The Mineral Deficiency Dilemma

Is your lifestyle denying your body minerals it needs?

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With multiple diets and lifestyles being touted as the healthiest, it’s easy to get confused about which one may be right for you. Some of the diets and lifestyles gaining popularity are vegan, paleolithic, gluten-free, lacto-ovarian, pescatarian, and lacto-ovarian. Whether the diet is organic or conventional, minerals play an essential part of overall health in the body. With hormones, antibiotics and other questionable items in non-organic and non-natural foods, it may seem intuitive that eating a diet based in fruits and vegetables would be the healthiest route to go. However, many meat and dairy products are high sources of many minerals that the body needs in order to function properly. Supplements can help to offset any deficiencies that the diet or lifestyle of choice could be causing.

Depending on what the particular diet is omitting, certain essential minerals are being omitted as well. According to the National Institute of Health studies show that “Vegans had a lower energy intake compared to other diets. In addition, the vegetarians had a significantly lower energy intake compared to the omnivores. No differences were detected when comparing the energy intake of respectively vegetarians, semi-vegetarians and pesco-vegetarians,” also known as pescatarians (1). Energy level maintenance can be made easier with the addition of supplements as a substitute for minerals the body is missing from certain foods.

Minerals themselves are broken down into two groups: major (macromineral) and minor (micromineral or trace). Major minerals consist of calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and sulfur. Some of the minor minerals are inclusive of iron, copper, zinc, manganese, fluoride, selenium and cobalt. By excluding certain foods or entire food groups, the body may need supplemental help in meeting its mineral requirements. Each mineral plays an integral part in the maintenance of the body, but the focus will be on those most impacted by dietary restrictions.

Major Minerals
Calcium. Important for bone and teeth health, calcium assists in muscle and vascular relaxation and contraction, nerve function, hormone secretion and intracellular signaling. The daily recommended dietary allowance for calcium for an adult man is, 1,000 mg and 1,000 – 1,200 mg for women. Dairy foods that contain calcium are cheese, milk and yogurt and vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, kale and spinach will contribute along with calcium-fortified juices towards the daily goal of calcium intake. A vegan lifestyle has the highest risk of a calcium deficiency as “the highest calcium consumption was found in semi-vegetarians and pesco-vegetarians, the lowest in vegans, with respectively 1,470, 1,470 and 738 mg/day” (2).

Calcium supplements could decrease the chance of experiencing a bone fracture, which is otherwise heightened as a result of calcium deficiency. People on paleo diets may also need to stay aware of their calcium intake. Although eggs are allowed, cheese, milk, fruit juices and breads that may be fortified with calcium are not, leaving paleo eaters with less options for foods containing naturally occurring calcium. There are typically two types of calcium supplements, calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Calcium carbonate is a more concentrated form, needing smaller tablets to deliver a larger dose, which may also be less expensive. Calcium citrate is less concentrated and as a result can sometimes come in larger tablets or you may have to take a higher quantity of them. Short-term calcium deficiency is non-symptomatic since the body absorbs calcium from the bones when it needs it, but over a longer term bones will become weakened and the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures is increased (3).

Magnesium. This mineral supports and maintains normal muscle and nerve function, promotes a healthy immune system, regulates blood glucose levels and is responsible for regulating over 300 enzyme systems. Recommended in daily allowances of 400-420 mg in men based on age and 360-320 mg in women, also based on age. Foods rich in magnesium include  dry-roasted almonds, cashews and peanuts, as well as whole grains and rice which may be detrimental to paleo and gluten-free individuals from getting their daily requirement. According to the National Institute of Health, “Magnesium is also added to some breakfast cereals and other fortified foods. Some types of food processing, such as refining grains in ways that remove the nutrient-rich germ and bran, lower magnesium content substantially” (4). There are multiple types of magnesium supplements on the market including magnesium citrate, oxide and malate just to name a few. Be sure to pick the right supplement based on individual need.

Depending on what the particular diet is omitting,

certain essential minerals are being omitted as well.

Phosphorus. Important for muscle contractions, maintaining a normal heart rhythm, kidney function and the signaling of nerves, the foods that are a main source of phosphorus are meats and milks as well as some whole grain breads. As a result, supplementation may be a good idea for vegans and non-lacto-ovarian vegetarians who avoid these foods. Daily recommended intake for adults is 700 mg per day (5). People who take medications such as antacids and diuretics may also wish to check with their physicians about whether a phosphorus supplement may be a good idea since these medications can cause levels of phosphorus in the body to drop.

