Tag Archive for: essential nutrients

woman athlete drinking water with electrolytes

woman athlete drinking water with electrolytes

Whether you’re an avid cyclist, a recreational jogger, or just someone who exercises from time to time, you’ve probably had someone tell you that you need to replenish your body’s electrolytes. And the conversation probably stopped there. Electrolytes are typically discussed in vague terms. Most active people can tell you that electrolytes are linked to hydration, sweat, and exercise, but can’t dive into the specifics.

That’s where this article comes in. Read on for an in-depth breakdown of what electrolytes are, why your body needs them, and what you can do to ensure your body has enough of them.

What Are Electrolytes?

If you immediately noticed the similarities between the words “electrolyte” and “electricity,” you’re actually on to something. Electrolytes are substances that have a positive or negative electrical charge when they are dissolved in water. (That’s where the prefix “electro” comes from.) The human body is about two-thirds water, so electrolytes can be found in most of your cells.

It’s important to note that the electrolytes in your body are not all the same substance, but rather a variety of substances, such as sodium, magnesium, and potassium. These substances all have either a positive or a negative charge, and you need all of them to maintain a healthy electrolyte level.

Electrolytes can be found in most fluids in your body, including blood and urine, as well as other body tissues. As your body fluid levels change, so do your electrolyte levels. This means that processes such as sweating and urinating naturally deplete your body’s electrolytes—and those electrolytes need to be replaced. But more on that later!

What Do Electrolytes Do for Your Body?

At this point, you probably have one big question: what do electrolytes actually do? And the answer might surprise you. All electrolytes do the same thing—conduct electrical charges. But this simple function plays a part in a wide variety of body processes including muscle contraction, the transmission of nerve signals, balancing fluid levels, and maintaining a natural pH level within the body.*

Naturally, not all electrolytes fulfill the same role. The list below breaks down some of the most common electrolytes found in the body and the processes they help maintain:

  • Calcium: When it comes to muscle function, calcium is a star player. This mineral, which carries a positive charge, helps muscle fibers slide as the muscle contracts. It’s also a building block for your bones and teeth, helps regulate your heartbeat, and send nerve signals.*
  • Magnesium: This electrolyte is a bit of an all-arounder, playing a part in muscle function, DNA and RNA production, and it supports an already healthy immune system.*
  • Sodium: The big thing most people discuss when they talk about sodium is blood pressure. Sodium plays a major role in regulating the amount of fluid in your body which, in turn, impacts your blood pressure. As with many other electrolytes, sodium also plays a role in muscle and nerve function.
  • Potassium: Potassium plays a big part in muscle and heart function. If you have too little, you might experience muscle fatigue, weakness, and even cramps. And, once again, potassium also helps with the transmission of nerve impulses.
  • Chloride: This electrolyte helps your body maintain its pH levels—in other words, it balances acidity and alkalinity. Chloride also plays a part in balancing your body’s electrolyte levels.*
  • Phosphate: Like calcium, phosphate helps your body build—and maintain—strong bones and teeth. It also helps produce the energy that your body puts towards growing and repairing tissue.*
  • Bicarbonate: Through the process of respiration, you breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. But some of the carbon created during that process stays in your body in the form of bicarbonate. This electrolyte helps maintain heart function and balances the pH levels of your blood.*

Maintaining Electrolyte Levels

Most people first hear about electrolytes through product marketing. Between electrolyte drinks and other supplements, there are a lot of products marketed as solutions for maintaining healthy electrolyte levels. But are these supplements necessary? It depends.

The best way to ensure you are getting all of the electrolytes you need is by eating a well-balanced diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of potassium and, in the case of leafy greens, calcium. You can also find calcium in dairy products such as milk and cheese. Sodium can come from a variety of sources including pickles, cheese, and smoked or canned meats. Seeds and nuts, on the other hand, are rich in sodium.

As you can see, the various electrolytes can be found across a variety of food groups: grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy, and proteins. If your diet includes appropriate portions of each food group, your electrolyte levels should be in a good place—if you’re not performing high-intensity exercise.

But what if you are an athlete? Or an occasional 5k runner? Or you spend several hours doing yard work in the hot sun?

This is where electrolyte supplements come in. Remember how you can lose electrolytes by sweating? Well, if you are engaging in an activity that causes you to sweat more than normal, you are losing more electrolytes than normal. And your regular diet may not be enough to quickly replenish your electrolyte levels. By drinking an electrolyte beverage or taking another electrolyte supplement, you can get a leg up on recovery and ensure you are keeping your electrolytes at a healthy level.

Just remember: it’s always good to read the nutrition label. Many electrolyte beverages contain a lot of sugar. A little bit of sugar will help your body in the absorption of the electrolytes, but a lot can throw off an otherwise balanced diet.

