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Six Essential Nutrients Micronutrients Dietitians Want You to Know About | Nutrition Month

March is Nutrition Month, the perfect time to focus on healthy eating habits and lifestyle choices! Throughout the month of March, we’ve partnered with Vitality Nutrition‘s Registered Dietitian Courtney Berg to share her best tips to help you improve your overall diet and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Click here to meet Courtney.

Discover the importance of six important micronutrients and adopt simple strategies to optimize your intake! While your body needs a variety of micronutrients (ie. vitamins and minerals), this article highlights six micronutrients that are important to get enough of!

Calcium

Calcium is essential for building and maintaining bones and teeth. Calcium also serves as a signaling molecule for optimal function of the heart, muscles, and nerves! If your calcium intake is suboptimal, the bones release calcium to maintain blood calcium levels. For this reason, a common long-term symptom of calcium deficiency is osteoporosis.

Calcium is commonly found in dairy, fortified plant milks, and bone-in canned fish. It is recommended that adults 19-50 consume at least 2 servings of a calcium rich food each day (1,000mg calcium) and adults over 50 years of age consume at least 3 servings (1,200mg calcium). Older adults require additional calcium as calcium is absorbed less effectively with age.  Sources of calcium include:

  • ¾ cup plain Greek yogurt (332mg)
  • 1 cup cow’s milk (300mg)
  • 1 cup fortified milk such as soy, almond, rice, other (300mg)
  • 30g cheese (200-250mg)
  • ½ can salmon, with bones (240mg)
  • 1 cup kefir (232mg)
  • ½ can sardines, with bones (200mg)
  • 1 cup white beans, canned (191mg)
  • 100g tofu with calcium sulfate brine (155mg)
  • 1 cup cottage cheese (150 mg)
  • ½ cup coconut yogurt (150mg)
  • ¼ cup almonds (93g)
  • ½ cup greens veggies such as bok choy, spinach, beet greens (~80mg) *
  • 1 orange (50mg)

*The calcium in some foods such as green vegetables are not well absorbed because of very high oxalate content which binds the calcium.

Dietitian Tip: Review the list of calcium-rich foods and identify foods you enjoy. Make it your goal to consume 2-3 servings of a calcium-rich food each day!

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps build stronger bones by increasing the absorption of calcium. It also supports immune function, muscle function, and may regulate mood! You can get vitamin D from three main sources.

  • Sun: Vitamin D is called the “sunshine vitamin” because it is produced when the sun’s rays interact with our skin. In Canada, we are unable to synthesize vitamin D through the skin through the winter months (ie. November to March).
  • Food: Vitamin D is naturally found in some foods such as salmon, sardines, and eggs.

Most food sources of vitamin D are from fortified foods where vitamin D has been added. Cow’s milk and plant-milks are examples of foods fortified with vitamin D.

  • Supplements: It is recommended that Canadians supplement with at least 400IU of vitamin D year-round.5 In some cases, your healthcare provider may recommend a higher dose of supplemental vitamin D. Supplementation is recommended because vitamin D cannot be synthesized through the skin in the winter, and it is difficult to source adequate amounts through food.

Dietitian Tip: Supplement with 400IU of vitamin D daily. While Canadians can obtain some vitamin D through food and synthesize vitamin D through the sun’s rays from March to November, it is recommended that adults supplement to ensure adequate intake and prevent deficiency.

Iron

Obtaining enough iron through food is a key consideration to optimize energy levels! Dietary iron becomes a component of red blood cells (RBCs) which transport oxygen to the cells. Iron-deficiency anemia occurs when RBCs are not able to carry enough oxygen to the cells resulting in fatigue as well as a weakened immune system, impaired brain function, or delays in growth and development for infants and children.

Some individuals require more iron:

  • Pregnant women
  • Infants
  • Menstruating women
  • Endurance athletes
  • Individuals who donate blood often
  • Vegetarians and vegans*

*Vegetarians and vegans require additional iron because the plant forms of iron they consume aren’t absorbed as well as animal forms.

There are two types of dietary iron:

  • Heme iron: This type of iron is very well absorbed. It’s only found in animal foods (eg. red meat, chicken, fish, seafood such as oysters, and organ meats like liver)
  • Non-heme iron: This type is mostly found in plant-foods. It is not absorbed as easily as heme iron. (eg. beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens). Absorption of non-heme iron can be improved when consuming it alongside vitamin C rich foods (eg. tomatoes, citrus fruits, strawberries, bell peppers, broccoli, and kiwi).

Dietitian Tip: Consume iron-rich foods like meat, chicken, fish, seafood, beans, lentils, nuts, seed, and leafy greens daily. If choosing plant-based iron sources, pair them with vitamin C rich foods to enhance absorption!

