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Healthy Eating: Mighty Minerals

Fluoride helps to harden tooth enamel and protect your teeth from decay. When the diet is adequate in fluoride, bones are stronger and more resistant to degeneration and osteoporosis, or brittle bone disease. Fluoride works with calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and vitamin D to form and maintain healthy bones and teeth. A deficiency of fluoride can lead to weakened tooth enamel and a higher incidence of dental caries. Too much fluoride can cause mottling, pining, dulling, and staining of the teeth. Fluoride has a UL set at 10 mg per day for adults over eighteen.

The primary means of obtaining fluoride is drinking and/or cooking with fluoridated water. Fluoride is not widely available in foods, but it can be found in tea, especially if made with fluoridated water, and fish with edible bones, such as canned salmon.

Chromium works closely with insulin to help your body use blood sugar or glucose. Without chromium, the action of insulin is blocked and blood sugar levels elevate. Chromium is critical to proper maintenance of blood sugar.

ALERT! A very popular supplement in the weight-loss world is chromium picolinate, which many manufacturers claim will help to improve your body's lean-to-fat ratio. Chromium picolinate is simply a form of the mineral chromium. Taking megadoses of any supplement is not recommended. Talk to your doctor if you are considering taking chromium picolinate supplements.

The primary sign of a chromium deficiency is intolerance to glucose, which leads to high blood sugar and insulin levels. This can sometimes look like diabetes. Consuming too much from dietary sources is unlikely. There is no UL established for chromium at this time. Trivalent chromium, the form in most chromium supplements, is extremely safe. The best sources of chromium include meats, eggs, cheese, and whole-grain foods.

Molybdenum works with riboflavin to help form the body's iron into hemoglobin for making red blood cells. Molybdenum functions as a component of many different enzymes. With a normal diet there is no worry of deficiency, because this mineral is needed in such small amounts. Too much molybdenum can interfere with the body's ability to use copper. Molybdenum has a UL set at 2,200 mcg per day for adults over eighteen. Molybdenum is found mostly in milk, legumes, bread, and grain products.

Iron is the mineral that occurs in the greatest amount in the blood. Almost two-thirds of the iron in your body is found in hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to your body's tissues. Smaller amounts of iron are found in myoglobin, a protein that helps supply oxygen to muscle and contributes to the color of muscle. About 15 percent of your body's iron is stored for future needs, and activated when dietary intake is inadequate. The remainder is in your body's tissues as part of proteins that help your body function. Iron is also needed for a strong immune system and for energy production.

In the United States, iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies. Iron deficiency can lead to anemia, fatigue, and infections. Anemia, the last stage of iron deficiency, is a condition in which the blood is deficient in red blood cells or the hemoglobin (iron-containing) portion of red blood cells. Symptoms include extreme fatigue due to the lack of oxygen being delivered to needed tissues. Iron is the most common though not the sole cause of anemia.

Fact: If you feel you are a candidate for possible iron deficiency, or you feel you may have symptoms, talk with your doctor about testing your iron stores before self-prescribing a supplement.

Certain types of people are at higher risk for iron deficiency and should be screened periodically:

  • Infants and children, because of their growth and choosy eating habits.
  • Adolescents, especially girls who have started their menstrual cycle, who consume a junk food diet.
  • Women who are pregnant, because they are supporting their needs as well as the baby's.
  • The elderly population, because of poor dietary intake and decreased iron absorption due to aging.
  • Women of childbearing age who experience excessive menstrual bleeding, because they are losing iron-rich blood each month.
  • Strict vegetarians who eat only plant foods, because the iron in these foods is not absorbed as well as the iron in animal products.
  • People who abuse crash diets and people suffering from eating disorders, because there is a good chance they are not meeting their requirements for iron.
  • A person who loses an excessive amount of blood through surgery or other incident.
Iron deficiency can occur from decreased dietary intake, increased need for iron, blood loss, diminished iron absorption or utilization, or a combination of these factors.

Fact: Women who are menopausal and postmenopausal have a decreased need for iron.

Your body usually maintains normal iron status by controlling the amount of iron absorbed from food, but iron can build up and become harmful in people who have a genetic disorder called hemochromatosis. This disorder, which usually occurs in men, causes excessive iron to accumulate in soft tissue. The result can be heart problems and other abnormalities. In children, large amounts of iron can have serious consequences. Keep iron supplements and other adult nutrient supplements out of the reach of children. Children should get immediate medical attention if they take an overdose of iron supplements.

Iron supplementation may be indicated when an iron deficiency is diagnosed and when diet alone cannot restore bodily iron content to normal levels within an acceptable time frame.

Taking iron supplements can cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, dark colored stools, and/or abdominal distress. To minimize these side effects, take the supplement in divided doses and with food. It is best to seek the advice of your doctor before taking an iron supplement. Iron has a UL set at 45 mg per day for adults over eighteen.

Food Sources of Iron

Good sources of heme ironGood sources of nonheme iron
Beef liver Fortified breakfast cereals
Lean red meats Nuts and seeds
Poultry Bran
Pork Spinach
Salmon Legumes
Lamb Lentils
Veal Dried fruit
Egg yolk (exception to the rule)
Whole-wheat bread
Wheat germ
Enriched rice, cooked

Iron is contained in foods of both plant and animal origin. The iron in plant foods is called nonheme iron and is not absorbed as well as the iron from animal foods, called heme iron. Consuming vitamin C-rich foods at meals can help enhance your body's ability to absorb nonheme iron. This is especially important for strict vegetarians, who do not eat animal foods. Grain products, cereals, and flours that are enriched or fortified with iron are good dietary sources of nonheme iron. The improved iron status of millions of infants, children, and women has been attributed to the addition of iron to infant formula, cereals, and grain products.

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Copyright © 2002 by Kimberly A. Tessmer. Excerpted from The Everything Nutrition Book: Boost Energy, Prevent Illness, and Live Longer with permission of its publisher, Adams Media Corporation.

To order this book visit Amazon.com.


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