Another result of excess calcium can present itself in the form of calcium deposits on the bone or in the skin.
Calcium Fact: Calcium is actually classified as an alkaline metal on the periodic table, and, when purified, presents silver-white in color. Since it is stored in the bones, roughly 1/3 of a human's body weight comes from calcium. And, to make it more interesting, it makes up a huge portion of concrete.
Vitamin D aids the body in calcium absorption. It also affects muscle movement, the central nervous system, and the immune system. Fatty fish have an abundance of vitamin D naturally, however, most foods do not have vitamin D naturally. Beef liver, egg yolks, cheese and mushrooms have a small amount, while most milk is actually fortified with vitamin D. A natural way to obtain vitamin D that is not through consumption is through the skin from the sun.
Deficiency & Excess
While vitamin D can be obtained from the sun, it is important to limit the amount of sun exposure to prevent skin cancer. Some Americans are vitamin D deficient, but it is uncommon to have excess of vitamin D. Men tend to have higher levels of vitamin D than women, as do younger individuals over the elderly. Vitamin D aids calcium in creating strong bones. Which is why if the intake of vitamin D is too low bones may soften and become brittle. The elderly are often prone to this form of vitamin D deficiency. In advanced age, the kidney does not convert vitamin D at the same frequency.
Individuals with dark skin do not have the same ability for their skin to produce vitamin D from the sun, and may not receive enough of the nutrient. Infants are unable to obtain vitamin D from breast milk so they will need to be given a supplement daily in order to ensure they meet the required needs of their growing bodies. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to rickets in young children, and osteomalacia in adults. Excess amounts of vitamin D in the body is toxic and can raise the blood levels of calcium. Toxicity symptoms include nausea, vomiting, constipation, loss of appetite and weight loss, weakness, confusion, disorientation and heart arrhythmia. Excess of vitamin D can also cause kidney problems including kidney failure.
Vitamin D Fact: In some areas, certain breeds of mushroom are fortified under ultraviolet light to increase the amount of vitamin D they contain.
A fat soluble nutrient, vitamin E plays an important role in immunity. Acting as an antioxidant, vitamin E protects the body from free radicals, by warding off bacteria and viruses. Vitamin E also plays a role in cellular communication, along with helping to dilate blood vessels and prevent clotting. Vitamin E is primarily obtained through cruciferous vegetables, vegetable oils, nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds are the best source of vitamin E, but it can also be found in fortified foods.
Deficiency & Excess
On average, most people in the United States consume less than the recommended daily intake of vitamin E. For many, though, this is not of any particular concern. Those this lack of vitamin E will affect most are those who have a condition in which fat is not properly absorbed or digested. Digestive and immune disorders are to be carefully monitored for vitamin E levels including Crohn's disease and cystic fibrosis. In addition to a weakened immune system, in severe cases of vitamin E deficiency there can be nerve and muscle damage including loss of control and problems with muscle movement, loss of feeling in limbs, muscle weakness, and problems with vision.
Certain conditions are more likely to occur in the presence of a lack of vitamin E. Those who take supplements to retard the progress of conditions like cancer and eye disorders have shown promising results. Because of the vasodilation effect of vitamin E, over supplementation of vitamin E can lead to anemic-like symptoms including the body's inability to form clots and bleeding in the brain, hemorrhagic stroke.
Vitamin E Fact: Vitamin E is not a single substance but eight compounds in one: four tocopherols and four tocotrienols. The vitamin E we are most familiar with is alpha-tocopherol, which is found in food.
Folate is a natural food found B-vitamin that helps cell reproduction and the creation of DNA. Folic acid, a form of folate, is found in fortified foods. The difference between these two is that the body absorbs folic acid more easily than it does the naturally occurring folate. This is why the measurements for the daily recommended amount is given in dietary folate equivalents (DFE). Folate can be found in fruits and fruit juices, vegetables, nuts, beans, peas, and beef liver. While folic acid is found in fortified foods such as enriched grains, including pasta and rice, breakfast cereals and corn flour.
