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  • Five Essential Vitamins and Minerals Every Woman Needs

  • There's no magic bullet when it comes to a woman's health and nutrition. Exercise, a balanced diet and plenty of rest are essential. While a daily multi-vitamin is a big safety net, it's important to understand what really keeps a woman growing and going strong. Here's the scoop on five essential vitamins and minerals that every woman needs in a balanced diet.
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  • There's no magic bullet when it comes to a woman's health and nutrition. Exercise, a balanced diet and plenty of rest are essential. While a daily multi-vitamin is a big safety net, it's important to understand what really keeps a woman growing and going strong. Here's the scoop on five essential vitamins and minerals that every woman needs in a balanced diet.
    Calcium is Critical
    "Calcium intake is critical, especially in growing women. Young women are building bones and older women are maintaining bone mass and preventing osteoporosis," says Rogue Valley nutritionist Julie Anderson. Dairy — milk, cheese and yogurt — are good sources of calcium and if you can't tolerate these, Anderson suggests others: "Kale has one of the highest bioavailability of calcium, also bok choy, sea vegetables like nori, sprouts and legumes of all kinds are great sources of calcium."
    Vitamin D in Demand
    Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and other nutrients and is found naturally in fish, cheese and eggs, as a food additive and is also available as a dietary supplement. "There's a tremendous amount of research on the importance of vitamin D," says Reeger Cortell, clinical director of HealthyU in Medford. "It appears that vitamin D has its fingers in a lot of different metabolic pots including bone health, joint pain, mood stability and even cancer prevention." The body naturally develops vitamin D with direct exposure to sunlight 15 to 20 minutes a day, but Medford dermatologist Dr. Judith Oursler recommends dietary sources of the vitamin instead of UV-B exposure to reduce the risk of skin cancer.
    Don't Forget the Folates
    Many breakfast cereals, breads and pastas on the market today are fortified with folic acid, a water-soluble B vitamin, now known to prevent spina bifida, a totally preventable birth defect. "Women build babies, and we really need to make sure that our nutrition is good before and during pregnancy," stresses Anderson. "Folate is important for making new cells and aids in DNA synthesis, the building blocks of who we are." Folic acid also occurs naturally in orange juice, black beans and spinach, among other foods.
    Iron — Pump Up the Blood
    Iron is another of the body's nutritional building blocks, essential to the development and function of the red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. While too much iron is toxic, an iron deficiency can result in anemia, fatigue, and decreased immunity. Women are especially prone to anemia because of monthly blood loss during menstruation. And according to the National Institutes of Health, iron requirements of pregnant women are approximately double because of the increased blood volume during pregnancy, increased needs of the fetus and blood loss that occurs during delivery. "Beef, fish and pork — all the animal proteins, and also fortified cereals and beans are great sources of dietary iron," Anderson notes.
    The Zinc Link
    "Zinc is a mineral that helps in the absorption of foods and allows the body to metabolize the nutrients from food," Anderson explains. Found in oysters, meat, poultry, legumes and whole grains, zinc is also a common food additive and found in cold remedies. "People just heal faster when they're well nourished especially when zinc is on board. It's a great nutrient for the immune function and stimulates the body's ability to heal itself. While zinc deficiency is uncommon in the United Sates, seniors and pregnant and lactating women may be most at risk.
    "Food is nutrition and nutrition is food," says Julie Anderson, RD. "We are biological creatures and sometimes we forget that our bodies are cellular and we are huge biochemical reactions walking around." Keeping that body healthy and productive is, as Cortell points out, often a matter of personal choice, "Every day choices, every meal choice — little transitions instead of radical shifts, like leafy greens instead of iceberg lettuce, taking the stairs instead of the elevator."
    It's every day decisions that lead to better health and nutrition. You decide.
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