Zinc, magnesium, cyanocobalamin, iron, potassium. They might seem like foreign, chemistry elements, but making sure we consume enough of these nutrients is incredibly important for our bodies to function normally and help prevent disease.
Despite what the endless aisle of supplements say in the chemist, getting nutrients from food is far more beneficial for us than in tablet form. These essential vitamins and minerals are found in everyday foods and it’s important to make eating these foods a priority.
“I like to think of supplements just as the word suggests: to supplement the diet, if needed,” accredited practising dietician Chloe McLeod told The Huffington Post Australia. “If someone has specific needs, or can’t get a certain nutrient in their diet because of intolerances or lifestyle choices, then supplements can be useful.”
“But if you can get them from your food there’s going to be better outcomes associated with that.”
“If you eat a variety of different foods each day -- which are fresh, healthy, non-processed -- it’s going to give your body the nutrients that it needs to function at its best.”
Zinc is known for its immune-boosting properties and also helps with digestive function and skin healing.
Hero foods: “One of the richest sources of zinc is oysters, but it’s also found in red meat, spinach, cashews and pumpkin seeds. But the best source by far is oysters,” McLeod said.
Having enough magnesium is important for energy production, muscle growth, healthy bones, transmission of nerve impulses and regulating body temperature.
Hero foods: “The best sources of magnesium are leafy greens, nuts, seeds and fish. Eating a combination of those things will help provide enough magnesium,” McLeod said.
Vitamin K is a nutrient which helps regulates normal blood clotting (such as when you graze your knee) and assists in transporting calcium throughout the body.
"Vitamin K is really important for bone health and is also anti-inflammatory," McLeod said.
Hero foods: “The best sources of this are your leafy greens, again -- they come up pretty regularly," McLeod said. "So things like broccoli, spinach and kale are all really rich in vitamin K.”
The benefits of vitamin C include immune protection and healthy skin, as well as protection against cardiovascular disease.
Hero foods: “Foods rich in vitamin C include kiwi fruit, oranges, dark leafy greens, capsicum and lemons," McLeod told Huffington Post Australia. “Lemons are also known for its antibacterial properties.”
Iron is an essential mineral that aids transporting oxygen in the blood. If we become iron-deficient, it means we are lacking the optimum amount of oxygen-carrying blood cells, which can cause tiredness, weakness, dizziness and pale skin.
Hero foods: “Red meat is one of the richest sources of iron. Some other high iron, non-meat sources are things like sesame seeds, nori (the seaweed used in sushi) and cashews. So if you’re not wanting to get iron from red meat, they are all good sources," McLeod said.
Potassium is important for normal heart, brain, muscle and nerve function, as well as for helping to regulate fluid balance in the body.
Hero foods: “I think bananas are the most well known high-potassium source and it’s a really great source of that. Other ones I would be looking at are dark leafy greens, Greek yoghurt, avocados and mushrooms -- they’re all really good sources of potassium, as well.”
“Calcium is important for bone health, as well as heart and muscle health," McLeod said.
Hero foods: "Calcium is one that is really rich in dairy foods, so milk, yoghurt and cheese. It’s also found in foods like sesame seeds, almonds and broccoli, which are all really good sources.”
Vitamin D is important for maintaining healthy bones and teeth as it helps our bodies to absorb calcium and phosphorus.
“Vitamin D is a funny one. It’s one which actually develops in your skin when you’re in the sun. Particularly going into winter, we’re going into the period where vitamin D deficiencies start to go up a little bit,” McLeod told HuffPost Australia.
Hero foods: “It is naturally found in oily fish, or sometimes it will be fortified into some dairy products," McLeod said.
"One of the best ways to get vitamin D is through mushrooms that have been left in the sun. If you eat 100 grams of mushrooms that have been left in the sun for about an hour, it will give you around 20 percent of your daily needs of vitamin D.
“The reaction that happens in the skin of the mushroom is the same as when it happens in your own skin.”
The B-group vitamins include B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B7 (biotin), B9 (folate) and vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin). These vitamins are essential for various metabolic processes and need to be consumed regularly in the diet as our bodies cannot store them.
Hero foods: “Again, leafy greens are going to be your best sources of that. They are also found in legumes, citrus fruits, seeds, cereals, chicken and some seafood, as well,” McLeod said.
"Vitamin B is found in a lot of different things and it’s one that is really easy to get in if you’re eating a varied, healthy diet.”
B12 is particularly important to consume enough of as it helps with nerve function, red blood cell production and mental ability.
Hero foods: “B12 is found more in animal products -- it’s not found in plant products. You can also get B12-fortified products, including cereals," McLeod said.
“With B12, it is one that we need to be a bit more concerned about, especially for those who are vegetarian or vegan. Using the fortified foods is a good idea."