It’s All About Balance: The Woes of Too Little or Too Many Electrolytes

Unfortunately, it is possible to have too much of some good things. And electrolytes are one of those things.

Remember all of those body processes that electrolytes support? If you have too few of any given electrolyte in your system—a set of conditions denoted by the prefix “hypo”—you run the risk of those processes not functioning correctly. Too little sodium, for instance, is a condition known as hyponatremia, and too little calcium is known as hypocalcemia.

When you have too much of any given electrolyte, it can be similarly detrimental for your health. (These conditions all have the prefix “hyper.”)

With a healthy diet, it is unlikely that you will hit these electrolyte levels. If you do take a supplement, follow the labelled directions. But, as always, it’s best to consult a doctor if you are in doubt.

The Bottom Line

On a day-to-day basis, you don’t necessarily need to be thinking about electrolytes. Focus on eating a variety of foods from the various food groups and try to steer clear of overly processed foods. If you find yourself experiencing unusual symptoms a doctor may recommend blood tests that can help identify electrolyte imbalances.

And if you know that you’re losing a lot of electrolytes via sweat, it’s not a bad idea to sip on an electrolyte drink during or after your exercise.

The old adage says, “an apple a day, keeps the doctor away.” But there are other immune supporting foods along the aisles of the grocery store. Immunity nutrition is a popular target of today’s diet trends. And while a variety of wholesome foods are needed to create a balanced diet, some are particularly good sources of immunity nutrients.

Foods that support your body’s immune system are nutrient dense. That means they’re packed with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and other helpful nutrients. Beta-glucans, vitamin C, B vitamins, and zinc are some of the most important immunity nutrients.

They all work to protect your health. These nutrients support the function of immune system cells—like neutrophils, macrophages, and natural killer cells. By supporting your natural defenses, immunity nutrition can help maintain your health.

It is important to get these nutrients in your daily meals. And the good news is each comes in a healthy, delicious package. Whether it’s red pepper, kiwi, chickpeas, or cashews, make sure you get immune supporting foods each time you go to the grocery store.

Fungi, Whole Grains, and Dairy: Beta Glucans

Mushrooms have famously been linked to immune health. But more foods than mushrooms contain beta-glucans—the nutrients responsible for mushrooms’ immune support. Beta-glucans are sugars found in the cell walls of fungi (like mushrooms), bacteria, and other plant material. They are also present in oats, other grains, and dairy products.

When you consume foods rich in beta-glucans, your immune system flourishes. Beta-glucans are immunostimulants, meaning they support the function and responsiveness of immune cells. These micronutrients support the normal activity of neutrophils, which help maintain your health.

Your immune response can be primed by molecules like beta-glucans. They train your innate immunity (your ancient immune system) to react to real threats with harmless stimuli. Now “awake” and alert to foreign triggers, your immune system is in a heightened state of awareness.

Macrophage (a type of white blood cell) activity is also stimulated by the presence of beta-glucans. Together (and with the help of beta-glucans) neutrophils and macrophages play an important role in maintaining your immune health.

And you don’t have to dig too deep to find beta-glucan-rich foods. Beta-glucans are large polysaccharides (large sugar molecules) that are added to foods to increase their fiber content. Many cereals, baking goods, instant oatmeal, and milk products are fortified with beta-glucans. Increase your awareness of dietary sources of beta-glucans so you can practice healthy immune nutrition.

Fruits and Veggies: Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. And it also works with your immune system to maintain your health. Neutrophils (yet another of the five major types of white blood cells) have a high concentration of vitamin C. They use it to reduce free radicals and other toxic oxygen species to protect themselves when they are out protecting your health.

The presence of vitamin C also triggers the activation—or maturation—of leukocytes.  These important immune cells are part of your body’s natural defenses that keep you feeling your best. Working in tandem with antibodies, leukocytes can direct other cells in your immune system. This essential function helps maintain healthy immunity.

They’re bright and vibrant, so foods rich in vitamin C are easy to spot when you are out shopping. Citrus fruits, colorful peppers, spinach, and broccoli are all excellent sources of this essential vitamin and antioxidant. You can make it a snack or a side dish. So, look out for your immune system and add vitamin C to your shopping cart.

Protein: B Vitamins and Zinc

This group of essential vitamins and a mighty mineral partner with your immune system to keep you healthy and feeling your best. B vitamins do this by supporting a healthy metabolism and helping to produce white blood cells. Zinc supports the development of immune cells and acts as an antioxidant—defending your body by destroying free radicals.

