Author: Doug Cook, RD MHSc CDE
Vitamins and minerals are essential for health. Think of them as members of a sports team; individually each has a critical role to play towards a common goal. If one of the members is missing, or not performing properly, the whole team suffers as does their game. It’s no different with your body. In this case, the team is some fourteen vitamins and seventeen minerals, give or take. If any of them are not showing up as they should be, the goal of optimal health is at risk and the penalty is years of wear and tear leading to an increased risk of degenerative diseases; sadly this is a common reality for a lot men.
According to the Canadian Community Health Surveys, many men are not meeting the recommended minimum intake of several key nutrients including calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamins A, D and C, and omega-3 fats. Why? Because food today is, in a lot of ways, very different than it was as recently as 60 years ago. The mineral content of the soil is changing, and because we eat more refined, processed and convenience foods, which make up an increasingly larger proportion of our weekly fare. It’s estimated that up to thirty-percent of our calories comes from these foods. It’s no wonder many of us are missing the mark. Fortunately, with some fine-tuning, you can tip the odds in your favour and take advantage of the best that a healthy diet has to offer.
Calcium. Calcium is needed for strong bones and teeth. It also helps to regulate your heartbeat and aids in communication along your nerves which coordinates various activities in your body including muscle contractions. Focus on a variety of minimally processed foods and include a couple of servings of calcium-rich foods every day such as milk, yogurt, kefir, cheese, canned fish with bones, dark green vegetables, tofu set with calcium, beans, and almonds. If you’re still a little shy of the target, a supplement can help to fill the gap; 300 mg should do the trick. This Baked Chicken Nachos with Tomatillo Salsa features 35% of your daily calcium intake.
Magnesium. Higher intakes of magnesium are associated with lower rates of osteoporosis, high blood pressure and stroke, diabetes, and migraines to name a few. Good sources include teff, quinoa, whole grains, nuts and seeds, dark chocolate, halibut, cooked spinach, and legumes. Getting enough magnesium can still be a challenge for some, so an extra 250 mg from a supplement might be needed. Here are some quick and delicious Italian Chicken Burgers that offer 74% of your daily magnesium
Potassium. Increasing the amount of potassium in your diet is arguably more important than simply lowering sodium when it comes to maintaining a healthy blood pressure. By definition a diet high in potassium, based on wholesome foods, is low in sodium by displacement; eating more potassium-rich foods leaves little room for processed foods higher in sodium. Choose lower-fat dairy, whole grains and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to amp up your potassium intake. Some potassium-rich options include avocado, banana, mango, low-sodium tomato juice, cantaloupe, oranges, grapefruit, dried beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas, and sweet potatoes. Many don’t realize that fish and meats like lean beef, pork or chicken also contain a lot of potassium. Looking for more potassium? This Butterflied Chicken Italian Style dish contains 47% of your daily recommended potassium.
Vitamin A. Not just for healthy eyes and vision, Vitamin A is needed for maintaining strong bones and teeth, skin integrity, keeping your immune system strong, and helping to retain moisture in those parts of the body where lubrication is essential like your sinus cavity, lungs, and the lining of your digestive tract and tear ducts. Best bites include eggs, fatty fish, liver and pate, butter, milk and cheese and this Thai Chicken Curry with 120% of your daily Vitamin A.
Vitamin C. Many Canadian men don’t get enough vitamin C which is surprising on one hand considering how easy it is to get, but not surprising on the other hand when you consider that men score poorly when it comes to eating fruits and vegetables. Good sources include tomatoes and tomato products, citrus fruit, strawberries, bell peppers, guava, cantaloupe, kiwi, broccoli, dark green leafy vegetables and papaya. Another way would be to have this Simple Dill Chicken with Warm Potato Salad (100% of your daily Vitamin C).
Meeting your recommended daily intake of these important nutrients can be both easy and delicious when you combine several different foods, which are good sources of those nutrients, in the same meal. Ricotta Stuffed & Sauced Chicken over Pasta does just that by providing an impressive amount of potassium, calcium, magnesium and vitamins A and C.
Vitamin D. Vitamin D wears so many hats when it comes to health that it goes beyond the scope of this article, but suffice it to say that higher intakes are associated with a lower risk of almost every chronic disease of aging. There are few significant food sources of vitamin D save fatty fish like salmon, sardines, trout, mackerel, and herring, as well as, eggs and milk. Ninety-three percent of Canadians tend to be deficient from late fall to late spring making supplementation essential. A good starting dose for those 19 and over is 2000 - 3000 IU per day.
Omega-3 fat. I can’t say enough about these superstar fats. The bulk of the research shows that they help to reduce the risk for heart disease, stroke and dementia, and appear to help reduce the risk for diabetes, as well as ease the impact of diseases of inflammation like arthritis. Best food sources are fatty fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, and trout, omega-3 fortified eggs, both shelled and liquid products, and supplements; a reasonable option for those who either don’t fish or don’t eat fish on a regular basis; but remember fish has much more to offer including protein and other vitamins and minerals so supplements are not a perfect substitution. Here’s a way to combine chicken with salmon to get the best bang for the buck with Vitamin D and Omega-3 fats: Smoked Salmon & Chicken Wraps