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9 nutrients you need to know

Nutrient: Vitamin A

VitaminA

Why we need it:

Vitamin A is key for eye health, most specifically the workings of the retina. In particular, vitamin A aids vision in dim lighting or at night, and if not dealt with early enough, a vitamin A deficiency could lead to what is known as “night blindness”. Vitamin A helps to maintain healthy, youthful looking skin and is often used as a treatment for combating acne. If that wasn’t enough, it will also aid bone growth, your immune system and help your body fight infection.

3 signs of deficiency:

  • Dry eyes
  • Dry skin
  • Spots on the eyeballs

Eat more:

High levels of Vitamin A can be found in carrots (remember that old childhood saying, that carrots help you see in the dark?) as well as other deep orange or dark green fruits and vegetables, like sweet potatoes, squash and greens.

Nutrient: Vitamin B12

VitaminB12

Why we need it:

There are many types of B vitamins, but Vitamin B12 contributes to brain health, aiding the development of DNA and the maturing of red blood cells. A deficiency may affect a number of areas, including your memory, sleep pattern and mood. Aside from the brain, vitamin B12 also supports your cardiovascular system. The oxygen carrying pigment in our red blood cells is called haemoglobin, which can’t be made if we don’t have enough B12 in our bodies. Without it, a type of anemia called B12 anemia could present itself.

3 signs of deficiency:

  • Sore tongue/mouth ulcers
  • Balance issues
  • Nausea

Eat more:

Because B12 is commonly found in diary products, often vegans are found to be deficient; this is why soy and rice milks often include it as an additive. But in fact, there is a huge amount of vitamin B in many fish products, as well as scallops, shrimp, lamb and beef.

Nutrient: Vitamin C

VitaminC

Why we need it:

Have you ever been told to up your Vitamin C levels when you’ve gone down with a cold? This is because Vitamin C is an antioxidant that boosts your immune system by increasing the production of white blood cells and antibodies, known for fighting diseases. It has been used in this way for centuries, first used to prevent scurvy in sailors. Vitamin C is also needed to produce collagen in the body, which literally keeps our skin and bones intact.

3 signs of deficiency:

  • Low energy/strength
  • Rapid mood changes
  • Limb or joint pain

Eat more:

Citrus fruits are famously high in vitamin C, but in fact there are other fruits and vegetables which contain much higher levels. Pineapples, strawberries and bell peppers all contain more vitamin C per serving than oranges, but papayas top the list with an average sized piece containing around 250% of our daily recommended allowance. So, next time you’re feeling the sniffles, you know what to reach for.

Nutrient: Vitamin D

VitaminD

Why we need it:

Vitamin D is commonly known as the “Sunshine Vitamin”, as 15 minutes in the sunlight a day provides our body with what it needs to produce a recommended amount of vitamin D. This is important for your bone health and can be linked to multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, rickets and arthritis. Although it can be found in some foods, the best way of getting vitamin D is to simply step outside – simple!

3 signs of deficiency:

  • Fatigue
  • Forehead sweating
  • Bone, muscle or joint ache

Eat more:

You’re probably looking out of the window now, at the wind and the rain and thinking, sunshine might be a good suggestion, but what if there isn’t any? Don’t fret, you can get vitamin D through your diet as well. When it comes to D, think fishy. Salmon is your best choice, with other fatty fish like mackerel, tuna and sardines following. These can be raw, fresh or canned. Cow’s milk and eggs also contain vitamin D, as well as shiitake mushrooms.

Nutrient: Vitamin K

VitaminK

Why we need it:

There’s a bit of a leap through the alphabet to vitamin K, you might think, but at present there are no vitamins F, G, H, I or J. The reason K is called so is because of the German word “koagulation”, not so dissimilar to our English translation, which means blood clotting. Blood health can often be overlooked, but it’s vital to keep our blood healthy and clot free, especially if we are active. Vitamin K does exactly that, as well as helping your bones too. Everyone naturally produces Vitamin K through the bacteria in the intestine, but we can give our levels a boost by the food we eat too.