B vitamins are a class of their own. These eight immunity nutrients are commonly found in tuna, beef liver, chicken, and turkey meat. As mentioned above, they play an important role in a healthy immune system because they help your body manufacture white blood cells. B vitamins also support the creation of hemoglobin. This protein helps red blood cells carry oxygen throughout your body.

Zinc aids in multiple immune system functions. In your body, zinc stimulates the production of immune cells. It also helps these cells initiate a proper immune response. Macrophages also rely on zinc to help them play their normal role in your body’s defenses.

Free radicals are no match for zinc, either. By helping to reduce toxic oxygen species, zinc can minimize free radical damage.

The essential mineral can be tricky to locate, though. Zinc is hiding in foods like oysters, crab, and lobster. But if high-priced seafood doesn’t suit your budget or taste buds, grab a box of healthy, whole-grain breakfast cereal instead. Many fortified and whole grain breakfast cereals contain a significant amount of zinc.

Eating immune supporting foods loaded with B vitamins and zinc help your immune system by supplying red blood cells with hemoglobin and increasing the number of fighter cells like leukocytes and neutrophils. Learn to rotate macronutrient choices so you get some variety while focusing on immunity nutrition.

Immunity Nutrients Shopping List

Immune supporting micronutrients can be acquired through healthy eating. If you have trouble locating the foods below, or avoid them for any reason, you may need some help supporting immunity. Nutritional supplements can also provide these necessary micronutrients for immune support. Supplementation can help your body stay topped off with the immunity nutrients of which you need more.

But start with this shopping list, which provides ample dietary sources of immunity nutrition. You should be able to find foods rich in beta-glucans, vitamin C, B vitamins, and zinc at the grocery store, farmer’s market, or in your own garden.

These nutrients are hiding in plain sight. All you need to do is eat and enjoy. Bon Appetit!


  • Whole wheat bread
  • High-fiber whole wheat cereals
  • Oats
  • Mushrooms
  • Seaweed
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Low-fat meat products

Vitamin C

  • Oranges
  • Kiwifruits
  • Grapefruits
  • Red peppers
  • Green peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Spinach

B Vitamins

  • B vitamin fortified cereals
  • Liver
  • Chicken breasts
  • Salmon
  • Eggs
  • Yogurt


  • Oysters
  • Lobster
  • Crab
  • Beef
  • Chickpeas
  • Cashews
  • Kidney Beans

With the ever-increasing popularity of fad diets and pop nutritionists, the world of healthy eating can feel intimidating. Everyone from your neighbor to your doctor to your mom seems to have advice on what you should—or should not—eat. And this advice is often contradictory.

But healthy eating doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, the simplest foods and meals are often the best for you. This is the guiding logic behind taking the clean eating approach to your diet.

Clean eating is the practice of filling your plate with primarily unprocessed, whole foods. It doesn’t outline how much you eat or when, but rather how you should select the foods you consume.

Bite into the Benefits of Clean Eating

Before diving into the ins and outs of clean eating, you should know one thing: clean eating takes commitment. It means diligently monitoring the foods you buy and eat—at home and when you’re out. That being said, the benefits of clean eating make it worth the effort. Take a look at why that is.

Food provides your body with the essential nutrients, energy, and building blocks to keep your body going. And, if you’re lucky, the food tastes good, too. People often think that the two are mutually exclusive: food is either healthy or tasty, not both. With clean eating, you can experience the best of both worlds.

Clean eating is an excellent way to provide your body with fiber, antioxidants, plant-based fats, and whole grains—all of which will help you feel energized and maintain overall health. And on top of that, a clean eating diet is full of flavorful, fresh foods that often taste better than their over-processed counterparts.

So if you’re looking to make your diet nutritious and tasty, keep reading to find the recipe for clean eating success.

The Key to Clean Eating? Stay Closer to Nature

Clean eating is all about focusing on foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. This means limiting the processed foods you eat. Think about potato chips: if someone showed you a chip, would you be able to identify the plant it came from without any prior knowledge? Sure—they’re made from potatoes, but those root veggies are processed to the point where they’re no longer instantly recognizable.

Compare this to, say, a baked potato. This is far closer to a potato’s natural form. And you can apply this logic to most foods—but more on that later!

As foods are processed, they undergo a number of changes. Processing can strip foods of nutritional value, and loaded them with sugar, preservatives, and other chemicals. Clean eating can help you maximize the most nutritional value from your food while avoiding those negative additives

Clean eating also means moderating your intake of alcohol. While a little red wine won’t hurt you, it’s probably no surprise that alcohol isn’t exactly good for you. It is, after all, a toxin that needs to be broken down and dealt with by your liver.

A Crash Course in Whole Foods and Food Processing

If you’re looking into clean eating for the first time, you’ll want to ensure you have a good understanding of whole foods—both what they are and how to identify them.

