We’ve all perused nutrition labels. When we’re buying food and drinks, we will study (and sometimes be shocked by) the calories, sugar, carbs, and fat per serving. Just below these amounts, we’ll see some percentages. They show us how much of our daily intake of vitamins and minerals such as Vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, and zinc we are getting. They may point to a need for supplements, too.
The FDA recommends daily amounts of these vitamins and minerals, and nutritionists and doctors agree we should be consuming these amounts through the foods and drinks we consume. We spoke to a few food and health companies to learn more about the benefits of these vitamins and minerals and ways to receive the necessary amounts of them.
Antioxidants are substances that prevent daily cell damage by inhibiting harmful oxidation. They keep free radicals in the body in check.
“Oxidation is a natural process, as long as there’s a balance between free radicals and antioxidants,” says Michael Jankie, Founder of The Natural Patch Co. “While free radicals fight off infection brought by pathogens, they can damage the body without the proper amount of antioxidants. To increase your antioxidant intake, you should be consuming several servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Antioxidants such as vitamins C and E also maintain skin, tissue, and bone health. They improve muscle function and protect cells from toxins.”
In addition to leafy greens and fruits high in vitamin C, including kiwi and oranges, you can increase your antioxidant consumption through lesser-known foods and supplements.
Hector Gutierrez, CEO of JOI, describes the benefits of chaga and spirulina.
Gutierrez states, “Chaga is a mushroom with a high concentration of antioxidants and fiber. It is known to reduce inflammation and lower blood sugar. Research also suggests that consuming Chaga can fight harmful bacteria and slow the growth of cancerous cells. You can find Chaga in health food stores, often sold as supplements or teas. Spirulina is a nutrient and antioxidant-rich cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae. It’s also an anti-inflammatory and contains vitamins B1, B2, B3, and iron. Like all antioxidants, it suppresses oxidation in the body and protects DNA and tissues. Research also suggests it improves muscle strength and endurance. Spirulina is considered a superfood and is found in most health food stores.”
Antioxidants, along with many vitamins and minerals, support our immune systems.
A healthy diet is essential in maintaining an efficient immune system. By consuming the necessary amounts of vitamin D, iron, and zinc, we support our body’s ability to fight infection and disease.
Brandon Adcock, Co-Founder and CEO of Nugenix, describes vitamin D’s benefits and how we might increase our vitamin D consumption.
Adcock states, “Our primary source of vitamin D is the sun. Your body activates vitamin D when exposed to ultraviolet light. If our exposure to UV light is limited, there are other sources for vitamin D consumption, including cod liver oil, fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, and enriched juices. Vitamin D supports calcium and phosphorus absorption, both of which are necessary for producing healthy bones and teeth. It also promotes cell growth, immune system function, and nervous system function. Vitamin D deficiencies can cause bone pain, muscle fatigue, and frequent illness. If you experience these symptoms, you can, after consulting your doctor, increase your vitamin D consumption through more exposure to sunlight, foods, and dietary supplements.”
The Importance of Iron
Alongside vitamin D, iron is an essential mineral that improves our immune function.
“Iron plays an integral role in our immune system’s development and its response to infection,” says Riley Burke, Growth Marketing Manager of Ohza. “It also affects our cognitive performance. If our iron levels are low, it will negatively impact our ability to concentrate. We will experience fatigue and an inability to focus. Iron supports red blood cells as they carry oxygen throughout the body. For people experiencing iron deficiency or iron deficiency anemia, look into consuming more red meats, legumes, and leafy greens. Consuming the right amount of vitamin C also encourages iron absorption.”
The Cleveland Clinic also urges those on vegan or vegetarian diets to be mindful of their iron consumption. Often, these diets are high in fiber, and too much fiber can block iron absorption. However, with the support of your doctor, there are plant-based foods and supplements to counteract an iron deficiency.
Zinc is another mineral that promotes healthy immune function.
When you hear the word “zinc,” you might see visions of lifeguards with white noses and sunscreen bottles. This form of zinc, zinc oxide, can be found in foods, but it’s more common in skincare products. The other form of zinc, zinc sulfate, is a nutrient.
Like iron, zinc is in red meat, alongside poultry, beans, nuts, and whole grains. The Cleveland Clinic explains that we need zinc in small amounts. It can improve our immune system and memory.
