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.

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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.

 

 

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The importance of Vitamin D this autumn: are you getting enough?

A fried egg make to look like yellow sunshine behind a white cloud

It’s known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because vitamin D is primarily produced on the skin in sunlight. As it’s no secret that we’re coming to the end of summer, it’s more important than ever that we get plenty of vitamin D. It’s essential for healthy bones and teeth, supports the immune system and is also important in regulating our mood.

So how can we chase the sunshine this autumn? Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her ideas on getting enough vitamin D through the coming months.

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THE FACTS

The most active form of vitamin D (vitamin D3) is made on the skin in the presence of sunshine. What actually happens is that when ultra violet rays reach the skin, a form of vitamin D is converted into the active form known as cholecalciferol. This is then transported to the liver and kidneys which produce an even more potent form.

This is great if there’s sufficient sunshine! However, it’s a well-established fact that there’s widespread deficiency of vitamin D within populations living in the Northern Hemisphere (for example, the UK), as we get little sunlight during the autumn and winter months. The body can store vitamin D in the liver, but it’s often insufficient to last through the winter months, and that’s assuming there’s was enough to be stored in the first place.

Woman lunging on a beach with the outline of her bones shown as if x-rayed to represent strong bones

Vitamin D is available in a few animal-based foods as D3 but in plant foods the form Vitamin D2 is harder for the body to convert into the active form. However, it’s still a very viable nutrient, and shouldn’t be overlooked.

THE BENEFITS

Vitamin D is super-powerful and has far-reaching health benefits. What we know for certain though is that vitamin D is needed for healthy bones and teeth. This is mainly because it’s essential to metabolise the minerals calcium and phosphorus. It also plays a key role in keeping the immune system on track and is thought to help ease low mood. More research is emerging all the time on this topic.

THE FOODS

Vitamin D is found in a number of foods and even though it still has to be converted to its most active form, food sources make a valuable contribution to levels needed by the body. Salmon, for example, is one of the best sources of vitamin D3. However, wild salmon contains more than farmed salmon mainly because of the food the fish have consumed. Other oily fish such as mackerel and sardines are great (tinned sardines are particularly good if you eat the small bones), plus tuna, egg yolks, oysters and shrimp.

A range of foods containing vitamin D

However, if you’re vegetarian, the only plant source of vitamin D is mushrooms. They work just like humans in that they produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Other than that, there are a range of fortified foods to choose from such as cow’s milk, soya milk, orange juice (not all brands will be fortified, so check the label), and some cereals which will also contain vitamin D.

THE SUPPLEMENTS

Public Health England issued advice a couple of years ago that everyone should take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D during the winter months, such was the widespread problem of deficiency. However, this should very much be considered a minimum level as the body generally needs much more. Supplements contain either vitamin D3 or vitamin D2 and they will both help prevent deficiency symptoms, which can include muscle and joint aches and pains, depression, poor immunity and more falls in the elderly.

 

The best advice is to start taking a supplement now but also try to eat more foods or fortified foods containing vitamin D.

So whilst the summer has almost finished for another year, top up those Vitamin D levels through diet and supplementation to make sure you are getting enough of this essential vitamin.

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Top nutrients for a tip-top smile

Cloe up of woman smiling brightly with a becah background

A lovely smile brightens up the face and healthy teeth are key to having a smile that engages the world! Good teeth are often built in the early years from having sufficient nutrients, particularly calcium and vitamin D in the diet. But what other nutrients are important?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares the five most important nutrients for a lovely smile.

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CALCIUM

It’s the most abundant mineral in both the bones and teeth, therefore it’s important to have sufficient in the diet. If you missed out during childhood, for whatever reason, it’s never too late to make sure your diet is calcium-rich. Whilst dairy foods are some of the richest sources of calcium many people are intolerant or have an allergy to dairy foods.

The good news is that there are many dairy alternative milks which are naturally rich in calcium or are fortified such as soya, coconut and almond. There are also a great variety of dairy-free yoghurts to enjoy. Green leafy vegetables, sesame seeds, fish with bones such as sardines and tinned salmon, beans and lentils are all rich sources. Kale contains some of the most absorbable calcium around! The best advice is to include a variety of foods containing calcium in your diet.

VITAMIN D

Known as the sunshine vitamin, Vitamin D actually goes hand in hand with calcium when it comes to healthy teeth and bones – in fact calcium needs vitamin D to do its job properly. Even though summer is on its way, with hopefully more sunshine, sunscreen and lack of time out in the sun means we’re often still vitamin D deficient. If you want healthy teeth, you should ideally be taking a vitamin D supplement all-year round containing at least 10 micrograms. And Public Health England supports this recommendation.

Interestingly, foods such as oily fish with bones that are high in calcium, also contain some vitamin D, so get that barbeque lit and cook up some sardines!