As mentioned above, whole foods are those that have undergone as little processing as possible. Or, in other words, foods that are close to their natural state. Unless you’re eating fruit right off the tree, most of the food you consume will be at least a little processed. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Chopping, washing, mashing, or cooking are all forms of processing. And some are better for your health than others.

Slicing an orange in half and eating it won’t reduce the nutritional value. It’s a form of processing with minimal impact on the food itself. The same is true of, say, washing an apple before you eat it.

Now, think about orange juice from concentrate. To reach that state, oranges are juiced, the liquid is reduced down into a thicker, concentrated form, some preservatives (and maybe even artificial flavorings and sweeteners) are added, and then water is added before use to make it a juice-like consistency once again.

Now, you might think, “that sounds like a lot of unnecessary steps.” And you’re right. At each of those steps, the original produce—an orange—strays further and further from its natural state. Many of these steps reduce the nutritional value of the juice and introduce unnecessary chemicals and sugars into it. Not exactly clean eating—or, in this case, drinking.

So how can you identify whole or minimally processed foods? The supermarket is full of options, but it can be difficult to parse out which foods are truly whole foods and which are simply being marketed as a health food. Fortunately, there are a few simple tips and tricks for selecting whole foods that you can use the next time you’re at the supermarket.

Tips for Selecting the Best Foods for Your Clean Eating Meal Prep

  1. Eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables as possible. Beans are another great whole food—just be sure to watch for added sodium in canned versions!
  2. Opt for whole grains. Refined grains—which are the more common form—contain less fiber and fewer overall nutrients. To check if your bread is truly whole grain, look at the ingredients label. Does it show “whole-wheat flour” as the first ingredient? If not, it is probably made from mostly refined grains.
  3. Don’t be afraid of food in its natural state. A bundle of dirty, fresh beets might seem intimidating at first, but with a little practice and research, you’ll be able to prepare and cook them to perfection!
  4. Read nutrition facts labels and ingredient lists. So many foods at the grocery store have added sugars, artificial flavors, preservatives, and other additives. Be sure to know what you’re buying—and eating.

Eating as Clean as Possible—Even When Life Becomes an Obstacle

There isn’t a clear line between clean and unclean eating. It’s a spectrum. And there’s room in your clean eating approach for a variety of foods—including some processed items that meet certain criteria.

In the real world of whirlwind schedules and limited time, you need to be realistic. Sometimes you have to rely on a nutrition bar, shake, snack, or other more acceptable processed food choices. Don’t beat yourself up for it. Moving to more whole foods and picking the right convenient options still mean your clean eating approach is working.

When you have to reach for processed snacks or meal replacements, look for these qualities:

  • Nutrient rich
  • Full of fiber
  • Packed with protein
  • Low in calories, low in added sugar, and—if possible—low on the glycemic index
  • Made with quality ingredients

This means you need to do a little research. Take a look at the nutrition facts panel and ingredients list to make the best choices.

And remember: making the better choice is always good enough. Choose progress over perfection. That means it’s OK to skip the fast food or potato chips in favor of a shake or nutrition bar that provides fiber and protein without a lot of extra sugar.

Start by Creating Your Clean Eating Meal Plan

If you’re sold on the benefits of clean eating, you don’t have to make the shift all at once. Fortunately, starting is the easy part.

As you begin making the shift towards clean eating, start with small changes. In each meal, try to identify one processed food that you could replace with a whole-food counterpart. If, for instance, you typically make sandwiches on white bread, try using whole-grain bread instead. If you eat cereal for breakfast every morning, try steel-cut oats instead. For snacks, see if you can stick to fresh fruit, vegetables, and lightly roasted nuts.

If you typically cook your meals from scratch, follow a similar process. You have total control over the ingredients, so it’s just a matter of choosing the right ones.

As you make these substitutions and small changes, you’ll figure out what works best for you. Your grocery list will gradually develop to include whole foods. And remember, clean eating looks different for everyone. So figure out what you like by exploring different ingredients and cuisines. Then make favorite meals the cornerstones of your weekly clean eating meal prep.

At the most basic level, traditional Chinese nutrition is all about balance. It starts with the importance of finding a daily balance of flavors (sour, sweet, bitter, spicy, and salty) and thermal properties (cold vs hot). The philosophy extends even to the choice of each ingredient, which plays an important role in this balance, as well. Herbs, for example, are not viewed as a simple seasoning or addon, but as a way of balancing an entire meal.

The balancing act of traditional Chinese nutrition has been going strong for centuries. Long before modern medicine and clinical trials, knowledge about healthcare was formed over generations by individuals testing what was available to them. When a food or ingredient proved beneficial, that knowledge was passed onto the next generation.

