Vitamins and Minerals: What You May Need and How to Get It

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By Jessica Hamlin

Are you getting your vitamins and minerals? Like drinking enough water, it’s one of those things we hear about it and know is good for us, but sometimes we don't know exactly why and it’s tough to know if and how we get enough vitamins and minerals.

What Are Vitamins and Minerals?

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What actually are these substances often found in food that are also added to water, gummies and mini Flintstones?

“Vitamins and minerals are considered essential nutrients,” a Harvard Health publication notes, “because acting [together] they perform hundreds of roles in the body. They help shore up bones, heal wounds, and bolster your immune system. They also convert food into energy, and repair cellular damage.”

So basically, they help us function every day in a number of ways.

Vitamins

Vitamins are organic and can be broken down by heat, air, or acid.

This means it’s tougher to get vitamins from food and other sources into your body since cooking, storage, and exposure to air can deplete vitamins.

Minerals

Minerals are inorganic and hold on to their chemical structure.

This means the minerals in soil and water easily find their way into your body through the plants, fish, animals, and fluids you consume.

Here’s how to find out what vitamins and minerals you may need and how to get them.

Get Tested

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To be sure about a vitamin or mineral deficiency, meet with a health professional to describe your symptoms and have him or her order a blood test for you that tests for specific vitamins. He or she should prescribe how much of that vitamin or mineral you need each day, since it is possible to overdo it, especially with a supplement.

For a more informal test, you can take an online quiz at Care/of, who will then recommend a vitamin regimen tailored to your needs.

After confirming a vitamin or mineral deficiency and how much you may need, there are various ways to get those vital nutrients.

You Better Recognize (Deficiencies + How to Help Them)

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Sometimes we don’t realize all vitamins and minerals do for us until we start feeling off.

Symptoms we experience could be a sign we are lacking specific vitamins and minerals. There are several we need but here are some common vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Are any of these symptoms familiar for you?

Iron

What it does: “Iron helps your body make red blood cells,” according to Everyday Health. “When iron levels get too low, your body can’t effectively carry oxygen.”

Signs you may not be getting enough: First off, women need more iron than men and are more likely to be deficient. Low iron can result in anemia, which causes fatigue. You might also notice pale skin and dull, thin, sparse hair, a registered dietitian tells EH.

How to get it: Beef (try organic or grass-fed), oysters, beans (especially white beans, chickpeas, and kidney beans), lentils, and spinach. If you’re really low, a doctor may prescribe an iron supplement, but don’t start taking one unadvised since iron overdose can happen.

Magnesium

What it does: Magnesium is required for energy production and helps with nerve impulse, muscle contraction, normal heart rhythm, the structural development of bones and more.

Signs you may not be getting enough: Early signs of magnesium deficiency include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and weakness. As it worsens, numbness, tingling, muscle contractions and cramps, seizures, personality changes, abnormal heart rhythms, and coronary spasms can occur. Conditions like depression, dementia or even colon cancer have been linked to magnesium deficiency.

How to get it: David Perlmutter, MD recommends whole foods such as almonds, spinach, cashews, pumpkin seeds, avocados, cultured yogurt and salmon or a good supplement.

Folate

Folate occurs naturally in food and folic acid is the synthetic form added to supplements and foods, according to evidence compiled by The Natural Standard Research Collaboration.

What it does: Folate and folic acid help prevent birth defects, anemia, low energy, heart disease and more. It’s especially needed by women who are breastfeeding, pregnant, or want to get pregnant.

Signs you may not be getting enough: Signs of folate deficiency include frequently getting sick, chronic low energy (including chronic fatigue syndrome), poor digestion (issues like constipation, bloating and IBS), developmental problems during pregnancy and infancy including stunted growth, anemia, canker sores in the mouth and a tender, swollen tongue, changes in mood, including irritability, pale skin, premature hair graying.

How to get it: Get folate instead of folic acid. Enjoy it in whole foods like spinach, black-eyed peas, beef liver, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and more.

Iodine

Women between the ages of 20–39 have the lowest urine iodine levels compared to all other age groups, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note.

What it does:Iodine intake is especially important for young women looking to become pregnant or who are pregnant because it plays a role in brain development of the growing fetus,” according to natural medicine doctor Josh Axe. “It’s also crucial for making proper amounts of thyroid hormones … which help control your metabolism.”

