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Don't Miss Out on These 5 Nutrients

You've heard of vitamin C and calcium. But have you gotten the word on all the other nutrients you need for a healthy diet?

Chances are you're not getting enough of some important nutrients—like these five that get scant attention. You should try to get them from food, but if you think you're falling short, ask your health care provider about supplements.

Iron

The name symbolizes strength. Still, up to three out of four adolescent girls and women of childbearing age don't get enough of this vital mineral. Causes of iron deficiency include menstrual bleeding and iron-poor diets.

Iron is essential to building red blood cells that transport oxygen through your body. It's also important to your immune system and mental faculties.

The amount of iron you need varies widely by age, gender, and circumstances. Your body absorbs iron from beef, chicken, and fish more easily than iron from egg yolk, cereal, dried beans, peas, and dark green leafy vegetables. Eating foods rich in vitamin C can help enhance iron absorption.

Selenium

This antioxidant mineral works with vitamins A, C, and E, as well as with the mineral zinc, to protect cells from damage. Selenium may help us avoid prostate, colon, and lung cancer.

Meats, seafood, grains, and seeds contain selenium, but the amount in foods varies based on where the food was grown. Selenium occurs naturally in soil and different types of soil contain varying amounts of selenium. As a result, foods grown in high selenium soil will contain more selenium naturally.

You need 55 mcg per day, but don't overdo: More than 400 mcg daily can cause skin inflammation, convulsions, and other problems.

Vitamin D

To get enough vitamin D, head outdoors: Your liver makes this vitamin after your skin absorbs sunlight. With the exception of fish oils and some fatty fish, food offers little natural vitamin D. It's generally added to milk. Vitamin D helps your body absorb and metabolize calcium, strengthening bones. So getting enough vitamin D is just as important as getting sufficient amounts of calcium.

A sunscreen of 30 SPF or greater appears to block vitamin D production. Sunscreen users can absorb vitamin D from milk—but if you don't drink milk, don't forsake your sunscreen. Oftentimes, just a few minutes of sun exposure without sunscreen a day can ensure sufficient vitamin D production, but ask your doctor what's right for you.

Heed the intake suggestions below. More than 2,000 IU daily can be toxic.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K helps make your blood clot and works with calcium and vitamin D to build strong bones.

Normal bacteria in your digestive system help make vitamin K. To ensure you consume enough vitamin K, eat those green vegetables. Your body also can make vitamin K from eggs, milk, and meat.

Keep in mind that vitamin K can interfere with certain blood-thinning medications. Talk with your doctor if you're on such medication or you're not sure.

Zinc

Zinc’s functions in the body are many and diverse. It is involved in the action of many enzymes. Specific functions in humans are difficult to pinpoint but people who don't get enough zinc are at higher risk for growth disorders, dermatitis, birth defects, decreased sperm production, and changes in the immune system.

Zinc has been popular as a supplement, but claims that it shortens colds appear to be unfounded.

You can find zinc in many foods, including red meat, wheat bran, almonds, peanut butter, and tuna.

By the numbers

Suggested daily intakes of these five vitamins and minerals:

  • Iron. (Men, 8 mg; women: premenopause, 18 mg; if pregnant, 27 mg; postmenopause: 8 mg; upper limit, 45 mg)

  • Zinc. (Men, 11 mg; women, 8 mg; upper limit, 40 mg)

  • Vitamin K. (Men, 120 mcg; women, 90 mcg; no upper limit)

  • Selenium. (Men and women, 55 mcg; upper limit, 400 mcg)

  • Vitamin D. (Men and women, up to age 70, 600 IU; ages 71 and older, 800 IU; upper limit, 4,000 IU)