Sulfur. Sulfur is a component of four amino acids and assists in protein synthesis as well as assisting in collagen production, which helps connective tissues found in artery walls and cell structures remain strong. Since some dietary sources of sulfur are seafood, beef and eggs, supplements may be a good idea for lifestyles where these foods are restricted such as vegan and lacto-ovarian vegetarians. Sulfur supplementation comes in two forms; DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide) and MSM (methylsulfonylmethane). MSM supplements are found over the counter while DMSO is only taken under a physician’s guidance. General recommendations are 3 grams (or one teaspoon) twice daily.

Minor Minerals
Iron. Iron is important for development and growth occurring in the human body and is essential in the oxygenation of the body via hemoglobin. Connective tissue and hormones are also impacted by iron. Iron can be broken down into two types: Heme-iron found only in meat, primarily red and non-heme iron found in plants, both of which are usually poorly absorbed (6). Not all animal meats are high in iron and the amount of iron depends on the type of animal and type of iron. Some of the many forms that iron supplements are sold in are tablet, liquid, powder and elixirs. The daily recommended amount of iron is 8 mg in adult men and adults over 51, while 18 mg is suggested for women ages 19–50. Vegans or “vegetarians who do not eat meat, poultry, or seafood need almost twice as much iron…because the body doesn’t absorb non-heme iron in plant foods as well as heme-iron in animal foods” (7).

Zinc. When most people think of zinc, it may be when they are looking for a lozenge to help fend off or shorten a cold. While immunity to illness is an important function of this trace mineral, zinc is also responsible for processes such as cell division, wound healing and growth and development during pregnancy and youth. Some of the major sources of zinc in diet come from oysters, red meat and poultry. While vegans and some vegetarians can get smaller quantities of zinc from foods such as beans and nuts, it may not be enough. Zinc supplements are available in many different forms including zinc acetate, citrate, glycerate, monomethionine, picolinate and sulfate. Do research to decide which one is best for the desired results as some, such as sulfate, could cause stomach upset. The recommended daily amount of zinc for adult males is 11 mg, while for females it is 8 mg (8).

Selenium. Selenium is important for the body as it contains antioxidant properties and also helps to maintain normal thyroid function. There are two forms of selenium, organic and inorganic, but both are a good source of dietary needs (9). Seafood and organ meats are known to carry the highest amounts of selenium, so diets that restrict intake of these foods may need supplementation to maintain normal levels. Supplements of selenium are available alone or combined within a multivitamin. Both adult men and women have a recommended daily intake of 55 mcg, unless women are pregnant.

Getting the right amount of minerals can be essential to having a healthy body that runs at peak performance. Dietary restrictions can negatively affect the amounts of minerals that a diet without restrictions may normally have. As always, consulting with a physician is wise before starting a supplementation regimen as it is essential to get a baseline of current minerals in the body and also because minerals could interact negatively with other prescribed and over the counter medications. WF

References
1. “Comparison of Nutritional Quality of the Vegan, Vegetarian, Semi-Vegetarian, Pesco-Vegetarian and Omnivorous Diet”. National Institute of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3967195/. Accessed 2/27/17.
2. “Health Effects of Vegan Diets”. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/89/5/1627S.full. Accessed 2/27/17.
3. “Calcium Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet”. National Institute of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/. Accessed 2/28/17.
4. “Magnesium Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet”. National Institute of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/. Accessed 2/28/17.
5. “Phosphorus in Diet.” Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002424.htm. Accessed 3/1/17.
6. “How to Avoid Common Nutrient Deficiencies if You’re a Vegan”. Mercola. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/
08/03/vegetarian-vegan-nutrient-deficiencies.aspx. Accessed 3/1/17.
7. “Iron Fact Sheet for Consumers”. National Institute of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-Consumer/. Accessed 3/1/17.
8.”Zinc Fact Sheet for Health Professionals”. National Institute of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/. Accessed 3/2/17.
9. “Selenium Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet”. National Institute of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Selenium-HealthProfessional/.
Accessed 3/2/17.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine April 2017

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