Deficiency & Excess
On the whole, most Americans obtain enough folate either naturally or through fortified sources. Despite this, it is possible for certain individuals to struggle to obtain their required amount. Those who abuse alcohol, have difficulties with nutrient absorption, and those with a gene mutation of the MTHFR gene are at risk of folate deficiency. Others include teenage girls, adult women to age 30 and non-Hispanic black women. Symptoms of folate deficiency can be open sores inside the mouth and on the tongue; changes in the color of skin, hair and fingernails; and, in serve cases, development of megaloblastic anemia. Folate deficiency in pregnant women can lead to premature birth, low birth weight, or defects in the neural tube. Individuals who have low levels of folate are prone to depression and may not respond to treatment as well. Folate consumed through food is not harmful, and fortified foods or folate supplements should be used with caution. Too much folate/folic acid can cause complications in or increase risk of cancer
Folate/Folic Acid Fact: In 1998, the FDA required food companies to add folic acid to food such as flour, cornmeal, pasta, enriched bread and rice. In 2016, the FDA allowed manufacturers of corn masa flour, used in tortillas and tamales, the preference of adding folic acid. Since 1998, the number of infants born with neural tube defects has decreased as the amount of folic acid intake has increased. However, with the recent push for healthy, natural, and organic foods the risk of these birth defects could potentially rise again.
A mineral, iodine helps to create the thyroid hormones that control metabolism. Thyroid hormones affect the brain and bone development of infants during and post-pregnancy. Iodine can be found naturally in seafood and seaweed, dairy and grains (a primary source), and iodized salt. Additionally, iodine can be received from fruits and vegetables, but it depends heavily on the soil that produces them and fertilizer.
Deficiency & Excess
Most in the United States get enough iodine naturally through their diet. However, certain individuals such as those that do not use iodized salt, pregnant women, and those who eat primarily foods harvested from iodine deficient soil may not get the recommended amount. Certain substances, called goitrogens, interfere with the body's ability to use iodine. Consuming these foods is not harmless if sufficient iodine is obtained, but, if the diet lacks sufficient iodine nutrients, consuming foods such as soy and cruciferous vegetables may reduce the effectiveness of iodine in the body.
Too little iodine and the thyroid cannot make enough hormone. This can lead to Goiter in adults, along with slowed work and cognitive function. In pregnant women it can lead to developmental disorders postnatal. Too high an amount of iodine in the system can also cause problems. One of which is toxicity to the body, the symptoms of which often present the same as they would if the amount of iodine in the body was too low. Too much iodine can also lead to cancer. Heavy consumption of iodine in a short time can cause burning of the mouth, throat or stomach; stomach pain; fever; nausea; vomiting; diarrhea; weak pulse; and, in severe cases, coma.
Iodine Fact: Of all the isotopes of iodine, all but one are radioactive. This singular isotope, Potassium Iodide, can be used to postpone and deter radiation from being absorbed by the thyroid.
Iron is a mineral used to make hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to throughout the body from the lungs. Iron also makes myoglobin, a protein which provides oxygen specifically to the muscles. Iron is needed to also aid in gland secretion of hormones and the creation of connective tissues. Iron is predominantly found in meat, seafood and poultry, but can also be found in nuts, white beans and kidney beans, lentils, peas, and some dried fruit like raisins. Fortified cereals and breads also can contain iron. There are two types of iron: heme iron, found in meats, seafood and poultry; and nonheme iron, found in plants (it can also be found in meats, seafood and poultry).
Deficiency & Excess
Iron deficiency is unlikely considering the average American's diet. There are individuals who may have lower iron than recommended including teen girls and women with heavy periods, pregnant women, infants (especially premature and low-weight babies), those who donate blood frequently; and those with cancer, gastrointestinal disorders or heart failure.
Certain conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome can affect the body's ability to use stored iron. Iron is best absorbed in the presence of vitamin C, but too high of iron can lower the body's ability to absorb zinc. Taking too high a dose of iron on an empty stomach can cause upset stomach, abdominal pain, constipation, nausea, vomiting, or fainting. If the dose is too severe it can cause organ failure, coma, convulsions, and even death. In one instance, the condition of hemochromatosis, toxic levels of iron builds up in the individual's body and can cause cirrhosis or cancer of the liver, and heart disease.
Iron Fact: Iron is used to make steel which reinforces thousands of tons of concrete around the world. Despite this, pure iron is actually soft and malleable.
Vitamin K aids the body by helping create strong, healthy bones and acts to help blood clotting. Vitamin K can be found in meat, soybeans, eggs, cheese, green leafy vegetables and vegetable oils, and also in some fruits such as figs and blueberries.