This combination of balance and a long history of health benefits explain why tea, ginseng, mushrooms, ginger, and more play such a large role in traditional Chinese nutrition. Modern research and knowledge about the chemical compounds in these foods expands on these benefits and further exposes the underlying reasons why they are seen as beneficial.

You can take advantage of this deliciously healthy mix of traditional Chinese nutrition and scientific exploration in your kitchen. Read on to learn more about the benefits of several foods important in traditional Chinese nutrition and how you can incorporate them into your modern life.


All teas (white, green, black, oolong, and others) are ultimately derived from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. So whatever you are steeping or sipping is differentiated by the way the plant is grown and the method of leaf preparation. Green and white tea, unlike black and oolong tea, are not fermented, so many of the plant’s active constituents remain intact.

Tea plays an interesting role in balance for traditional Chinese nutrition, because it can fit on both sides of the thermal spectrum. Green tea is thermally considered cold and would be the choice for the warmer spring and summer seasons. Black tea, meanwhile, is warm and considered perfect for cold climates. In some Chinese populations, consumption of tea amounts to several cups per day.

Whether hot or cold, tea has long been used as a stimulant in Chinese culture. Now through modern analytical techniques, the caffeine content of tea can be measured. That allows you to better understand how many cups you’d like to drink—or at what time you should partake. As a general rule of thumb, your typical cup of green tea 30-70 milligrams (mg) of caffeine. Black teas, on the other hand, range from 45 mg to 90 mg.

Caffeine isn’t the only compound in tea researchers have quantified. Many phytonutrients have also been discovered. In fact, green tea is a rich source of catechins, a class of bioflavonoid compounds with strong antioxidant potential. The green tea catechins with the highest antioxidant activity are epigallocatechin-3-gallate, epicatechin-3-gallate, epigallocatechin and epicatechin.

It’s fairly easy to incorporate the caffeine and catechins of tea into your life. You may already be drinking it—many people around the world do. But if you’re a coffee person, replace a cup with green or black tea. For those sensitive to caffeine, go with a decaffeinated black tea. Herbal teas don’t actual contain the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, so—while they’re a delicious and healthy drink—they don’t provide the benefits seen from traditional Chinese nutrition’s most beloved beverage.


Ginseng was used in China and throughout much of eastern Asia as a warming herb that also helped invigorate Qi—or life force. Qi can be measured in several different ways, but is generally thought of as the total vital energy within a person.

Ginseng’s reputed role in Qi is backed up by modern clinical studies on this herb. And those are mainly tied to compounds in ginseng called ginsenosides.

Ginsenosides can help support healthy nervous system function through protection from oxidative stress. The compounds have also been shown to support cognitive function, specifically in psychomotor performance. Actions that involve cognitive function and physical movement, like playing a musical instrument, rely on psychomotor performance.

You can experience the support of ginseng’s ginsenosides in many ways. Traditional Chinese nutrition uses ginseng steeped in water to create a kind of tea. You can also use ginseng as an addition to a variety of tasty soups.


Mushrooms have been used in traditional Chinese cooking for hundreds of years as a way of optimizing Qi and supporting the immune system. Even in the modern Chinese diet, mushrooms highlight Chinese dishes that are eaten every single day. You can also find mushroom in teas and supplements.

Their widespread use is about more than the fungi’s ability to soak up flavors and provide umami. Mushrooms support your health by adding essential vitamins and minerals to your diet. Recent research goes further and shows mushrooms also contain beneficial compounds that aren’t found in many other foods. One of these is a polysaccharide (complex sugar) called beta-glucan.

Clinical studies show that supplementing with mushrooms that contain beta-glucan provides support for an already healthy immune system and overall daily wellness. Reishi, shiitake, maitake, and turkey tail are mushrooms known to contain health-supporting beta-glucans.

Mushrooms might already be a staple of stir-fry dishes and many other meals with a Chinese flare. So eating more mushrooms might just be a matter of more committed meal planning. Select the versatile shiitake for inclusion in soups, breakfast scrambles, and a variety of different pasta dishes.


Due to its spicy taste, ginger is considered a warming food in traditional Chinese nutrition. Ginger’s kick of heat comes from a single phytochemical called gingerol. Modern research has revealed gingerol’s antioxidant and antimicrobial properties.

In addition to being a warming food, ginger also has a long history of use for supporting digestion and maintaining digestive comfort. Today, ginger is used as a seasoning in many popular foods, and it’s found in many herbal teas where it continues to be used for digestive support.

You can add ginger to a variety of stir-fry dishes, soups, stews, curries, or other Asian dishes. Stock up on the ground spice or full root to have everything you need to spice up your diet and support your health with this staple of traditional Chinese nutrition.

