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Flu season has started. Better start popping multivitamins, right?

Well, not quite.

Multivitamins have been a surprisingly controversial topic in the past few years. Traditionally, multivitamins have been considered the best source for getting our daily dose of vitamins. But, it turns out you can have too much of a good thing. Overdosing on multivitamins may be toxic in extreme amounts, but can also cause unfortunate, though less drastic, side effects with slightly increased doses. Studies have shown that men and women who took multivitamins and other supplements were at a slightly greater risk for breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer. Other potential side effects of multivitamins include headaches, nausea, loss of appetite, and abnormal taste in the mouth. However, the Harvard School of Public Health argues that many of the studies may have been skewed by underlying illnesses and diseases of the patients in the study.

 You probably don’t need all those pills!

Image Source: Tom Merton

Nevertheless, for the average person, the small benefits may still outweigh the very rare risks associated with multivitamins. So, which vitamins do you need the most? According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, most individuals don’t get enough of the following vitamins and minerals in their daily diet:

Calcium

Calcium is important for developing and maintaining bone and teeth health. But an enormous number of Americans are not getting the calcium that they need in their daily diet. This can decrease an individual’s total bone mass, which can lead to osteoporosis and bone fractures.

Not enough Calcium?
You need about 1000 mg of calcium per day. Here are some foods that will help you reach your calcium goal:

  • Yogurt (415 mg/serving)
  • Milk (299 mg/serving)
  • Tofu (253 mg/serving)
  • Kale (100 mg/serving)
  • Broccoli (21 mg/serving)

Vitamin D

Vitamin D contributes to your overall health. This vitamin increases your intestine’s ability to absorb other nutrients like calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphate, and zinc. Vitamin D deficiency can cause the softening of the bones, which is known as osteomalacia, or rickets in children. Deficiency can also lead to cardiovascular disease.

Not enough Vitamin D?
You need about 600 IU (International Units) of Vitamin D per day. This is about  15 micrograms. Here are some foods that will help you reach your Vitamin D goal:

  • Cod Liver Oil (1360 IU/serving)
  • Salmon (447 IU/serving)
  • Orange juice (137 IU/serving)
  • Beef liver (42 IU/serving)
  • Egg (41 IU/serving)

Exposing yourself to sunlight can also increase your levels of Vitamin D. How much time you need to spend in the sun depends on your skin color. People with darker, more pigmented skin may need six times as much sun exposure as a person with lighter, less pigmented skin. An average of about 25 to 30 minutes a day should generally be a good dose of sunlight. Don’t forget your sunscreen!

Potassium

You may know that increased salt intake increases blood pressure. This is because the high levels of sodium can increase the amount of fluid in the body which can cause stress for your heart. Potassium can work to reverse the detrimental effects of high sodium levels and cause drastic changes in blood pressure. In addition, adequate levels of potassium reduce risks for kidney stones and bone loss.

Not enough Potassium?
You need about 4700 milligrams of Potassium every day. Some foods high in potassium include:

  • Spinach (840 mg/serving)
  • Sweet potato (695 mg/serving)
  • Banana (540 mg/serving)
  • Broccoli (460 mg/serving)

Fiber

Dietary fiber promotes healthy laxation and can reduce the risk for obesity (and thus type 2 diabetes) and cardiovascular disease. Dietary fiber is often found in vegetables and fruits, but is most common in whole-grain products.

Not enough Fiber?
Women need about 25 grams of fiber per day and men need about 38 grams of fiber each day. You can meet these dietary guidelines by eating more:

  • Lentils (7.5 g/serving)
  • Bran cereal (5 g/serving)
  • Almonds (3.3 g/serving)
  • Oranges (3.1 g/serving)
  • Blueberries (2 g/serving)
  • Raisins (1.5 g/serving)

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that is important in making your DNA, and helps to support normal brain and nervous system function. A lack of Vitamin B12 can lead to megaloblastic and pernicious anemias. Anemia is a condition characterized by a low level of hemoglobin or red blood cells in the body. Megaloblastic anemia refers to anemia in which the red bloods cells are larger than normal and are also in low supply. Pernicious anemia is an anemia caused by the inability of the intestines to properly absorb vitamin B12. Other related issues with vitamin B12 deficiency include abnormal mental function, accompanied by symptoms such as weakness, spasticity (muscle stiffness and spasms), dementia, and psychoses.

Not enough Vitamin B12?
You need about 2.4 micrograms of daily Vitamin B12. Here’s how you can get it:

  • Clams (84.1 mcg/serving)
  • Trout (5.4 mcg/serving)
  • Tuna (2.5 mcg/serving)
  • Ham (0.6 mcg/serving)
  • Chicken breast (0.3 mcg/serving)

Iron

This is an especially important nutrient for women since most adolescent girls are actually deficient in iron. Iron is necessary for metabolism, growth, and normal cell function. Iron deficiency can lead to anemia and associated issues such as impaired cognitive function, decreased immune function, and an inability to regulate body temperature.

Not enough Iron?
Men need about 8 mg of Iron daily. Women need about 18 mg of daily Iron. Here are some foods that can help you get enough Iron in your diet.

  • Oysters (8 mg/serving)
  • Lentils (3 mg/serving)
  • Spinach (3 mg/serving)
  • Green peas (1 mg/serving)
  • Raisins (1 mg/serving)

Folic Acid

Folic acid helps to make new healthy cells in the body. Obviously, this is an especially important process for women who are pregnant. In fact, folic acid can prevent birth defects of the brain and spine. Folic acid deficiency is a cause for diseases that affect the gastrointestinal tract such as Crohn’s disease and celiac disease. Crohn’s disease is a type of Irritable Bowel Disease that can inflammation of the GI tract. Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder which results in an immune response to the ingestion of gluten in affected individuals.

Not enough Folic Acid?
You need about 400 micrograms of Folic Acid every day. You can increase your Folic Acid intake by eating:

  • Black eyed peas (105 mcg/serving)
  • Brussels sprouts (78 mcg/serving)
  • Crab (36 mcg/serving)
  • Turnip greens (32 mcg/serving)
  • Cantaloupe (14 mcg/serving)

The best way to get these vitamins is through a balanced and nutritious diet. Most of these vitamins can be found in dark green, leafy vegetables, in fruits, or in whole-grain products. By putting these types of foods into your diet, you can get plenty of these vitamins in the right amounts. Sometimes, it is difficult to be able to satisfy the requirements every day. In these cases, you can supplement your diet with multivitamins to make sure you get the required dose of each vitamin every day.

Feature Image Source: 米國善存 by SimonQ錫濛譙

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