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Key Nutrients for Every Body - from Cradle to Rocker

Armen Hareyan's picture

Nearly every day, the news features a story about a just-discovered connection between nutrition and your health.

Vitamin D isn't just for strong bones and teeth: It can improve balance and muscle performance and may reduce tumor growth in some cancers. Folate (or folic acid) helps prevent spinal birth defects: It may also protect against heart disease and mental decline in later years. Magnesium, long known to be involved in energy production, may also help ward off diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

"Unfortunately there are a couple of downsides to all this wonderful nutrition news," according to Lynn Paul, a registered dietitian and extension specialist at Montana State University in Bozeman. "First, like the U.S. population as a whole, many Montana families aren't getting enough of these key nutrients."

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The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans called these "shortfall nutrients." The report noted that American adults do not get enough vitamins A, C, and E, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and fiber. While most children get enough A and C, they have low intakes of vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and fiber. More recent surveys have found shortfalls in folate, iron and zinc in some especially vulnerable groups, like young children.

The second concern is that our national tendency to pop vitamin-mineral supplements is probably not the best way to address these nutrient gaps. According to Paul, nutrition experts favor getting these critical nutrients from food first.

"Supplements are fine for a bit of nutrition insurance," she said. "However, study after study has confirmed that the real health benefits come when we eat and drink these key nutrients from all the five food groups."

Getting your nutrients from food