Start Incorporating Traditional Chinese Nutrition in Your Life Today

The above foods aren’t an all-inclusive list of ingredients that are important in traditional Chinese nutrition. Garlic, congee, goji berries, rhodiola, walnuts, and many other foods may play roles in helping support your individual health needs.

Some ingredients might already be favorites of your family’s dinner table. But more experimentation with these foods can yield a variety of delicious, healthy meals. By using them as a part of your daily diet, you can take advantage of traditional Chinese nutrition and mix the ingredients in a way that can also help support your overall macronutrient, vitamin, and mineral requirements, too.

Spicing up your weekly meal plan with elements of traditional Chinese nutrition is a wonderful way to vary your diet, explore new cuisines, and help your health along the way.

There are two sides to every vegetable—raw and cooked. You might happily crunch on a bag of fresh baby carrots, but gag at the thought of eating one boiled. And it turns out, cooking isn’t just a matter of taste. People often think of cooking as a way to enhance the flavor of  food—and it is. But, as you prepare your food, you may also want to think about the effect of cooking on nutrients.

With the growing popularity of raw food diets, you’ve likely heard something along these lines: Raw vegetables are the most nutritious; when you cook veggies, you lose nutrients. The same is sometimes said of meat, eggs, and just about every other food group. It’s a plausible claim, but is it true?

The short answer is sometimes. But let’s dive into the long answer. The original question presents a simple binary: Raw vs. cooked. In reality, the situation is much more complicated. There is, after all, more than one way to cook a vegetable. And various nutrients respond differently to each cooking method.

A Quick Overview of Nutrients

Broadly speaking, you’ll find two types of nutrients in food: macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are the well-known trio of fats, carbs, and proteins. They’re the main components of your diet and supply the body with energy and building blocks.

Micronutrients, on the other hand, are needed in smaller amounts. (But don’t let this deceive you! Micronutrients are just as important to your health as macronutrients.) Micronutrients include vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients (plant compounds). These nutrients help regulate and maintain healthy reactions within your body on a cellular level.

Most studies looking into the effect of cooking on nutrients focus on micronutrients—specifically vitamins. And for the purposes of this article, that’s largely the focus, too.

There are two types of vitamins: fat soluble (vitamins A, D, E, and K) and water soluble (vitamin C and the B vitamins). The difference is pretty straightforward. Vitamin C and the collection of B vitamins dissolve in water, whereas vitamins A, D, E, and K dissolve in fat. So what does this have to do with cooking?

Some cooking methods use water and others use fat. The solubility of a vitamin is one of the best indicators of how it will react to certain cooking methods. For instance, the quantity of vitamin C (a water soluble vitamin) in any given vegetable tends to decrease when that vegetable is boiled.

Solubility is a good starting point, but, of course, it gets more complicated. Let’s dig in.

The Effect of Cooking on Nutrients: What’s Happening on the Inside?

There’s no easy equation for choosing the best cooking method for nutrition. Not only do nutrients react differently to various types of cooking, but their reactions also vary across different types of vegetables. A boiled Brussels sprout, for example, loses some of its vitamin C. The levels of beta-carotene in chard, however, increase with cooking.

These variations are caused by the cellular structure of vegetables. Depending on where in the cell a nutrient is stored, cooking can do the following:

  • Make the nutrient more readily absorbed (as the cell wall softens)
  • Break down the nutrient itself
  • Kill off oxidizing agents that would otherwise reduce the quantity of that nutrient

Let’s revisit that initial claim: Cooking vegetables reduces their nutritional value. Clearly, this isn’t always the case. In instances where cooking softens the tissues of plant cells, certain vitamins are released, making extraction—and detection—easier. In other words, some vegetables become more vitamin-rich when cooked.

This means there are three factors to consider when looking at the effect of cooking on nutrition: the method of cooking, the vegetable being cooked, and the specific nutrient being measured.

Let’s take a look at several common vitamins to see how they respond to various cooking methods in a variety of vegetables.

Vitamin C

For most people, vitamin C brings citrus to mind—and the bright fruits are admittedly an excellent source of vitamin C. But you’re probably not cooking your oranges and lemons. The vegetables rich in vitamin C—think broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and spinach—are another story.

Boiling is one of the most popular ways to prepare broccoli and Brussels sprouts. But if you’re trying to get your daily vitamin C, you should opt for a different cooking method—one that doesn’t use water. Because vitamin C is water-soluble, it seeps out of the vegetables and into the water. And that water goes straight down the drain. (In many cases, boiling reduces the vitamin C content of vegetables by more than 50 percent!)

Vitamin C is also heat sensitive. Expose your vegetables to heat for too long and you’ll run into the same problem as boiling. So what does this mean for you and your kitchen habits?

