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The Facts About Nutrition

Here's how to get the vitamins and minerals you need.
By
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Good nutrition is much more than something to fill your stomach -- what you eat can affect your health, energy, and well-being in so many ways.

The most important feature of a good diet is variety. We all know variety is the spice of life, but did you realize that unless you eat a wide variety of foods, you may be missing out on important vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients? Eating the right mix of vitamins and minerals will help you feel and look your best at any age.

Color Rules

To make sure your eating plan contains all the nutrients you need, choose a rainbow of colorful foods. The pigments that give foods their color are also the nutritious substances that can reduce your risk of cancer and chronic diseases like heart disease.

Of course, foods with the most "pigment power" are mostly fruits and vegetables -- yet another reason to fill your plate with these fiber-filled, low-calorie, fat-free, super foods! Eaten together, fruits and vegetables pack an even bigger punch in reducing free radicals -- unstable molecules in the body that damage cells and are thought to contribute to the development of many diseases.

Vitamins in the News

The hottest vitamins these days are the antioxidants (E, C, and A, along with the mineral selenium) and the "sunshine" vitamin, also known as vitamin D.

Antioxidants help gobble up those nasty free radicals. A diet rich in antioxidants has been linked to a host of health-promoting, disease-fighting activities in the body.

Antioxidant-rich foods include:

  • Vitamin A and beta-carotene: Pumpkin, squash, carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, cantaloupes, dark leafy greens, and mangoes
  • Vitamin C: Citrus fruits, strawberries, bell peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, asparagus
  • Vitamin E: Vegetable oil, almonds, whole grains, wheat germ, sweet potatoes, yams
  • Selenium: Salmon, haddock

Vitamin D has been in the news lately as studies have shown that people living in northern latitudes (such as much of the northern U.S.) may not get enough of this nutrient. Without adequate vitamin D, your body can't properly absorb calcium, leading to a higher risk of broken bones -- especially in the elderly. A recent Swiss study suggests that elderly folks may be able to reduce their risk of injury from falls with vitamin D supplementation.

The best source of this nutrient is sunshine. Other good sources include:

  • Fortified milk and some orange juices. Juice manufacturers are now adding both calcium and vitamin D for better absorption.
  • Salmon and mackerel
  • Eggs
  • Liver

The Calcium Connection

Calcium is the sweetheart of minerals these days because of its weight-loss power. Research has shown that foods rich in calcium and protein can enhance weight loss by revving up your metabolism.

Calcium is also the super-nutrient for keeping bones and teeth strong and preventing osteoporosis. The best sources of calcium are dairy foods, though it's also found in:

  • Dark leafy greens
  • Fortified products like cereal and orange juice

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