Deficiency & Excess
Vitamin K deficiency does not happen very often since vitamin K is a product of bacterial functions in the colon where it is absorbed back into the body. Some struggle with vitamin K deficiency and problems related to vitamin K. Newborns are often given a shot of vitamin K at birth to aid the body in clotting and prevent bleeding in newborns. Since 1961, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that all newborns receive this injection of vitamin K at birth. Since this, vitamin K bleeding deficiency is now rare in newborn infants. Some conditions including short bowel disease, cystic fibrosis, ulcerative colitis and celiac disease; decrease the body's ability to absorb vitamin K and may require supplementation to correct this. Symptoms of vitamin K deficiency include bruising and bleeding problems, a decrease in bone strength and a higher risk of osteoporosis. Vitamin K does not cause harm but it can interact dangerously with some medications including warfarin, a blood thinner; antibiotics; Orlistat, a weight loss drug; and bile acid sequestrates.
Vitamin K Fact: While currently undergoing further study, vitamin K has shown significant change when used as a topical application to wounds and bruises.
Magnesium regulates muscle and nerve function, blood sugar and blood pressure, while also making protein, bone and DNA. Magnesium can be found in green, leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, milk, yogurt and whole grains.
Deficiency & Excess
On average, the diet in the US tends to be low in magnesium. Two sets of individuals are more likely to have low levels of magnesium: men over the age of 70 and teenage girls. In cases of low magnesium the kidneys regulate the amount of magnesium lost in the urine. This is only a short term solution. In instances of long term magnesium deficiency, individuals may suffer from loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and weakness. In the most extreme cases numbness and tingling in the limbs, cramps, personality changes, arrhythmia, and seizures can occur. A good way to determine if you may not be getting enough magnesium is chronic migraine headaches. Certain conditions or medications can also lower the amount of magnesium absorbed including old age, alcohol abuse, Type 2 diabetes and gastrointestinal disease.
While the kidneys filter out excess magnesium when consumed naturally in the diet through urea, magnesium supplements should be consumed with caution. Especially if a pre-existing condition may cause instances of malabsorption. Excess magnesium that cannot be filtered through the kidneys can result in nausea, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. In severe cases of excess magnesium, arrhythmia and cardiac arrest can occur.
Magnesium Fact: Magnesium, while essential for many body functions, is commonly used to create aluminum alloy. The end result is stronger and lighter making it easy to work with. This metal is used in bicycles, marine transportation and even aeronautics!
Niacin is a vitamin that belongs to the B vitamin family. It plays a role in cell development and function by converting food into energy. Tryptophan, an amino acid commonly found in turkey, can help the body create niacin. Niacin can be found in meats like beef, pork, fish and poultry; along with legumes, nuts and grains. Niacin can be found in B-Complex supplements or on its own.
Deficiency & Excess
Niacin is commonly taken in through food with many Americans not needing the addition of niacin supplements. Some individuals who may need assistance in obtaining niacin are those who are malnourished such as those with anorexia or bulimia, have inflammatory bowel disease, liver cirrhosis, have an alcohol dependence disorder or suffer from AIDS. Individuals who have a diet lacking in other vitamins and nutrients, such as other B vitamins and iron, may need a niacin supplement. Those who suffer carcinoid syndrome and those with the genetic disorder Hartnup are also more likely to require a niacin supplement.
Severe deficiency in niacin can lead to pellagra, a disease commonly found in underdeveloped and malnourished countries. In pellagra, symptoms include vomiting, constipation or diarrhea; bright red tongue, skin that turns red or brown when exposed to sunlight; severe tiredness, depression and headaches which can result in hallucinations, memory loss, apathy; and aggressive and paranoid or suicidal behavior; loss of appetite and, finally, death.
For many, over consumption of niacin through the diet is unlikely. In situations of lower levels of excess niacin individuals can suffer from red, itchy skin on the face and arms that can tingle and burn. Too high of levels of niacin can lead to nausea, heartburn, stomach pain, high blood sugar, low blood pressure, extreme exhaustion, and blurry, impaired vision with fluid buildup. Abuse of niacin over a long period can lead to liver problems.
