The nutrients you need: how to boost your diet with key vitamins
and minerals for women
to boost your diet with key vitamins and minerals for women
a sister who strives to eat her fruits and vegetables and who
power-walks each day to stay fit, I never thought I'd be popping
vitamin and mineral supplements. But when my doctor ran a routine
blood test late last year, he found unexpected problems: slightly
elevated levels of cholesterol and glucose, or blood sugar. I
knew that if left unchecked, high cholesterol could raise my risk
of a heart attack or stroke, and high blood sugar could trigger
diabetes--conditions prevalent among African-American women. The
doctor's orders? Keep up the good eating and exercise habits and
take nutritional supplements like vitamin E and folic acid to
protect the heart, plus the mineral chromium to help prevent diabetes.
After following this regimen for several months, my glucose level
returned to normal and my cholesterol count dropped 17 points.
supplements may not have been solely responsible for my improved
health status, but they certainly didn't hurt. And I'm not alone
in seeking a nutritional boost from them. In response to the latest
medical reports, more and more people are turning to vitamin and
mineral pills for that added insurance against everything from
hypertension to osteoporosis. In 1997 nearly half of all Americans
spent, combined, an estimated $6 billion--up from $3 billion in
1990--on these preventive measures.
experts and recent research support the notion that, though not
panaceas, nutritional supplements can be a significant part of
a healthy diet-and-exercise plan. "Even when we eat plenty
of fruits and vegetables and grains, it is often difficult to
get all the nutrients we need to target the prevention of a specific
disease," says Joycelyn Valentine, a nutritionist for the
New York City Department for the Aging. "Supplements can
provide that extra protection."
which nutrients do you need most? And how should you get them
in your diet?
steady accumulation of studies have pointed to the preventive
powers of specific nutrients found in foods or supplements. Last
February a 14-year Harvard University study of more than 80,000
female nurses reported that daily consumption of folic acid and
vitamin [B.sub.6] cut the women's chance of having a heart attack
by nearly half. Taking these vitamins appeared to be as important
in reducing the risk of heart disease as quitting smoking and
lowering cholesterol. And last spring, for the first time, the
National Academy of Sciences recommended the use of folic acid
supplements to all women of childbearing age to prevent birth
defects like spina bifida.
findings? A 1993 study revealed a 41-percent reduction in heart
disease among women who took vitamin E for more than two years.
Research is under way to see if this antioxidant protects against
certain cancers. Last year, a study known as DASH (Dietary Approaches
to Stop Hypertension) found that high calcium intake--in addition
to a low-fat diet rich in fruits and vegetables--helps reduce
hypertension. Researchers are also investigating whether vitamin
C--long known for its benefits to the immune system--helps cut
the risk of stomach cancer and cataracts.
dietary supplements can help combat disease, they are not substitutes
for healthy eating. "Fruits and vegetables are composed of
hundreds of substances that interact with each other," says
Maudene Nelson, a nutritionist. "When you isolate those nutrients
and make capsules or supplements, you lose fiber and other substances
found in foods that provide good health." And, according
to Dr. Marion Nestle, chairwoman of the department of nutrition
and food studies at New York University, you can create an imbalance
by taking too much of one vitamin at the expense of others. Taking
high doses of some supplements-like iron and vitamins A, [B.sub.6]
and D--can be toxic, she warns.
before you start on supplements, Nestle suggests, have a complete
medical examination to determine the status of your health. Then
take stock of your eating habits, either by keeping a food diary
or with the help of a registered dietitian, who can guide you
in making nutritional changes and recommend supplements, if necessary.
Contact the American Dietetic Association (ADA) at (800) 366-1655
to find a dietitian near you. Also check out The ADA'S Guide to
Women's Nutrition for Healthy Living by Susan Calvert Finn, Ph.D.,
R.D., F.A.D.A. (Perigee, $14).
ARTICLE: FIVE THAT FIGHT DISEASE
nutrients below are considered part of a woman's best defense.
Include them in your daily diet:
it can do: Protect against birth defects, heart attack, stroke
and cervical cancer. Food sources: Leafy green vegetables, dried
peas and beans, brewer's yeast, wheat germ, brown rice, liver,
dates, oranges, whole wheat bread and fortified cereals
it can do: Protect against heart attack and stroke.
sources: Brewer's yeast, carrots, chicken, turkey, fish, wheat
germ, spinach, sunflower seeds, whole grain cereals
it can do: Protect against cancer, heart attack and stroke.
sources: Dried beans, whole grains, dark leafy vegetables such
as collards and mustard greens, brown rice, wheat germ, oatmeal,
sweet potatoes, vegetable oils, eggs
12 international units (IUs) or 8 mg
it can do: Protect against osteoporosis and hypertension.
sources: Low-fat milk and cheese, yogurt, buttermilk, cottage
cheese, leafy green vegetables, beans, sardines, salmon with bones,
dried peas and beans, figs, blackstrap molasses
1,000 mg for adults up to age 50; 1,200 mg for adults 51 and over
it can do: Protect against heart disease, cancer, cataracts, macular
degeneration, colds and flu. Food sources: Citrus fruits and juices,
mango, papaya, broccoli, collard greens, brussels sprouts, sweet
peppers, chili peppers, strawberries, tomatoes, watermelon, cabbage,
RDA(*) refers to the daily recommended dietary allowances of nutrients
to prevent deficiencies. DBI(**) refers to dietary reference intakes,
a new standard developed by The National Academy of Sciences to
reflect nutrient requirements for optimal health.
White is the author of Soul Food: Recipes and Reflections From
African-American Churches (HarperCollins, $25). She lives in New