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5 of the best nutrients

You need many nutrients, and more of some than of others. Here are the top five for women.

by: Corlia Erwee | 19 Feb 2007


Why do I need them?

The most important task of antioxidants is to neutralise free radicals, which are harmful substances that cause cellular damage.

Premature ageing, cancer, and heart disease are just a few of the results of cellular damage. The best-known ones are vitamins C and E, betacarotene and the mineral selenium.

How much do I need?

It is impossible to take in too many antioxidants – the more, the better.

Where do I get them?

Vitamin C is the body’s first line of defence against free radicals. It also helps cuts and grazes heal faster. The most important sources of vitamin C are citrus fruit, green peppers etc.

Betacarotene helps protect the body against environmental pollution and radiation. It is found in carrots, pumpkin, broccoli, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peaches and apricots.

Selenium is a mineral that helps counter cellular damage and prevent heart disease and cancer. It occurs in fish, shellfish, red meat, grains, eggs, chicken and garlic.


Why do I neet it?

Iron is a metal as well as a trace element that literally fortifies the blood. Iron’s most important role is to keep haemoglobin – a chemical compound in red blood cells – healthy.

Haemoglobin carries oxygen from the lungs to every part of the body. Without oxygen, the body cannot function optimally.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), up to 700 million people in the world have an iron deficiency, making it the commonest nutrient deficiency worldwide.

How much do I need?

An adult needs about 4g iron in the body at all times. Women should consume about 18mg a day and men about 10mg on average. Pregnant women need 60mg a day and children over the age of six months need 15mg a day. A shortage of iron leads to anaemia.

The symptoms of anaemia are tiredness and lethargy. Anaemia is the result of a shortage of oxygen at a cellular level.

It is possible, however, to overdo your iron intake, which can be fatal in extreme cases.

Where do I get it?

There are two kinds of iron in food. Haemo iron occurs and non-haemo iron.

Vitamin C aids the absorption of iron, so a vitamin C deficiency can lead to an iron deficiency over time.

Vitamin D

Why do I need it?

Vitamin D occurs in food, but can also be produced by the body. The body produces vitamin D when it is exposed to ultraviolet light. The liver and kidneys convert vitamin D into the active hormone form necessary to function in the body. Osteoporosis is one of the consequences of a shortage of vitamin D. This vitamin also ensures a healthy immune system and regulates cellular growth.

How much do I need?

Two tablespoons of cod-liver oil or 15 minutes’ exposure to the sun per day will provide you with your daily requirement of vitamin D. It is possible to consume too much.


Why do I need it?

Calcium is essential for strong, healthy bones and teeth. Without calcium, the blood cannot clot. It also strengthens cell membranes and aids the transmission of nerve impulses through the body.

The more protein and salt you eat, the more calcium your body will require. The older you get, the more difficult it becomes for the body to absorb calcium, with osteoporosis – a loss of bone density – often being the result of a calcium deficiency.

How much do I need?

Babies need about 1 100mg of calcium a day, children about 1 200mg, men about 500mg and women about 1 200mg.

Weight or resistance training also helps to prevent calcium loss and to improve bone density.

Where can I find it?

You get calcium from dairy, beans, green vegetables, sardines, tofu, orange juice, and soup bones. Dairy is one of the best sources of calcium because it is easily absorbed.

People who are lactose-sensitive often have a calcium deficiency because they have to avoid dairy products.

Sun-protection products with an SPF higher than eight block the rays that activate the production of vitamin D. However, the danger that the sun poses to the skin is so great that this is not a good enough reason to go without sunscreen.

The sun’s ultraviolet rays stimulate the production of this vitamin by the skin. Sun-protection products with an SPF higher than eight block the rays that activate the production of vitamin D. However, the danger that the sun poses to the skin is so great that this is not a good enough reason to go without sunscreen.

Normally vitamin D deficiencies are found in older people, or those who live in countries where they have little exposure to the sun.

Caffeine also interferes with the absorption of vitamin D from food and research shows that women who drink more than 300mg of coffee a day (about three cups) run the risk of disintegration of the spine.


Why do I need it?

Phyto-oestrogen is a natural plant hormone that functions a lot like human oestrogen in certain circumstances. Oestrogen is the hormone that helps regulate the menstrual cycle and relieve the symptoms of menopause in women.

Phyto-oestrogen reduces the risk of heart disease, protects against cancer, and helps prevent osteoporosis.

Soya is one of the most important sources of phyto-oestrogen. Research has shown that women who have a regular intake of soya, experience fewer problems with the symptoms of menopause and in certain cases the incidence of breast cancer is lower.

How much do I need?

Eat one of the following for your daily dose of phyto-oestrogen: 2 to 4 slices of soya or linseed bread; 1 to 2 cups soya milk; 150g tofu; 30-40g linseed; 1 cup soya beans or other pulses. Add crushed linseed to your breakfast cereal or make a soya milkshake, add tofu to stir-fries or make your own muesli with oats, linseed, sesame seeds and dried fruit.

Where do I find it?

Phyto-oestrogen is found in more than 300 foods, including pulses, soya beans, pinto beans, lima beans, tofu, sesame seeds, berries etc.

- Ideas


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