Niacin Fact: Niacin, in the form of nicotinic acid, is commonly used to correct atherosclerosis by lowering bad cholesterol and raising good cholesterol. It is commonly known that high cholesterol can lead to a cardiovascular event later in life, and that, by lowering it, the risk of such an event is also lowered. Despite this, scientists have discovered that in cases of atherosclerosis treated with prescription-strength nicotinic acid cholesterol levels were lowered, but it did not lower the risk of a cardiac event.
Pantothenic Acid (B5)
Part of the B vitamin family, pantothenic acid aids in the conversion of food to energy along with the breakdown of fats. Pantothenic acid is readily available in almost any food and can often be found added to certain products such as energy drinks. The natural sources of pantothenic acid include eggs and milk, beef, poultry, seafood, whole grains, mushrooms, avocados, broccoli, potatoes, chickpeas, peanuts and sunflower seeds.
Deficiency & Excess
Since pantothenic acid is so readily available in many foods it is abnormal to have a deficiency in this B vitamin. There is one disorder, though rare, that can be inherited and can lead to a deficiency in pantothenic acid. Pantothenate kinase-associated neurodegeneration is a disorder in which the body cannot use pantothenic acid properly and suffers symptoms of nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea, extreme tiredness, restlessness, insomnia, irritability, headache, and numb or burning sensations in the hands or feet. Pantothenic acid is fairly safe and difficult to be overconsumed. It also is not known to interact with any medications. Taking a supplement of B5, however, can lead to upset stomach and diarrhea.
Pantothenic Acid Fact: Pantethine, a form of pantothenic acid is currently undergoing studies in order to determine its efficacy in use as a means to lower cholesterol. Thus far, the result have been positive.
A mineral, potassium is vitally important to the functionality of the body. Potassium is involved in processes of the central nervous system, the muscular system, cardiovascular function and kidney function. Meats, poultry and fish, along with milk, yogurt, nuts, soy and kidney beans, and lentils are all good sources of potassium. Vegetables including broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, and squash; and fruits including bananas, orange juice, and dried fruits are also good sources of potassium.
Deficiency & Excess
Potassium deficiency is a regular problem in the United States with many falling short of the recommended intake even with a combination of diet and supplements. Individuals with inflammatory bowel disease, and who use diuretics or laxatives are prone to potassium deficiency. Low potassium can lead to an increase risk of kidney stones, high blood pressure and a depletion of bone calcium. Hypokalemia, a condition of severe potassium deficiency, can become a life threatening condition. Symptoms of hypokalemia include constipation, increased urination, muscle fatigue or paralysis, tiredness, decreased cognitive function, high blood sugar, difficulty breathing and arrhythmia.
Potassium has not shown to be harmful in higher doses when consumed in food since the kidneys filter excess potassium through urine. In instances of individuals with kidney problems, high levels of potassium with an inability to filtrate the excess can occur.
Potassium Fact: Three small-medium cremini (the white ones you can get at every grocer) contain the same amount of potassium as a banana.
Riboflavin is a B vitamin that aids the body in cell growth, reproduction and function while helping other B vitamins covert food to energy. Foods such as asparagus, broccoli, spinach, low-fat milk, eggs, kidney and liver meat, and lean meat contain riboflavin.
Deficiency & Excess
Getting enough riboflavin is not a concern for most Americans. Vegetarians, vegans, those who do not eat dairy, pregnant and breastfeeding women may have difficulty obtaining enough riboflavin. Certain diseases and disorders such as Brown-Vialetto-Van Laere syndrome prevent the body from obtaining enough riboflavin through absorption. Deficiency can cause mouth sores, swollen or cracked lips, sore throat, hair loss; and complications in the liver, reproductive and nervous systems. Anemia and cataracts are also potential outcomes for long-term, severe B2 deficiency. At present, riboflavin has not been shown to result in any harm. While that may be the case, the body cannot absorb more than 27 mg of riboflavin at a time.
Riboflavin Fact: Riboflavin is light sensitive and is naturally fluorescent when exposed. When exposed to light, riboflavin becomes inactive. It is for this reason that milk, a good source of riboflavin, is not stored in clear containers.
Selenium is a nutrient that affects the immune system from infection and free radicals, helps manage DNA production, thyroid function, and reproduction. The amount of selenium contained in food sources depends upon the nutrients given to the plants and animals. Selenium can be found in meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy, and grains.
