Nutritious food is essential to good health. The human body needs a number of vitamins and nutrients and to get them a variety of foods should be eaten. Many people who have a mineral deficiency or are at risk for being deficient and are not even aware. Here are three common deficiencies: iron, calcium and magnesium.
Worldwide, iron deficiency or anemia is one of the most common nutritional disorders. This mineral deficiency is prevalent in both developing countries and industrialized ones. Over 30% of the world is anemic. Iron is essential to blood production. It carries oxygen in the hemoglobin molecule of red blood cells within the body so cells can make energy. A low red blood cell count in the blood can mean anemia. It also results from excessive blood loss, low dietary intake, and inadequate absorption. Anemia is most common in women of childbearing age; they are two times more likely to have anemia than young men due to menstrual cycles. During pregnancy, water and weight gain can dilute the blood since the concentration of red blood cells is lower. Anemia in the elderly, may exhibit more symptoms because of other ongoing medical problems. Those who have had renal failure or routinely undergo dialysis are at risk for developing anemia because the kidneys cannot produce enough erythropoietin, a hormone necessary to produce red blood cells. Gastrointestinal disorders like Crohn’s or Celicac’s can also interfere with iron absorption. Anemia causes weakness, fatigue, difficulty in maintaining normal body temperature, and decreased immune function. Dietary iron is a trace mineral that has two categories: animal sources and plant sources. Animal sources consist of organ meats, red meats, fish, poultry, shellfish, and egg yolks. Plant based sources include pumpkin seeds, enriched rice, dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, dried fruits, enriched breads and cereals. Soybeans contain some proteins that can inhibit plant based-iron absorption. Iron derived from animal protein is better absorbed than plant based iron.
Calcium is one of the most plentiful minerals in the body. But low calcium intake is common in the elderly, those who eat little or no fruit and vegetables and those who are smokers. Approximately 43% of the US population use supplements, 70% of which are older women. It’s essential for healthy teeth and bones, key in nerve functions, immune health, assists in muscle relaxation, blood clotting and blood pressure regulation, and involved in cell communication. Over a long period of time, an inadequate intake of calcium can lead to osteoporosis. Postmenopausal women, amenorrheic women, the lactose intolerant, and female athletes are at risk for calcium deficiency. Women with amenorrhea and anorexia nervosa have diminished calcium absorption and are more susceptible to fractures. Female athletes and active women in the military may want to take a calcium supplement along with vitamin D to prevent stress fractures due to a deficiency. Calcium can be found in foods like milk, dairy products, salmon, sardines, green leafy vegetables like broccoli, spinach, or rhubarb, legumes, and fortified tofu or soymilk.
Only about half of the US adult population reaches their recommended daily allowance (RDA) for magnesium. This mineral has an important role in carbohydrate metabolism, helps regulate blood sugar levels, maintains normal nerve and muscle functions, keeps heart rhythms and normal blood pressure steady, and aids in immune system health. A magnesium deficiency can often be linked to poorly managed type 2 diabetes because magnesium is lost in urine due to hyperglycemia. Some 30 to 60% of alcoholics have low levels of magnesium in their blood, while almost 90% of those in the throes of withdrawal also have a deficiency. The deficiency is likely to be present if heart disease, colon cancer, asthma and osteoporosis already exist. Gastrointestinal disorders like Crohn’s disease can hinder absorption of magnesium because it is absorbed in the intestines. Symptoms can include insulin resistance, hypertension, migraines, cramping, fibromyalgia, constipation and restless leg syndrome. Magnesium can be found in leafy greens like, Swiss chard and spinach, nuts, seeds, dark chocolate, halibut, espresso and mineral water. Most animals are relatively poor sources of this mineral. Magnesium rich foods must be grown in magnesium rich soil. Plant based foods are a preferred source for this mineral.
Eating a nutritious diet with a variety of healthy foods is best but supplements can be a great alternative for those who don’t consistently eat a healthy diet or may have problems absorbing these minerals.
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