Nutrition Tips: top three minerals and how to get them

DOuble exposure image of a woman running and meditating to represent healthy lifestyle

The body needs around 45 different nutrients everyday (including water) – that’s a staggering amount! Most of that number is made up of micronutrients – vitamins and minerals that are essential for health.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

Although they’re only needed in trace amounts, their importance in supporting our bodily systems should never be underestimated.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares three of the most important minerals and how to make sure you are getting enough.

Zinc

Zinc is one of the hardest working of all the minerals. Obviously, all minerals are essential and have their own particular areas of expertise. However zinc gets really involved in so many aspects of our health because it’s responsible for around 200 different enzyme reactions. Enzymes are usually proteins that speed up all chemical reactions within body cells and are absolutely essential for life. So, zinc is pretty key to our existence!

Whilst zinc is involved in so many body functions, its key roles are keeping the immune system in good shape and in wound healing. Zinc is also involved in sensory functions such as taste and smell, skin health and sexual function (especially the production of male testosterone).

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

To give a little more detail, zinc is involved in protein production and cell regeneration, hence its role in wound healing. Zinc supplementation can improve taste and appetite which is especially important in the elderly and in some cases for supporting those with eating disorders. It is also needed for the production of male hormones and sperm plus it can help reduce an enlarged prostate.

Good food sources of zinc include oysters and other shellfish, red meat, beans, nuts, oats and pumpkin seeds.

Calcium

Calcium wins a place on the leader board because it’s the most abundant mineral in the human body. It’s primarily known for healthy teeth and bones because around 99% of it is found in one or the other. Interestingly, if too much is found in the blood stream, this can lead to calcification or hardening of the arteries; balancing calcium with sufficient magnesium (see below) helps to prevent this occurrence, however.

Calcium is also involved in muscle contraction, regulation of the heartbeat and blood clotting. However, its role in bone building is probably the most important, therefore adequate dietary intakes are essential. Unfortunately osteoporosis (the disease causing loss of bone mass), is becoming increasingly common, partly due to poor diet. It generally affects women in greater numbers than men and there is a genetic link.

A range of foods containing calcium

The best dietary source of calcium is dairy produce. However, bone loss can increase when the diet is too acidic and any high protein food can exacerbate this problem. Therefore, whilst it’s important to eat dairy produce (natural yoghurts are great) or use calcium enriched plant milks, eating other calcium-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, all soya products plus nuts and seeds will create a good balance and help protect bone density.

Magnesium

Magnesium is the perfect partner to calcium in the bones, although only around 60% of the body’s magnesium is found there. The rest is found in muscle (hence its importance in muscle function) and soft body tissue and fluid. Magnesium is another very hard-working mineral and, just like zinc, is involved in numerous enzyme reactions, as well as a number of other really important functions.

Marginal deficiency of magnesium is actually quite common since it’s mainly found in whole foods and green leafy vegetables – another reason we need to be eating our daily greens! Low levels can make women more susceptible to Pre-menstrual Syndrome (PMS) and menstrual cramps. Additionally, high blood pressure, muscle aches and pains, poor sleep and tiredness can all be caused by low magnesium intakes.

A range of foods containing the mineral Magnesium

The other problem is that it’s easily depleted by alcohol intake, the contraceptive pill and taking in too much calcium. It’s all about balance. The best way to try to ensure you’re getting enough is to try to eat primarily low glycaemic foods which are generally wholegrains, pulses and nuts and seeds. And, of course, those wonderful dark leafy greens should also feature very regularly on the plate.

So make sure you are getting enough of these hard-working minerals in your daily diet to support all these bodily systems.

 

 

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition, health and wellness advice direct to your inbox.

Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts

 

 

Protein essentials: why you need it and how to get it!

Protein is an essential part of our daily diet, alongside fats and carbohydrates. It plays an important role is so many body functions but often we do not consume enough.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, looks at why protein is so important and some great options for vegetarians!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

WHY IS IT ESSENTIAL?

Protein is an essential part of nutrition, second only to water in terms of the body’s physical make up. Protein makes up around 20% of our body weight and is found in muscles, hair, nails, skin and internal organs, particularly the heart and brain.

Protein plays a key role in the immune system, helping to form antibodies that fight infection, as well as supporting many hormones and enzyme reactions.  It’s certainly essential for growth and development, therefore is especially important during pregnancy and childhood.

Proteins are actually comprised of amino acids. There are eight essential amino acids that the body cannot make, therefore these need to be eaten in the diet: we can become deficient if the diet does not contain the proteins, vitamins, minerals or enzymes needed to produce each one.  The good news is that with a healthy, balanced diet these deficiencies can be avoided.

WHAT MAKES A ‘BALANCED’ DIET?

In general terms, a balanced diet is one that incorporates sufficient levels of all essential nutrients including amino acids.  Put simply, people who eat a predominantly non-vegetarian diet don’t need to worry about specific amino acids; meat, dairy, eggs and fish have varying amounts of each one but all contain some of the essential amino acids.

Pescatarians (people who don’t eat meat, but eat fish and other animal-sourced foods) will also be getting what they need, with a balance of food groups.  People who eat no animal foods at all (known as vegans) should combine grains and pulses to ensure the body is getting what it needs.  However, certain vitamins, specifically vitamin B12, is only found in animal products, so supplementation would be advisable.

HOW OFTEN SHOULD I EAT PROTEIN?

Ideally protein is needed at every meal and thankfully nature has made that task a little easier by providing so many options!  Meat, dairy, chicken, fish, turkey, eggs, soya, grains, pulses, nuts and seeds provide an abundance of options for every individual requirement.

It’s important to include protein at every meal, primarily to ensure sufficient total intake but also to help balance blood sugar levels and keep energy sustained throughout the day.

HOW MUCH DO I NEED?

That question is not quite so easy to answer!  It’s generally dependent on body weight.  A man will normally require more than a woman but a good rule is around 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day.  This means a woman weighing 60 kilos will need around 48 grams of protein per day as a minimum.  As an example, a normal sized chicken breast will contain around 20 grams of protein. Those working in more strenuous manual jobs will require more protein, as will athletes (including recreational athletes).

Interestingly, many women worry that eating too much protein will cause them to ‘bulk up’. Whilst there may be body-builders who are likely to over-consume protein, generally the highly refined Western diet is still more likely to contain too little protein.  This can lead to muscle wastage, hormone imbalances and lack of blood sugar control, so ensuring you are getting enough really is essential for a healthy body.

WHAT ABOUT VEGETARIAN SOURCES?

There are a number of excellent sources of vegetarian protein.  Grains come in many different guises; wheat, rye, oats, corn, barley, bulgur wheat spelt, millet and rice are the main ones. Quinoa looks like a grain but is technically a seed, but it’s still an excellent source of protein containing all the essential amino acids.

Soy products including natto, tofu and tempeh are great fermented forms of protein and also deliver other excellent benefits for the digestive system.  Nuts, seeds and all types of beans also have good amounts of certain amino acids.  Combine them with a grain and you’ve got a full house!

Hopefully these ideas for including more protein in your diet will ensure you are maximising your get-up-and-go every day!

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition and health advice direct to your inbox.

Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit Herbfacts