Deficiency & Excess
Since many Americans consume foods from a host of origins they are able to obtain enough selenium in their diet. However, those who only eat locally grown foods, especially if the soil levels are low in selenium, may need to supplement their diet. Those undergoing dialysis or who have HIV may also struggle with obtaining the recommended amount of selenium. Since selenium deficiency is fairly rare there are many studies currently occurring to determine what effects, if any, can come from a lack of selenium in the diet. There are a few known results of selenium deficiency including Keshan disease, a heart disease, and Kashin-Beck disease, an arthritic disease. Current areas being studied for the efficacy of selenium are cancer, cardiovascular disease, thyroid disease and cognitive decline.
While selenium deficiency is rare and is currently studied. Excess selenium can be fairly toxic over time. Symptoms of excess selenium include skin rash, teeth discoloration, brittle nails or hair, loss of nails or hair, garlic breath, metallic taste in the mouth, nausea, irritability, diarrhea, and nervous system problems. In extremely high cases of selenium consumption there can be tremors, heart attacks, heart failure and kidney failure.
Selenium Fact: Brazil nuts have a high concentration of selenium. One Brazil nut contains nearly ¼ of the maximum daily dose for an adult.
Thiamin, or B1, a member of the B vitamin family, turns food into energy. Thiamin regulates cell function, growth and development. Thiamin can be found in meat (pork especially), fish, whole grains, seeds, nuts and legumes.
Deficiency & Excess
Thiamin is usually obtained naturally through the diet with few examples of thiamin deficiency. Certain individuals may find obtaining enough thiamin problematic. They include the elderly, diabetics, those who are dependent on alcohol, those with HIV or AIDS, and those who have undergone bariatric surgery. Thiamin deficiency can come from the body either excreting too much thiamin as waste, or not absorbing enough. Weight loss and loss of appetite along with confusion and memory loss are some symptoms of thiamin deficiency. Other examples include muscle weakness, heart problems; and a disease call beriberi which is characterized by numb and tingling hands or feet, poor reflexes and muscle loss. Beriberi is commonly found in underdeveloped countries.
In individuals with alcohol dependence, low thiamin can become Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome which causes similar symptoms to beriberi including numb and tingling hands or feet, along with confusion, disorientation, and memory loss. It does not appear that thiamin can be harmful if too much is consumed.
Thiamin Fact: You might want to reconsider your breakfast cereal. In a list compiled of 200 breakfast cereals that contain high amount of thiamin, 8 of the top 10 cereals provide over 100% of the daily recommended value of thiamin. The #1 cereal, Puffed Rice & Corn, being over 150% the daily recommended value with just one cup.
Zinc is a nutrient that plays an important role in immune health. Zinc protects the immune system against bacteria and viruses. It also is needed to make proteins and DNA in cells. Zinc plays a role in wound healing and even in the senses of taste and smell. Oysters are the best source of zinc, but it can also be obtained through red meat, poultry and shellfish. Whole grains, dairy products, nuts and beans also contain some zinc. Zinc can be found in everything from your daily multivitamin or supplement (if you take a zinc supplement) to oral products such as toothpaste, nasal sprays, to denture adhesive and throat lozenges.
Deficiency & Excess
Because zinc is found in many things, food or otherwise, zinc deficiency is not a concern for the majority of Americans. Vegans and vegetarians may suffer from lack of zinc since they do not eat meat or consume animal products. Those who have had gastrointestinal surgery or possess gastrointestinal disorders may also require a supplement of zinc since their bodies cannot absorb enough from food. Alcoholics and people with sickle cell disease are also among the list of those that may need supplementation. Infants over six months who are strictly breastfed will not receive enough zinc from their mother's milk and require supplementation with formula or pureed meats.
In infants and children, low zinc can lead to slow growth and development, and delayed puberty in adolescents. It can also cause impotence in men. Other symptoms include diarrhea, hair loss, eye and skin sores, loss of appetite, weight loss, slow wound healing, decreased alertness, and decreased ability to taste food. Too much zinc can be toxic causing nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, loss of appetite and headaches. Too much zinc over time can lead to low levels of copper, low levels of good cholesterol, and lower immune health.
Zinc Fact: Zinc is noncorrosive and is commonly used in objects subjected to the elements. Zinc is officially credited as being discovered in 1746, however, a statue discovered in Romania, comprised of 87% zinc, dates back to prehistoric times.