As you pass by the nutrient aisle of your grocery store or pharmacy, you might be amazed by the dizzying array of options. From vitamin A to Zinc, there are hundreds of choices. Which ones you need depend on your diet and lifestyle, but there are some that you can only get through foods or supplements because the human body doesn’t create them. Here are some of the most important nutrients the body can’t create.
Omega-3s are healthy fats that protect against heart disease, cancer, and stroke. These fats are also needed for blood clotting and the development of cell membranes in the brain. They can also make your hair healthier and give it more sheed. Omega-3s can be found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, and albacore tuna. The American Heart Association advises eating two servings (3.5-ounce portions) of fatty fish per week. Omega-3s can also be found in some nuts and seeds, such as flaxseeds. Not all omega-3s are the same, and if you are considering taking supplements, it would be a good idea to talk to your health care provider to find one that will meet your needs.
Your body does not create vitamins. So if you don’t get the ones you need through your diet, you may want to consider a supplement as an alternative. Vitamin A, for example, has been linked to increased brain function, vision, and cell health. The body turns the antioxidant beta carotene–found in colorful fruits and vegetables like carrots, apricots, mangoes, asparagus, broccoli, and kale. There are many varieties of Vitamin B, but in general, these vitamins support cell metabolism. Vitamin C helps your body produce protein and is often recommended to fight off the common cold. Citrus fruits, strawberries, and peppers are rich in Vitamin C. Whole fruit is usually preferable to juice, as much of the fiber is removed from juice. The body can create a small amount of Vitamin D, converting sunlight to vitamin D through the skin. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and aids bone health.
The mineral most people know about is iron, as the lack of it can lead to fatigue and more serious health problems. Potassium is another mineral that the body needs to aid hydration. Calcium plays a large role in bone health. Sodium is more problematic, as too much can lead to health problems. Most vegetables are rich in iron, as are fresh fruits and whole grains. Most milk is fortified with iron. Potassium is most in found in bananas and other fruits. Most health care professionals believe that we get enough sodium from the foods we eat as prepared and recommend against adding it to food in the form of table salt.
That’s right, water. Your body doesn’t make water, but water makes up some 60 percent of most people’s body weight. You might not think of water as an essential nutrient, but it is one. Water carries other nutrients as well as oxygen to cells. It also transports waste from cells. Water keeps our body temperature regulated and feeds our muscles and skin. The Mayo Clinic recommends that adults drink 64 ounces of water per day, eight ounces at a time.
Ideally, we get all the nutrients we need from our diet and don’t need to add them in the form of supplements. Still, everyone’s body is different, and some people are genetically wired to produce more or less of these essential nutrients from the food that they eat. It is well known that dietary supplements are an unregulated area of medicine. If you are relying on supplements for essential nutrients, talk to your doctor or pharmacist to make sure you find the quality and quantity that is right for you.