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Vital health foods
March 05, 2013 COMMENT comment
     
Vital health foods
By Shaily Bhusri
 
Minerals and vitamins are an important part of our diet. However, most of us do not realise that our needs change as we get older. Here's an age-wise guide. Very few people eat as many fruits and vegetables as they should or get the adequate amounts of calcium, vitamin D, fibre, protein and other nutrients that their bodies need.
 
Do you wonder why your physician always warns you about deficiency of vitamins and calcium in your body even when you suppose that you are living on healthy food diet? Having three 'proper' meals a day may not necessarily ensure that you are reaching all your nutritional needs from food alone.

Says fitness and nutrition coach Sonia Bajaj: "There are many reasons why your body might lack in minerals and vitamins. One of the primary reasons is the use of chemicals while growing fruits and vegetables that robs them of their vital
minerals and vitamins contents. Further, the way food is cooked these days makes it lose its nutritive value. Fast life and fast food deprive us from necessary nutrition. Also, stress does not allow the food to be digested properly, leading to the waste of a lot of nutrition."
 
This gap, the experts say, can be bridged by additional supplements. These can boost your already existing diet as well as compensate for nutrients required but not gained from your daily meals. Dr Ambica Sharma, clinical nutritionist, Columbia Asia Hospital, Ghaziabad, however, warns that dietary supplements should not be a replacement or substitute for food and daily meals. Proper nutrition is vital for optimal overall health, and dietary supplements should only be taken to add the missing nutrition value.
 
"Very few people eat as many fruits and vegetables as they should or get the adequate amounts of calcium, vitamin D, fibre, protein and other nutrients that their bodies need. Supplements not only help fill these voids but can also boost your immune system and protect you from cold, flu and in some cases even cancer," explains Dr Sharma.
 
Did you know there are as many as 4,000 different food supplements available in the market? Nutraceutical brands available in the Indian market are Galaxo, Nestle, Fresubin Kabi and British Biological. Though these are easily available over the counter, Bajaj advises getting a blood test done before taking these supplements. "The test will tell you your current levels and how much of a vitamin or mineral you need as supplement," she says. "Also, remember that the process of absorbing supplements by the body is different from that of the natural food. So, extra minerals and vitamins could put a stress on kidney and liver," she warns.
 
Supplement requirement also differs in the different age groups. Based on expert advice, we have put together a list of vitamin and mineral requirements for your 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s as well as for vegetarians, vegans and nonvegetarians. Read on.
 
20, 30 - Calcium, iron, folic acid and vitamin D
Life is busy and hectic in the 20 to 30 age bracket and healthy eating is often way down the list of priorities. Studies have shown that a high percentage of people in this age group failed to meet the recommended daily intake for several key nutrients, including calcium, folic acid and iron.
 
Iron, one of the crucial mineral for the body, is required to replenish lost blood. According to Avni Amlani, international skin expert and consultant to Dermalogica India, "People in this age group need 18 milligrams of iron each day to help fight anaemia."
 
A combination of calcium and vitamin D is very important for bone health. According to Dr Sharma, "Our bones continue growing until our late 20s, so a lack of calcium at this stage will greatly increase the risk of osteoporosis later in life. To ensure you're getting the required amount of calcium, you need to eat three servings from the dairy group each day (one serving 200 ml milk, one small bowl yogurt, and 30 g cheese). If you don't like dairy products, you should include fortified calcium foods, like juices, in your diet."
 
To prevent deficiency of vitamin D, Amlani suggests one should have a minimum of 15 minutes exposure to morning sunlight, preferably between 8 to 8.30 am and afternoon 4 to 4.30 pm and do not cover your skin with any kind of sunblock. "If you're worried about exposing your skin to harmful sun rays, load up on antioxidant rich foods that will strengthen your skin cells and help you protect from sun damage. These include vegetables and fruits such as blueberries, raspberries and pomegranates," she recommends.
 
Women planning to get pregnant must include folic acid in their diet. Good sources of folic acid include fortified breakfast cereals (which also include iron), dark green leafy vegetables and oranges.
 
40 - Fiber, calcium, iron and vitamin C
The body's metabolism slows down at this age and there is a high risk of increased cholesterol levels and high blood pressure leading to a greater risk of heart disease and diabetes. Go for fibre supplements and foods rich in potassium. Calcium is still important as ever. Combine these with exercise to maintain the weight and metabolism.
 
Iron: About 100 grams of red meat twice weekly can help you maintain required iron levels. Green leafy vegetables, fortified breakfast cereals, jaggery, dates, prunes are other sources and alternatives for vegetarians.
 
Vitamin C: Available in citrus fruits like lemon, oranges, guava, amla, the vitamin enhances iron absorption. The supplements of vitamin C are available in pill, chewable as well as liquid formulations.
 
Fibre: Low fibre results in diverticular disease in later life. Get your daily dose of fibre from fortified wholegrain cereal with semiskimmed milk; four to five serving of different fruits, and vegetables, salads provide fibre along with several other key vitamins.
 
50 - Vitamins B6 and B12, antioxidants, calcium, vitamin D
Health issues increase as we age. Dr Sharma advises including all varieties of foods from different groups at this age. "Since health problems like high cholesterol, blood pressure and raised blood sugar levels are common in this age group, certain foods should be introduced to keep ailments away," she says.
 
Vitamins B6 and B12: These play a vital role in your health after your 50s. These regulate the nervous system and lower your risk for depression and stress. Plus, they keep your digestive system in check.
 
Antioxidants: A diet rich in antioxidants helps protect against problems like heart diseases, Alzheimer's, cataracts and certain cancers. Fruit and vegetables are the best source of antioxidants, so make sure you eat at least five a day.
 
At any age, it has been noted that nonvegetarians usually do not suffer from any nutritional deficiencies although their diet lacks in fibres and vitamin C. "Vegetarians," says Dr Sharma, "mostly suffer from deficiencies of Omega-3, iron, zinc and vitamin B12. Vegans, by avoiding all foods with animal products, suffer from deficiencies of vitamin B 12, vitamin D and calcium, which leads to anaemia, lower bone density and elevated homocysteine levels, which can lead to other serious health issues. Infants of mothers who lacked vitamin B12 while they were pregnant or nursing can suffer from lasting negative health effects."
 
Our nutritional needs change with different life stages and to be fit and healthy, it is important to take into account the extra demands on your body as you grow older.

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