Signs you may not be getting enough: Trouble producing saliva and properly digesting food, swollen salivary glands and dry mouth, skin problems including dry skin, poor concentration and difficulty retaining information.

How to get it: Iodized salt is found in a lot of packaged foods. But iodine-rich whole foods are even better: seaweed/dried kelp, wild-caught cod, organic unsweetened yogurt, raw milk, eggs and tuna.

Vitamin B12

What it does: Makes red blood cells, which carry oxygen to your organs. When that oxygen can’t get to your organs, a lot of unfortunate things can happen.

Signs you may not be getting enough: Forgetfulness, fatigue, numbness or “pins and needles” sensations in your body, feeling wobbly or dizzy, yellow skin, smooth and red tongue, blurry vision, sensitivity to light, and increase in worrying and crying.

How to get it: A good supplement or B12 foods like oysters, clams, tuna, beef, eggs, yogurt or milk. Vegan B12 foods include nutritional yeast.

Calcium

What it does: Helps build and maintain bones and teeth, regulate heart rhythms, aid in muscle function, regulate blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and help with numerous nerve signaling functions.

Signs you may not be getting enough: Weakness and fatigue, problems with proper blood clotting, bone fractures, heart problems involving blood pressure and heart rhythms. Brittle, weak bones and osteoporosis can ultimately occur.

How to get it: We don’t make calcium ourselves so it’s important to get it through things like food. Food like white beans, raw milk or raw milk cheese, kale, sardines, yogurt or kefir, broccoli and others.

Vitamin D

What it does: Helps form teeth, form and strengthen bones and helps the immune system.

Signs you may not be getting enough: Adults who are deficient in vitamin D may experience fatigue, muscle weakness, bone and back pain, depression, frequent illness, bone or hair loss and increased fractures. In children, it may cause growth delays and soft bones, reduced immune function and an increased risk of cancer.

How to get it: Sunshine (20 minutes a day), a supplement with vitamin D3, or from foods like cod liver oil, fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines or trout. A small, 3-ounce serving of cooked salmon contains 75% of your recommended daily intake, according to a nutritionist.

Remember, this not an exhaustive list of all the vitamins and minerals your body needs to function. So, listen to your body and check with a health professional if you feel off.

Know What Could Hinder Vitamins & Minerals

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Food or other parts of lifestyle can also hinder our vitamin and mineral load. Check in with yourself and a health professional to see if these or something else may be the reason.

Restrictive diets

Paleo, vegan and gluten-free are hot diets for health, moral or perhaps weight loss reasons. But we should be aware of some things before we restrict whole food groups to make sure we are getting those nutrients in other ways.

Certain medications

Several basic or more serious medications can deplete magnesium, Vitamin B-12 and others.

Too much alcohol

Overdoing it on alcohol can cause a number of issues, including affecting our essential nutrients. Too much alcohol can reduce folate levels, as has been seen in alcoholics.

Choose Good Supplements

If you go this route, you can find vitamins and supplements galore on store shelves or online. But not all are created equal. And keep in mind that supplements are no substitute for a healthy lifestyle of nourishing foods, sleep, and other habits.

To help make sure you get a vitamin or mineral supplement that actually works, here’s what to look for:

Proper dosage

What has your health professional recommended? Look for that amount (in milligrams or otherwise) on the label.

Whole food supplements 

Look for whole food supplements derived from raw, whole foods. Your body will recognize these and be able to use them better.

Fillers 

Avoid artificial colors, preservatives, fillers and binders, allergens such as dairy, gluten, and soy.

USP-Verified

Look for a “USP-verified” label. This means it has been verified by the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, an independent group that tries to make sure supplements deliver what they promise on the label.

Organic or Non-GMO

Look for a label that says it’s organic or Non-GMO Project Verified. This often means there are less harmful pesticides or questionable ingredients. 

(Thumbnail Photo: freestocks.org/Unsplash)


Jessica Hamlin is an LA-born and bred journalist and editor who started taking pictures of food back when everyone used film cameras. A graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition’s health coach training program, she’s passionate about wellness and enjoys making and discovering delicious and healthy food. Her work has appeared in Clean Plates, NPR affiliate KPCC, AOL, and Eater LA.   

 

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