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Minerals make meals healthier

Nutritionists say pills are not as effective as food - Diets require everything from calcium to zinc

Sally Squires - Special to the Star
Reported in the Toronto Star

Friday, June 18, 2004

People don't usually think of grocery shopping as a mining expedition. But there's increasing evidence that it's wise to seek essential minerals when cruisign the supermarket aisles.

This month a team of scientists at the US Department of Agriculture's Western Human Nutrition Research Center reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that copper appeared to improve immune function in a small group of men.

That's not the only mineral getting a closer look. From calcium to zinc, essential minerals appear to be worth their weight in gold. In some cases they may help you achieve a healthy weight, too.

"If I were a betting lady, I would bet on getting some of the minerals to keep me healthier," says Judith Stern, professor of nutrition and internal medicine at the University of California, Davis, where the research center is located.

That's because growing evidence points to the blood-pressure-lowering benefits of potassium, possible diabetes prevention from magnesium and potential immune system boosting from zinc.

But, as Stern notes, it can be challenging to find the right balance of minerals. "Zinc has been a favourite mineral of late," she says. "But you don't want to overdo it on zinc, because doing so affects copper absorption.".

For that reason, Stern and others nutrition experts say food is the leading choice to meet mineral requirements. "Even when we put these things in a pill," Stern says, "we still haven't duplicated all the effects of fruits and vegetables."

So to help you dig for your daily minerals, here's a guide to the gems and the foods that deliver them.
  • Calcium - The most common mineral in the body, calcium is best known for building strong bones and teeth. It also plays a key role in maintaining blood vessels, producing hormones and enabling nerves to signal each other. Growing evidence suggests it may help with weight control, keep blood pressure in check and reduce the risk of colon polyp recurrence, a risk factor for colon cancer.

    Kids and teens need the most - about 1,300 milligrams per day (roughly the amount found in four glasses of skim milk or fortified orang juice). Adults 51 and older require 1,200 milligrams per day; those 50s and under need 1,000 milligrams.

    Food sources: Low-fat and non-fat diary products, fish with bones, such as canned salmon; fortified food, including juice and soy milk; and some green vegetables, such as spinach.

  • Copper - Too little copper appears to depress the immune function and weaken bones. Too much may help promote heart disease. Aim for 900 micrograms per day for adults, 19 and older.

    that's equal to about a cup of lentil soup and an ounce of cashews.

    Food sources: Oysters, crab and other shellfish; liver, almonds and other nuts, lentils, mushrooms, shredded wheat and chocolate.

  • Iron - Without it, blood could not carry oxygen, proten would not form and key bio-chemical reactions throughout the body woudl not occur. Iron bolsters the immune system and is required for growth and reproduction, which is why pregnant women need the most 27 milligrams per day (about the equivalent of five cups of raisin bran cereal). Women of childbrearing ages need about 18 millligrams per day, men 19 and older and post-menopausal women need the least 8 milligrams per day - about that found in 3/4 cup of tofu.

    Food sources: Beef, dark chicken meat, oysters, raisin bran, black strap molasses and prunes. Beans, soy and spinach are rich in iron, but also have phylates, which can cut iron absorption in half, this is why vegetarians are urged to eat more iron-rich food than meat-eaters. Vitamin C helps boost iron absorption, so drink some orange juice with your raisin bran for better absorption.

  • Magnesium - Key to hundreds of vital functions, magnesium helps maintain muscle, bone and nerves, and promotes a steady heartbeat. The latest findings suggest it may help prevent migraine headaches, could help reduce asthma and may treat impaired glucose tolerance, a precursor of diabetes. Men 19 and older need the most, about 400 milligrams per day, equal to about an ounce of almonds, a bowl of high-fibre cereal, a cup of brown rice and a bowl of black-eyed peas. Women need about 300 milligrams per day.

    Food sources: Whole grains, especially bran cereals, nuts and green vegetables, including spinach.

  • Potassium - Vital to the internal integrity of all cells to the body, potassium is also key for controlling blood presure. Too little potassium can cause fatigue, muscle cramps, bloating and, in severe cases, fatal irregular heartbeats. New research suggests potassium may help prevent stroke, osteoporosis and kidney stones. Those 14 and older need nearly five grams per day - about the amount found in 10 servings of fruit and vegetables.

    Food sources: Fruit (especially bananas and oranges), vegetables (especially potatoes) and nuts.

  • Zinc - Important to protect against infection, preserve brain function and for reproduction, zinc is a key element of enzymes, enables protein production and allows communication between cells. Too little zinc can cause rashes, delay puberty, impair hearing, reduce appetite, cause night blindness and produce severe diarrhea. New research suggests zinc may help treat the common cold and could be helpful in diabetes, muscular degeneration and bolstering the immune system of those with HIV. Aim for 11 milligrams per day for adults 19 and older, since too much zinc over a long period can cause toxicity, including copper deficiency, diarrhea and vomitting.

    Food sources: Shellfish, beef, nuts, legumes and whole grains,.

    Washington Post

    The above information is provided for general educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace competent health care advice received from a knowledgeable healthcare professional. You are urged to seek healthcare advice for the treatment of any illness or disease.
    Health Canada and the FDA (USA) have not evaluated these statements. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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