Magnesium

Magnesium contributes to many bodily processes including the structural development of bones and teeth, muscle and nerve function, energy metabolism, relaxing the nervous system, and more.  Common symptoms of low magnesium may include muscle cramps and spasms, osteoporosis, impaired glucose metabolism, migraines and more. Magnesium influences the function and relaxation of the nervous system and there are anecdotes that optimizing magnesium intake can improve sleep!

Sources of magnesium include a variety of foods such as green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, beans and lentils. dairy products, fish, poultry, and meat.

Significant sources of magnesium include:

  • Pumpkin seeds: Add pumpkin seeds to a Greek yogurt parfait with berries
  • Chia seeds: Make chia pudding or add chia to smoothies or overnight oats
  • Dark chocolate: Enjoy dark chocolate as a magnesium-rich dessert
  • Avocados: Smash avocado on toast with eggs
  • Almonds: Enjoy a handful of almonds for a snack alongside a piece of fruit
  • Leafy greens: Make a salad or add a handful of spinach to a smoothie
  • Black beans: Prepare a taco salad or chili with canned black beans

Dietitian Tip: Add green foods to your diet each day! While magnesium is found in a variety of foods, it is abundant in many green foods such as pumpkin seeds, avocado, and green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and bok choy!

B12

Vitamin B12 is essential for blood formation as well as brain and nerve function. Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency can vary widely and may include fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, dizziness, cognitive impairment, and more.

Individuals at a higher risk for B12 deficiency include:

  • Pernicious anemia: B12 absorption is more complex than that of other vitamins because it’s aided by a protein known as intrinsic factor. People who have pernicious anemia do not produce intrinsic factor to effectively absorb vitamin B12.
  • Older adults: B12 absorption decreases with age and older adults are more likely to experience a deficiency.
  • Gastrointestinal disorders: Individuals with digestive disorders (eg. celiac disease or Crohn’s disease) may be unable to absorb enough vitamin B12 through food alone.
  • Gastrointestinal surgeries: Surgical procedures in the gastrointestinal tract, (eg. weight loss surgery) can cause a complete or partial loss of cells required to absorb vitamin B12.
  • Vegans or vegetarians: B12 is only found in sufficient amounts in animal foods. Therefore, people who do not eat animal products are at an increased risk of deficiency.

Dietary sources of B12 are exclusive to animal products and include foods such as shellfish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk products, and organ meats.

Dietitian Tip: If you are an individual at higher risk of B12 deficiency (eg. vegetarian or vegan) it is recommended to discuss B12 testing and supplements with a trusted healthcare provider.

Iodine

Iodine is a key mineral for normal thyroid function. Proper thyroid function influences heart, muscle and digestive function as well as brain development and bone maintenance. The amount of iodine found in food sources varies as the quality of the soil and ocean-water will influence the amount of iodine found in food.  Sources of iodine include:

  • Seaweed and sea vegetables like kelp, nori, and wakame.
  • Fish and seafood such as cod, tuna, and shrimp.
  • Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese.
  • Eggs
  • Fortified table salt*

*In Canada, mandatory fortification of table salt with iodine was implemented in 1949 to reduce the incidence of iron deficiency and symptoms of impaired thyroid function including goiter.

Dietitian Tip: Review the label on the salt you use at home to ensure it is iodized. Some forms of salt like pink himalayan salt or sea salt may not be fortified with iodine! Additionally, the salt added to packaged foods is not iodized salt and will not contribute to your iodine needs.

Eating a varied diet is a key habit to obtain a range of vitamins and minerals required for optimal health. Intentionally sourcing foods rich in key micronutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, iron, B12, magnesium, and iodine is important to prevent deficiency. If you have concerns about your intake of micronutrients, consult with a trusted healthcare provider such as a Registered Dietitian for review and individualized support!

 

Meet Courtney Berg, RD, B.Sc. Nutrition

About Courtney  |  Courtney Berg is a Registered Dietitian and completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Nutrition from the University of Saskatchewan in 2016. Her approach to nutrition continues to evolve as she learns and grows with her clients at Vitality Nutrition. However, a holistic approach remains the base of her philosophy with an emphasis on understanding how nutrition as well as sleep, mindset, exercise, and the environment work together to influence whole body health.

About Vitality Nutrition  |  Vitality Nutrition is a collective of Registered Dietitians and Nutritionists supporting clients in Saskatchewan and across Canada! We incorporate a unique and meaningful approach to food, fitness, and performance that empowers clients to build life-long habits and see lasting results.