By Kara Glasco, MS, RCEP, HFS
We all know how important it is to consume a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals. I’m sure everyone’s mother made them drink a glass of milk a day or take a gummy vitamin when they were kids. As we age, it becomes especially important to get enough calcium and vitamin D to keep our bones strong. In this article, I will address a few of the lesser known vitamins that are essential for a healthy body.
Iron is an essential component of our red blood cells, which are responsible for carrying oxygen to lungs, muscles, and body tissues. Anemia can be a real problem for people with bone diseases, certain chronic diseases, and bleeding disorders. Low iron levels can also occur in vegetarians and vegans since the greatest sources of iron come from meat and seafood. The recommended daily intake of iron for males is 8mg and 18mg for females (1). Animal sources contain both heme and non-heme iron and plant based sources only contain non-heme iron. Many foods are fortified with iron such as cereals and breads. Always opt for the naturally occurring iron sources rather than fortified sources. Beans, nuts, and green leafy vegetables are also great sources of iron. One cup of black beans has 3.6mg of iron, one cup of cooked spinach has 4mg of iron, and 6 ounces of steak has 5mg of iron.
Vitamin K is one of the lesser known vitamins but nonetheless important for many functions in the body. Anyone who takes a blood thinner has to limit their vitamin K intake due to specific drug interactions and most healthy food has a good amount of this vitamin. One of Vitamin K’s main functions is to aid in blood clotting by synthesizing certain proteins in the blood (2). Calcium ions are also affected by vitamin K and this vitamin aids calcium bonding in the bones and tissues. The daily recommended intake of Vitamin K for males is 120mcg and 90mcg for females (2). Common dietary sources include dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, or broccoli, fats and oils. One cup of cooked broccoli contains 162mcg, 1 cup of cooked edamame contains 33mcg and one cup of cooked kale contains over 1,000mcg! Now that’s a lot of vitamin K!
When most people think of Vitamin A, they know it is good for their eyes and carrots are a well-known source for the vitamin. Vitamin A aids other systems in the body including the immune system, reproductive system and stimulates cellular growth of organs (3). Vitamin A has two forms, preformed vitamin A, also known as retinols, and provitamin A, known as carotenoids. Retinols are found in meat, fish, eggs, and dairy sources. Carotenoid sources are found mainly in plant sources of deeply pigmented green, orange, red, and yellow fruits and vegetables. According to the National Institutes of Health, the top carotenoid Vitamin A sources include carrots, broccoli, cantaloupe, and squash (3). The daily recommended intake of Vitamin A for males is 900mcg RAE and 700mcg for females (3). One baked sweet potato contains 1,400 mcg, one cup of cooked spinach contains over 1,000mcg, and one cup of carrots contains around 900 mcg of vitamin A.
When eating for health, search for the most colorful foods in the produce department because they will contain the most vitamins and minerals. In general, you can’t go wrong with dark green, deep orange and bright reds. Certain foods such as broccoli, kale, and sweet potatoes are vitamin powerhouses containing many of your daily nutrient needs. It is always better to consume vitamin sources from whole foods rather than dietary supplements. I encourage you to try some new foods, search for those healthy colors and eat the rainbow!
National Institutes of Health. Iron Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet. Office of Dietary Supplements, 19 Feb. 2015. Web. 10 Aug. 2015.
National Institutes of Health. Vitamin K Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet. Office of Dietary Supplements, 16 Feb. 2015. Web. 10 Aug.. 2015.
National Institutes of Health. Vitamin A Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet. Office of Dietary Supplements, 05 June. 2013. Web. 10 Aug. 2015.