3 signs of deficiency:

  • Bleeding gums
  • Nose bleeds
  • Easy bruising

Eat more:

The K should probably stand for kale, as 130g of cooked leaves provide 1180% if your daily recommended allowance. Spinach is very high too, along with all kinds of leafy green vegetables. If you’re looking for a more basic option for getting your vitamin K, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are also good options.

Nutrient: Calcium

Calcium

Why we need it:

Did you know that you have more calcium in your body than any other mineral? 99% of this is in your bones (including your teeth) and the other 1% is stored in your blood, muscles, and the fluid between your cells. Calcium is mainly associated with keeping your bones strong, but it is actually important in the functioning of your muscle contractions too. Your recommended daily allowance depends on your age, and children and teenagers need far more than adults.

3 signs of deficiency:

  • Numbness/tingling in extremities or face
  • Brittle nails
  • Tooth decay

Eat more:

Calcium is most often associated with dairy products, but what if you don’t eat those? Many food products are fortified with calcium like orange juice, tofu and non-dairy milks (including almond, rice and soy) but in its natural form, high levels of calcium can also be found in dried figs, sardines and sesame seeds.

Nutrient: Iron

Iron

Why we need it:

Iron is essential for the haemoglobin in the blood to transport oxygen to the muscles and tissues when working out. Denying your muscles of oxygen would have the same effect as, say, holding your breath; you’d probably feel faint, or find it hard to breathe, therefore making exercise a lot more difficult to carry out. Make sure your iron levels are at their best to better improve your work out, your energy levels and help muscle growth too.

3 signs of deficiency:

  • Exhaustion/dizziness
  • Pale skin
  • Shortness of breath/pounding heart

Eat more:

There are two types of iron; Heme iron is easily absorbed into the body, and found in meat products, whereas nonheme iron is present in foods like leafy greens, legumes and nuts is not so easily absorbed. This is why it is recommended by the Food and Nutrition Board at the National Academy of Sciences that vegetarians should consume nearly twice the amount of iron a day as a meat eater. Suprisingly, dried thyme has an enormous amount of iron in it, with just one tablespoon containing 29% of your recommended daily allowance.

Nutrient: Protein

Protein

Why you need it:

Protein is a macronutrient, named so because you need a lot of it in order for your body to function as it should. It is also known as the “building block” of your body, because it is essential for breaking down amino acids to aid the growth of your cells, tissues, organs, antibodies, enzymes and nucleic acids (is that all, right?). As well as working on the inside, protein will have you glowing on the outside too, with healthy looking hair, skin and nails.

3 signs of deficiency:

  • Thinning hair
  • Swollen extremities or face
  • Slow recovery from injury

Eat more:

Like iron, protein in easily obtained from meat and dairy, but there are non-animal options for those with specialized diets. 100g of greek yogurt provides 20% of your recommended daily allowance of protein, and an 230g serving has the same amount of protein as a 85g steak. You can also find proteins in legumes such as green peas, any beans and chickpeas, and meat replacement products like tofu and tempeh. High-protein diets are also great for combating hunger, as protein products keep you feeling fuller for longer.

Nutrient: Zinc

Zinc

Why you need it:

Peculiar as it may sound, zinc has a big impact on our lives. Without it, we would all lose our sense of smell and taste. But don’t worry – these symptoms seem to be reversible in the majority of both cases. Zinc also plays a major factor in your vision, working with vitamin A, and also in your skin health and immune system. It may be a lesser known nutrient but in fact, zinc is just as important to our wellbeing.

3 signs of deficiency:

  • Rashes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of taste or smell

Eat more:

It’s actually quite difficult to find foods that are high in zinc, with servings of lamb and beef offering only 35% and 37% of our recommended daily allowance respectively. However, with so many foods having even small amounts of zinc, you are likely to obtain your RDA by eating a varied and balanced diet.

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