Our bones are constantly changing and developing over time. We grow new bones and break down old ones as we grow, and according to the Mayo Clinic, most of us reach our peak bone mass by the time we reach thirty. After this point, we begin to lose bone mass.
Without the proper nutrition and exercise habits, we might form osteoporosis, where the bones become weak and brittle. To prevent the onset of osteoporosis and build the healthiest skeletons we can, we must look at our calcium and vitamin A consumption.
Lindsay McCormick, Founder and CEO of Bite, claims, “Our calcium intake helps us build and maintain strong bones. A strong skeletal structure protects our vital organs and supports our physical activities. We tend to pay close attention to how much calcium children consume, but we forget that bone growth and development do not end. It continues well past adolescence. We’re remodeling our bones throughout our entire lives. The recommended daily requirements change according to our age and sex and whether or not we’re pregnant. It’s important to keep these changing requirements in mind and to study the labels on the foods, drinks, and supplements we’re consuming.”
Calcium also maintains strong teeth, regulates blood pressure, and aids hormone secretion. It is present in many dairy products and other foods, including tofu, soy, collard greens, and kale.
Our hearts perform the vital and unceasing job of carrying blood to all areas of the body. As it beats, it sends oxygen, hormones, and other compounds to the right places and keeps our organs and systems functioning properly.
The CDC claims that heart disease is the leading cause of death for people in the United States. There are many factors that negatively impact heart health, and a lack of micronutrients is one of them.
The Impact of Vitamins A and B
Vitamins A and B play a significant role in keeping our hearts healthy.
“Vitamin A promotes cell growth and differentiation, which are essential to the development of our vital organs,” says Jorge Vivar, Creative Director of Mode. “When consumed in the right amounts, vitamin A will improve your vision and help your body resist infection. Since vitamin A plays an integral role in cell development and replacement, it also keeps skin tissue and bones healthy.”
Michael Hennessy, Founder and CEO of Diathrive, describes vitamin B’s role in keeping our hearts healthy.
Hennessy claims, “Consuming vitamin B, specifically vitamins B9 and B12, correlates to lower levels of homocysteine in the body. Homocysteine is an amino acid that the body naturally produces, but at high levels, it’s linked to increased risks for heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. If your diet includes the right amount of vitamin B, you’re lowering your chances of contracting heart disease. You can find vitamin B in leafy greens, animal proteins, and whole grains. Food producers often fortify products such as cereals with additional vitamin B. Make sure to check the labels on your food and drink items to ensure you’re receiving high-quality vitamins in sufficient doses.”
While vitamins impact heart health, studies conclude that it’s best to consume these vitamins through foods rather than dietary supplements. Research indicates that supplemental vitamins do little to prevent cardiovascular disease, and there is the added risk that excess amounts of vitamins can negatively affect heart health.
There is one possible exception to the inefficacy of supplements on heart health, and that is omega-3s.
Omega-3s are fatty acids found in fish species such as mackerel, wild salmon, herring, tuna, trout, and anchovies. They are also available in capsule form.
The Cleveland Clinic claims current studies show that people who consume omega-3s, preferably in foods, have less plaque buildup than those who do not. This decrease in plaque buildup lowers the risk of stroke and heart attack.
Research also suggests that regular consumption of omega-3s can help treat mood and mental health disorders such as depression.
Lauren Kleinman, Co-Founder of The Quality Edit, states, “While omega-3s are not a cure or stand-alone treatment for mental health challenges, they are proving to be helpful, natural supplements to other treatments. Studies are demonstrating positive effects on depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. More research must be conducted to determine what forms of omega-3s are most effective and the dosage for individuals. However, there is strong evidence to support the claim that omega-3s help individuals dealing with these mental health challenges without any adverse effects.”
For more information on studies involving omega-3s and their impact on mental health, visit David Mischoulon’s post on Harvard Health Publishing.
Nutritionists and doctors agree we should meet our vitamin and mineral quotas primarily through our diets. A well-rounded diet is healthier and offers greater benefits than supplements. According to Harvard Health Publishing, there is little evidence to suggest that dietary supplements such as multivitamins, vitamin D, and calcium provide the same benefits that those same vitamins do in food and drink. Since supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, they don’t have to prove their benefits.
However, some studies demonstrate health benefits from supplements, and most supplements are safe to consume.
Before deciding to include supplements in your diet, make sure to consult your physician to determine the best ones for you.