There’s nothing wrong with boiling your broccoli—it’ll taste delicious—but if you’re trying to optimize vitamin C intake, you should choose a low heat, water-free cooking method. Think sautéing, microwaving, or, better yet, leave it raw.

Vitamin K

To remember the role of vitamin K in the body, remember the two Bs: blood and bones. Vitamin K is a fat-soluble nutrient that helps support your body’s normal blood clotting processes and maintain healthy bones. Vitamin K is found primarily in leafy greens like spinach, chard, beet greens, and kale.

Vitamin K is less fickle than some other vitamins. Spinach, for example, retains most of its vitamin K content regardless of how you cook it. And most cooking methods will actually increase the levels of available vitamin K in chard.

If you’re trying to up your vitamin K intake, don’t give too much thought to your cooking method. Focus instead on what you’re eating your veggies with. Remember, vitamin K is fat soluble. Preparing those veggies with olive oil or another source of beneficial fats will help your body absorb the essential nutrient.

Beta-Carotene (Vitamin A)

Strictly speaking, beta-carotene is a phytonutrient (a plant compound), which the body then converts into vitamin A. This essential vitamin then helps support the immune system and optimizes healthy retinal function (hence the adage that carrots are good for the eyes).

Beta-carotene is what makes carrots orange, so it should come as no surprise that those crunchy root veggies are packed with phytonutrients. Raw carrots are an excellent source of beta-carotene, but when they’re cooked—especially boiled lightly or steamed—your body can absorb more of that important phytonutrient.

The same can be said for spinach and chard—both (slightly less) excellent sources of beta-carotene. When boiled, these leafy greens show increased levels of available beta-carotene. (This is caused, as you might have guessed, by the softening of cell walls.)

Vitamin E

Vitamin E helps support your body’s protections from threats. As a powerful antioxidant, it helps neutralize free radicals—highly reactive molecules that can be harmful to cells. Vitamin E also helps maintain your immune system. Long story short, it’s something you want to have in your body.

Root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, etc.) and leafy greens (spinach, chard, and the like) contain vitamin E. But that’s where the similarities end.

No matter how you cook root vegetables, their levels of vitamin E will always decrease. That’s kind of a bummer, because who likes to eat raw potato? Leafy greens, however, are the opposite. When leafy greens are cooked, the quantities of available vitamin E increase significantly. And by now you know why—the breakdown of the cell walls.

So if it’s vitamin E you’re after, skip the raw potatoes and go for cooked greens.

What About the Effect of Cooking on Nutrients in Meat?

Enough about vegetables, let’s get to the meat of the story. Cooking meat properly is notoriously difficult. At its best, meat is tender, flavorful, and free from bacteria. Prepared wrong and it’s, well, the opposite—bland and tough.

And when you take health and nutrition into account, cooking meat only becomes more complicated.

Although meat is rich in  B vitamins, exposing it to high temperatures for too long can greatly reduce the essential nutrients’ overall availability. Some of the B vitamins are lost in the juices that drip from the meat, but if you collect and serve that juice as part of the dish, you’ll have a tasty sauce and retain valuable nutrients! That’s a win-win situation.

Unfortunately, when cooking meat, your biggest concern shouldn’t be the nutrients you’re losing, but rather the substances you are creating (and then eating). When the fats and juices from meat come in contact with cooking surfaces at high temperatures, they create smoke.

That smoke can contain harmful chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which becomes part of your food. To minimize your intake of PAHs and HCAs, avoid grilling and searing your meat. Instead opt for baking or broiling—both of which can have delicious results!

To Boil or Bake: Selecting the Best Cooking Method for Nutrition

If there’s one thing to take away from this article, it’s this: when it comes to cooking and nutrition, there isn’t an easy answer. Is raw better than cooked? Sometimes. It depends on what you’re cooking, how you’re cooking it, and the nutrient you’re measuring.

To ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need, eat a variety of vegetables prepared in a variety of ways. This approach will delight your taste buds, too.

Rest and relaxation are what your body craves after a long day. Feeling occasional stress can stand in the way of the calm you need to recharge your batteries. Luckily, there are calming nutrients found in your diet that help support your relaxation efforts. Whether you’re trying to fall asleep or simply decompress after a challenging day, anti-stress vitamins and minerals are ready to help you relax.

Take Time to Slow Down—Rest is Necessary

In order for your body to work well, you need rest. Relaxation and rest give your body time to recover and recharge after operating all day. It takes a lot of energy to keep your brain and body ready to tackle whatever the day throws at you. So it’s important to give your body time to recoup some of that spent cellular energy.

