Nutrients Your Diet May Be Missing (cont.)
Bonus nutrients: Quinoa and cracked wheat are filled with fiber; almonds are bursting with vitamin E and contain calcium; and milk is an excellent calcium source.
Vitamin E: An Essential Nutrient to Combat Free Radicals
A misplaced fear of fat may harm health by preventing you from getting the vitamin E you need.
Vitamin E, found primarily in fatty foods such as nuts, seeds, and oils, is a potent antioxidant. It combats free radicals, the unstable oxygen molecules that result from normal metabolism as well as from exposure to air pollution, cigarette smoke, and strong ultraviolet rays.
"Many people are constantly trying to lose weight," says Moore. In the bargain, they are eliminating healthy high-fat foods and that's costing them vitamin E."
For example, one ounce of sunflower seeds supplies two-thirds of an adult's daily vitamin E quota. An ounce of almonds provides almost half.
Vitamin E is a complex nutrient; food supplies eight different types of vitamin E. Experts have determined that alpha-tocopherol vitamin E (AT) is the most useful of the vitamin E forms. Men and women over age 19 need 15 milligrams of AT every day.
Here's how to get more vitamin E:
Bonus nutrients: Whole grains supply fiber; sunflower seeds offer magnesium and fiber; and milk contains calcium.
Vitamin C: Essential Nutrient for a Healthy Immune System
It's touted for helping the body repel germs and cancer, but it's not solely responsible for a healthy immune system.
"Most research on diet and cancer prevention focuses on the benefits of consuming a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, not single nutrient supplements like vitamin C," says Wright.
Vitamin C is also vital for the production of collagen, the connective tissue that keeps muscles, skin, and other tissues, including bone, healthy. And, like vitamin E, vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps ward off cellular damage.
You need this much vitamin C daily:
Your body can't store vitamin C or make it, so you need some every day. Include some of these vitamin C-rich foods in your choice of fruits and vegetables:
Bonus nutrients: Vitamin C-rich foods also provide potassium and fiber. Sweet red pepper and cantaloupe are rich in carotenoids. Consuming vitamin C at meals or snacks improves the absorption of iron from plant foods and iron-fortified grains.
Vitamin A and Carotenoids: Essential Nutrient for Eyes
An important player in good health, vitamin A is essential for normal vision, gene expression, tissue growth, and proper immune function, among many other duties.
Vitamin A comes in two forms: as retinol (preformed and ready for the body to use) and carotenoids, the raw materials the body converts to vitamin A. Americans have no trouble consuming adequate retinol, but they don't get nearly enough carotenoids.
"While there is no daily requirement for carotenoids, you should include foods rich in carotenoids every day," says Wright.
Concentrating on including colorful produce will likely get you more carotenoids than you're eating now. Top picks include:
Bonus nutrients: Foods that contain carotenoids are rich in potassium and supply fiber; there's vitamin E and magnesium in spinach, and vitamin C in broccoli.
Potassium: Essential Nutrient for Nerves and Muscles
Potassium is present in every cell of your body. It plays a central role in normal muscle contraction, transmission of nerve impulses, and fluid balance. Potassium even serves to promote strong bones, and it's necessary for energy production.
Adequate potassium intake hedges against high blood pressure, which creeps up with age. Men and women over age 19 need 4,700 milligrams of potassium every day.
"If you already have high blood pressure, check with your doctor or pharmacist about the medications you take to control it," Wright advises. "Some drugs, including certain diuretics, cause the body to lose potassium, which increases your potassium needs."
These potassium-packed foods will help you meet your daily quota:
Bonus nutrients: Beans supply magnesium and fiber. Sweet potato, broccoli, and cantaloupe can boost fiber and carotenoids; yogurt contains calcium.
Who May Need Even More Nutrients?
Women of Childbearing Age
If there's a chance you'll become pregnant, two nutrients are particularly important.
Folic acid is the synthetic form of the B vitamin folate. Once you conceive, folic acid (and folate, the natural form) help protect your baby against neural-tube defects (and possibly cleft lip and/or palate) during the first 30 days.
Getting the recommended 400 micrograms of folic acid every day from supplements or foods along with a diet rich in folate-filled foods is critical for women who may become pregnant.