How well do you know your vitamins and minerals?
These days many people are focused on increasing their intake of vitamins and minerals due to coronavirus, and rightfully so. Studies have shown that there is no evidence that vitamins or supplements prevent coronavirus, including COVID-19. There are certain nutrients that may help strengthen your immune system's ability to fight the virus. These include vitamin D, high-dose vitamin C, zinc, and potassium if you're deficient.
When a balanced diet of whole foods is being eaten, these micronutrients are usually consumed in adequate amounts. However, there are a few exceptions when a supplement may help ensure that needs are being met.
Keep in mind that your vitamin and mineral needs change throughout your life cycle. As we get into our 50’s, hormonal changes make hitting your target quotas for certain vitamins and minerals difficult. While science can't re-create everything, nature has perfectly packed most of those into whole foods, supplementing your diet with certain key nutrients can also help you stack on track.
So, what’s the difference between a vitamin and a mineral? Glad you asked. Vitamins are nutrients that support the body’s internal regulation and must be obtained through the diet. There are two types:
Fat-soluble vitamins: Vitamins A, D, E, and K. These vitamins need to be in the presence of fat to be properly absorbed. Unlike water soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins can be stored in the body’s tissues.
Water-soluble vitamins: Include the B vitamin family and vitamin C. These vitamins can dissolve easily in water. Toxicities in water-soluble vitamins are typically rare because the body eliminates amounts that are not needed.
Minerals must also be obtained from the diet for optimal health. Minerals help with a variety of functions in the body, including everything from providing structure in the bones to supporting a healthy heart. There are three classifications:
Major minerals: Nutrient requirements are higher for these, which include calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and sulfur.
Trace minerals: Nutrient requirements are lower for these, which include copper, chromium, fluoride, iodine, iron, manganese, selenium, and zinc.
Ultratrace minerals: Nutrient requirements are considered lowest for these, which include arsenic, boron, cobalt, molybdenum, nickel, silicon, and vanadium. Function of these minerals are less understood.
What are the recommended vitamins and minerals for 50+?
Multivitamins: Multivitamins help fill in nutrient gaps that you might not even be aware of and there is no harm in taking one as directed. Nutrient needs do vary by age, gender, and life stage. For example, the RDA for vitamin D goes up as you age. Postmenopausal women don’t need as much iron as younger women. Look for multivitamins targeted for adults 50+ to receive the best recommended nutrients and dosage based on your age and gender.
Vitamin D: More than one in four Americans aged 50 to 71 are not getting enough vitamin D, which is needed to absorb calcium. It helps with bone health, but also reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke, asthma, allergy, and inflammation. The NIH recommends 600 IU of vitamin D daily for adults over age 50 and 800 IU for adults age 70+. Good food sources of Vitamin D include tuna, mackerel, beef liver, cheese, and eggs.
Calcium: Bone loss accelerates during your 50s, especially among women. Calcium may be recommended as a supplement by your doctor. Calcium is a very bulky nutrient, so you rarely find a multivitamin that has more than 30% of the RDA. It is best to advise your doctor if a supplement is necessary. To boost your calcium intake with food, consider cheese, yogurt, milk, and figs.
Omega-3’s: Omega-3s help prevent irregular heartbeats, reduce plaque buildup in the arteries, inhibit inflammation and keep blood sugar levels in check. The NIH recommends 1,000 mg of EPA and DHA omega-3s daily. Good food sources for Omega-3’s include flaxseed, salmon, walnuts, and edamame.
Probiotic’s: The older you are, the more vulnerable your system is to unhealthy bacteria. Probiotics can help reintroduce good bacteria. If you gut isn’t healthy, your body can’t absorb nutrients so it’s a great supplement to take. The NIH recommends 1 billion to 10 billion CFUs a few days a week. I take a daily probiotic formulated for women. When looking for a probiotic, do your research. There are many different types on the market. At a minimum, look for a product that’s been tested for whatever you’re looking to address. The Garden of Life is one of my favorite probiotic brands. Good food sources for probiotics include kefir, sauerkraut, yogurt, kimchi, and dark chocolate.
Always consult a doctor before adding supplements to your regimen as they may interact with certain medications you are taking.
For a full listing of recommended vitamins and minerals for 50 and beyond, check out AARP.
Resources: Institute for Integrative Nutrition