COQ10

CoQ10 is a vitamin-like substance that is naturally produced in the body but diminishes with age and is frequently deficient. In fact, CoQ10 is a very powerful antioxidant working hard throughout the body holding back age-related diseases. However, it’s also been found to be very effective at reducing gum disease through supplementation1.

CoQ10 is found in many foods including organ meats, beef and pork, oily fish, leafy greens such as spinach and cauliflower as well as oranges, although not in great amounts. It’s been found that as little as 50 mg of CoQ10 in supplement form, daily, can help reduce the severity of periodontal disease. It’s actually the gums that can be problematic as the years roll by, leading to pain, bleeding from the gums and loss of teeth, all detrimental to a healthy smile!

VITAMIN C

Vitamin C is key in the production of collagen. Since collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, it make sense that teeth will also contain some. Plus vitamin C is our key antioxidant helping to fight damaging free radicals that attack all parts of the body, and unfortunately, the gums are no exception.

Eating plenty of colourful fruits and vegetables, particularly strawberries (in season right now and delicious with some calcium-rich cream), cherries, sweet red peppers, kiwi fruits and leafy greens are also teeth and gum-friendly. Certain fruits, particularly citrus fruits are acidic and may attack tooth enamel. If you do eat them (and they’re particularly rich in vitamin C), rinse your mouth out with water afterwards and don’t brush your teeth for at least 30 minutes after eating to allow the enamel to settle.

MAGNESIUM

Magnificent magnesium is one of the other key minerals for healthy teeth and gums2. It’s as essential as calcium; magnesium helps to develop hard enamel that covers the teeth. Foods which contain magnesium include nuts and seeds but the good news is that it’s rich also in foods that are abundant in vitamin C, particularly green leafy vegetables. For a real ‘green’ hit, why not whizz up a green juice containing cucumber, pear, parsley, spinach and some mint for a really summery twist!

Magnesium is frequently deficient in the daily diet, partly because of our over-reliance on convenience foods and it’s depleted by stress. However, with some careful planning and also including wholegrains and nuts and seeds in your diet, you’ll have plenty to smile about!

So make sure to build a healthy smile this summer with these top teeth nutrients!

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The top three vitamins to future-proof your health

We all know we need to eat healthily and lead an active life to give us the best chance of staying well into old age.  Obviously, we don’t have a looking glass to see what’s going on inside our body but for starters why not prioritise those vitamins that could really help support your health as the years go by?

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her top three vitamins for future-proofing your health.

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VITAMIN C

A popular remedy for the common cold, and possibly the most well-known of all the vitamins, the health benefits of Vitamin C are far-reaching.  Vitamin C was first discovered many years ago by sailors in the British Navy trying to stave off the deficiency disease of scurvy by eating citrus fruits. In fact, it’s the very reason us Brits are often nicknamed ‘limeys’ because of the high vitamin C content in limes that were consumed.

Since then, it’s been found that vitamin C is used by the body in many different ways. Its primary function is in the manufacture of collagen, the main protein in the body.  Vitamin C is needed to join together the amino acid proline to form a stable collagen structure. As collagen is so important for holding our body together, vitamin C is actually crucial for healthy skin. Therefore, whilst your body might be quietly ageing, outwardly you’ll be looking younger!  Most importantly, you’ll be taking very good care of the inner structure of your body, which of course you can’t see.

Whilst vitamin C is readily found in many fruits and vegetables, it’s quickly used up by the body, so you need to be eating these foods every day.  Think peppers, guavas, kale, broccoli, strawberries, oranges and lemons, mangoes and asparagus. With such an amazing variety to choose from you’ll never be short of ways to increase your vitamin C intake.

VITAMIN D

Affectionately known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because it’s made on the skin in the presence of sunlight, vitamin D is a key player in your healthy future.

The main role of vitamin D is to stimulate the absorption of calcium – our main bone and teeth-building mineral.  Although it’s fat-soluble, not much is stored in the body, hence, during the winter months in the UK, around 40% of the population are deficient.

As with many nutrients, deficiency symptoms can often be unspecific and not noticed until there is potentially something more serious afoot.  This is certainly true when it comes to our bones; peak bone density is reached at around 25 to 30 years of age, therefore it’s key to ensure the body has the right nutrients in early years to build strong bones for the future.

New benefits of vitamin D are being discovered all the time.  Optimal vitamin D levels in the body are also associated with better mood throughout life.  A recent large study[1] showed that increased levels of vitamin D may help prevent depression in later life – yet another good reason to take a supplement through the winter months when sunlight is scarce.

VITAMIN E

As part of normal daily life, the body is under constant attack from free radicals; pollution, poor diet, smoking, excessive sunlight and stress can all take their toll.  Whilst the body does have internal mechanisms for coping with free radicals in the form of antioxidant enzyme systems, it is difficult to know when the body is being overwhelmed.  Thankfully nature has provided us with a wealth of antioxidant nutrients, in particular, vitamin E.

