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Feel the Love – from Foods That Nourish You More!

Adopting a Healthy Way of Eating means optimizing our health and getting more from our daily food choices!

A good diet should always be our first source for essential macro- and micronutrients, but some food options offer a better return than others!

See what dietary sources can nourish you more for these four vitamins and minerals. (And for more ideas about top food sources for specific nutrients, check out my earlier post that highlighted additional essential nutrients!)

Now for today's list... As always, it’s better to get a variety of healthy foods in your diet to gain a wide range of critical nutrients versus just going after improving any single nutrient. Let these lists be a helpful guide for your optimum choices!

Critical Nutrient #1:  Selenium

Although we only require a small amount of selenium in our diet, it’s one of our most important minerals, as it aids in antioxidant protection and helps support thyroid function.

Selenium is a required nutrient for many of our enzymes, which are responsible for supporting our internal detoxification systems and for alleviating oxidative stress.  Along with iodine, selenium also helps support how well our thyroid - with its key metabolic role - functions.  

Deficiency of this nutrient can lead to not only hypothyroidism but also to suppressed immune function, depression, infertility (in men), or cardiovascular disease. 

Where can I find it?

Often the quantity of selenium in our soil dictates the amount that can be found and that is available for absorption from our plant foods. Adults are encouraged to shoot for 55 mcg of selenium per day from foods high or moderately high in selenium. Some of these foods include fish and shellfish, animal meats, whole grains and seeds.

Check out these top selenium sources in each dietary category: 

4 ounces of fish:  tuna (121 mcg), shrimp (56 mcg) and sardines (48 mcg)

4 ounces of meat:  dark turkey (34 mcg), chicken (31 mcg) and lamb (27 mcg) 

1/4 cup of nuts/seeds:  Brazil (625 mcg), sunflower (18.5 mcg) and sesame (13 mcg)

Critical Nutrient #2: Iodine

Iodine is an important mineral, as it is essential for optimal thyroid function. The right amount (not too much, not too little) of iodine can be tricky but is critical in helping this gland help regulate energy production for every cell of the body. More and more research is being done on iodine on how it relates to other areas of metabolism in the body as well.

Deficiency of this mineral can lead to hypothyroidism and/or goiter (enlargement of the thyroid gland). 

Because of our high consumption of processed foods (low in iodine), medication use (drugs that impair iodine absorption), and low iodine soils, our intake of iodine has decreased rapidly over the last few decades. 

Where can I find it?

Dairy foods, eggs, fish and sea vegetables are all great sources of iodine. Most adults should shoot for 150 mcg per day from some of the best sources below. Vegans are highly encouraged to consume sea vegetables on a regular basis due to their avoidance of animal meats and animal products, which are common sources of iodine. 

Here are some top dietary sources of iodine:

1 Tbsp sea vegetables (750 mcg)

4 ounces of fish:  scallops (135 mcg), cod  (132 mcg) and shrimp (46 mcg)

1 cup of dairy:  yogurt (71 mcg), milk (56 mcg) and 1 egg (27 mcg)

Critical Nutrient #3: Vitamin B12

Like the rest of the B vitamins, Vitamin B12 aids in energy metabolism and a slew of other processes, including cardiovascular support (through red blood cell production and prevention of homocysteine buildup), DNA production, and energy support for the brain and nervous system. 

Some unique features of Vitamin B12 compared to other B vitamins include its ability to store itself within the body for extended time (under certain circumstances multiple years’ worth), its complicated requirements for absorption and its low daily requirement (the lowest of all B vitamins). 

Although deficiency for B12 is relatively rare, there are some subgroups that are at risk for it, including adults ages 51 or older (due to poor intake or decreased digestive absorption, particularly if they take certain medications) and individuals who avoid consuming fish and land animals altogether. 

Some symptoms or conditions related to Vitamin B12 deficiency include pernicious anemia, fatigue, gastritis and depression.

Where can I find it?

Land animals and fish are known for their higher levels of B12 due to their ability to build up and store levels within their cells, but other microorganisms, such as fungi or mushrooms, can provide Vitamin B12, as they are able to actually produce it.  

Adults should shoot for 2.4 mcg per day and ensure they are getting adequate intake of all B vitamins and folic acid to support absorption of vitamin B12.  

Here are some top food choices for vitamin B12:

4 ounces of fish:  sardines (8.1 mcg), salmon (5.6 mcg); tuna (2.6 mcg) or cod (2.6 mcg)

4 ounces of meat:  lamb (2.5 mcg), beef  (1.4 mcg) or dark turkey (0.4 mcg)

1 cup of mushrooms: Crimini (0.07 mcg)

The relationship between vitamin B12 and other B vitamins (vitamin B6), including folic acid is very close – meaning a deficiency in one could lead to or indicate a deficiency in another.  

Critical Nutrient #4: Iron

Two main roles that iron plays in supporting our health include energy production and oxygen transport between our cells and tissues in the body. Oxygen transport happens by supplying iron to red blood cells that have an iron-containing protein – called hemoglobin – that then supplies oxygen to the rest of our tissues in the body.  

If this process didn’t happen, your body wouldn’t be able to handle bursts of activity or exercise. Iron also supports energy production and is a unique ingredient required in metabolic functioning and energy production for our muscles and other organs. This process slows down (and causes fatigue) when adequate iron isn’t supplied.

Did you know that iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world? Knowing what roles iron plays in our bodies, it’s no surprise that when we’re deficient, we experience tiredness, overall fatigue, muscle fatigue and/or pale complexion.  

Iron deficiency can be very common in pre-menopausal women and children but also in individuals who are repeat blood donors, endurance exercisers or who have gastrointestinal problems that may lead to malabsorption or the mineral.

Where can I find it?

To support adequate iron intake, it’s commonly recommended that adult women consume 18 milligrams per day and adult men to consume 8 milligrams. This recommendation is higher for pregnant and lactating women. 

Although intake is essential, there are other ways you can enhance the body’s absorption of iron by including vitamin C (e.g. grapefruit, bell peppers, etc.) with an iron containing meal or by cooking in a cast-iron skillet.  

Most of us associate “red meat” with iron, but there are also many plant foods that have absorbable forms, including greens, beans and seeds.  

Here are some top dietary picks you can incorporate.

3 ounces of meat:  beef (4 mg),  lamb (5 mg) or dark turkey (2 mg)

1 c cooked vegetables:  spinach (6 mg), Swiss chard (4 mg) and collard greens (2 mg)

1 c beans:  lentils (6.5 mg), garbanzo beans (5 mg) and lima beans (4.5 mg)

1/4 c seeds:  Sesame seeds (5mg) and pumpkin seeds (3 mg)

Would you like additional guidance on top food sources for certain nutrients or more information about nutrient deficiencies (or testings for deficiencies)? Talk with one of our registered dietitians today! Thanks for reading.

In health, Anika Christ, Senior Program Manager of Life Time Weight Loss

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader. 


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