Vitamin E is actually the collective name for a group of biologically active compounds which help prevent any damage caused by free radicals. It would seem that many of our serious degenerative diseases are associated with free radical damage, so whilst we might not know whether the body is coping, it’s certainly worth future-proofing with this vitamin.

Vitamin E also future proofs us in other ways; it helps improve fertility in both men and women.  The best food sources of vitamin E are polyunsaturated oils, seeds, nuts, whole grains, avocados, berries and green leafy vegetables.

As with anything, prevention is better than cure, so it’s certainly worth backing these three vitamins for the best chance of a healthier life, well into old age.

[1] De Oliveira et al.  Asscociations between vitamin D levels and depressive symptoms in later life: Evidence from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA).  J Gerontol A Biol Med Sci 2017 June 22

 

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Smile! Five nutrients for healthy teeth and gums.

‘Smile and the whole world smiles with you’.  A smile goes a long way in life and it’s even better if you have beautiful, healthy teeth.  Whatever age you are, it’s never too late to look after your teeth and gums.  And, as with so many aspects of health, it’s all underpinned by good nutrition.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, provides her five top tips for keeping your teeth and gums in tip-top condition.

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GET ENOUGH CALCIUM

The mineral calcium, which is the most abundant in the body, is the most important one in terms of teeth health, right from birth and throughout life.  If you’ve had a good start, and you and your children received sufficient calcium in the womb, then that’s always going to be beneficial.  However it’s never too late, and having sufficient calcium in the diet throughout life is going to help maintain strong teeth.

Milk and dairy products are great in terms of calcium content, but if you can’t tolerate dairy or choose not to eat dairy products there are alternatives. Think green leafy vegetables, other calcium-enriched milks such as almond or coconut, sesame seeds and bony fish such as sardines.

It’s worth bearing in mind that too much stress can create acidity throughout the whole body which in turn can cause you to lose calcium.  So find ways of reducing your stress levels; yoga, meditation, a lunch time walk away from your desk – whatever helps you to unwind.

ADD SOME SUNSHINE

Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin because it’s produced on the skin in the presence of sunshine.  So, with the summer upon us, make sure you try to get 10-15 minutes each day in the sun without any sunscreen.

Vitamin D is essential for metabolising calcium; they’re inseparable nutrients and your teeth certainly needs sufficient of both nutrients throughout life.  As with calcium, bony fish is a great source of vitamin D, as is, to some extent, milk.

Even though the body can store vitamin D, it would seem that a very large percentage of the UK population are deficient and our requirements for this vitamin are much higher than originally thought.  Therefore, the Department of Health recommends supplementation for everyone throughout the winter months but it would also be prudent to continue supplementing all year round.

VITAMIN C IS KEY!

Vitamin C is probably the most well-known of all vitamins; it’s also one of the most hardworking!  There is often some confusion around vitamin C and how it impacts teeth and gum health, primarily because it’s acidic and too much acid can attack tooth enamel. However, vitamin C is also essential for healthy and strong gums.

If gums are weak, teeth can become wobbly and may eventually fall out.  Therefore, the advice is to eat plenty of vegetables, particularly peppers, kale, broccoli and Brussels sprouts which are high in vitamin C, but also some fruits such as the berry fruits which are high in vitamin C but lower in acid.  Try to avoid fruit juices such as orange juice for breakfast as this coats the teeth with acid. Additionally, don’t brush your teeth for at least an hour after eating fruit.

EAT MORE MAGNESIUM

Whilst calcium tends to get all the acclaim when it comes to teeth health, the mineral magnesium is also important.  This is primarily because magnesium is key in the formation of teeth as well as bones.  Indeed, magnesium and calcium need to be in balance to work at their optimum levels; over-calcification within the body can lead to other problems such as hardening of the artery walls.

The good news is that green leafy vegetables that are high in vitamin C are also high in magnesium; yoghurt and almonds are also high in calcium are magnesium!  It makes dietary choices a whole lot easier.

CoQ10 HELPS SUPPORT GUMS

Healthy gums are as much an essential part of a healthy mouth as healthy teeth.  Compromised gingival (gum) irritations and infections can eventually lead to loss of teeth so gums need to be properly cared for.

Having a balanced diet is key for having a well-nourished and good-working body, including the gums. One often over-looked nutrient is CoQ10.  It is naturally found in the body and functions as a key antioxidant.  However, its production diminishes with age: people taking statin medications are also often deficient.

It is found in many foods such as spinach, broccoli, sardines and mackerel.  However, because it’s so key in gum health, it might be worth considering a CoQ10 supplement of at least 30 milligrams daily.

So there are some easy ways to ensure you’re grinning with confidence (and strong, healthy teeth and gums) by getting the right nutrition. Keep on smiling!

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