There is a built-in body system that ensures you rest and recover as you should. It’s called the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS). This branch of the nervous system controls calming and restful behavior, like sleep. The PSNS also makes sure your body uses the rest time to perform certain functions—digestion is one.

Vitamins and minerals in your diet can support PSNS function and help you relax. Magnesium, zinc, and B vitamins optimize your body’s ability to recharge and support healthy rest. Take a minute to explore how these calming nutrients play an important role in your quest for relaxation.

Magnesium and Stress: Rest Your Mind and Body

Calm starts with magnesium. It’s known in the scientific community as the “calming mineral” because it plays a critical role in your body’s ability to relax. Your mind and muscles need magnesium to properly rest.

Feeling uneasy can make it difficult to sink into the restful sleep your body needs to power you through your day. Magnesium can help you prepare your mind for rest by optimizing activity in the PSNS, so you can wind down after a long day.

Magnesium also supports the regulation of the sleep hormone melatonin. Maintaining healthy levels of melatonin is essential for directing your body’s sleep-wake cycles. Magnesium optimizes melatonin secretion so you become sleepy at the end of the day and feel rested when you wake up.

And that’s not all magnesium can do to support feelings of calm and rest. Magnesium binds with the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) to help put your body in sleep mode. GABA is responsible for turning down nervous system activity so your body can settle down and rest.

As for the rest of your body, magnesium optimizes muscle recovery after exercise. When your muscles feel tight it can be difficult to relax. Magnesium helps support muscle relaxation by blocking calcium from entering the muscle fiber. Calcium transfer is what typically stimulates contraction.

How does this relationship between calcium and magnesium work? The two essential minerals compete for space in your muscles. Calcium triggers muscle contraction, while magnesium does the opposite. When magnesium is present, your muscles can relax, helping you avoid uncomfortable feelings of muscle tightness and cramps.

Rest and calm are necessary for your body to thrive. And magnesium is the mineral that can help your body and brain relax. Help healthy muscle relaxation and sleep with magnesium—the calming mineral.

Zinc: Another Mineral to Manage Stress

Stress is a major antagonist to feeling calm and rested. Enter zinc, the stress-modulating mineral. Zinc supports feelings of calm and rest by helping your brain keep occasional stress under control, making it easier for you to relax.

Scientific research supports the theory that zinc helps your brain manage and respond to occasional stress. Studies also indicate that individuals who acquire enough zinc in their diet experience healthy mood support and maintain feelings of wellness.

Zinc is one of the main essential nutrients that support your mental health, and your body relies solely on your diet for its supply. So it’s important to ensure your nutritional choices can support your daily zinc requirements. Foods rich in zinc include: animal proteins, legumes, and grains. You can also reinforce your diet with a high-quality zinc supplement.

B Vitamins Help Build Brain Health

Your brain is in charge of helping your body rest. It relies on neurotransmitters to send messages throughout your body when it’s time to wind down. Earlier you read how GABA and melatonin influence your ability to sleep and rest. Those are just two examples of neurotransmitters your brain uses to calm you down.

The brain needs chemical building blocks to make the neurotransmitters that tell your body to rest. B vitamins are the precursors to many neurotransmitters. They play a part in the chemical interactions that produce messenger molecules like dopamine and serotonin.

Dopamine is known for its ability to trigger feelings of happiness, reward, and pleasure. And serotonin is a mood-regulating chemical messenger. When dopamine and serotonin levels are within a healthy range, you feel happy and content.

Both of these neurotransmitters affect your emotional and mental well-being. Good mental health is necessary for rest and relaxation. That’s why it’s essential to support the neurotransmitters that maintain a good mood. That way you can help manage the occasional mental stress that may lead to sleepless nights.

B vitamins help maintain the production of the neurotransmitters that can put your mind at ease. Support the manufacture of dopamine and serotonin in your brain with B vitamins from your diet or supplements. And you can optimize your mental health and feel at peace.

Rest Assured, Vitamins and Minerals Support Relaxation

The calming nutrients you’ve just read about help you relax so you can combat occasional stress with rest. Magnesium, zinc, and B vitamins all work to help you decompress after a long day. Your brain and muscles rely on these essential vitamins and minerals to relax. Look for dietary sources or high-quality supplements of these nutrients to help calm your body.

Dietary Sources of Magnesium:

  • Spinach
  • Almonds
  • Peanuts
  • Black beans
  • Dark chocolate
  • Avocado

Dietary Sources of Zinc:

  • Eggs
  • Shellfish
  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Legumes

Dietary Sources of B Vitamins:

  • Salmon
  • Spinach
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Legumes

Metabolism is often tied to weight. But there’s much more to it than how easily the numbers on the scale change. You’ve probably heard someone blame weight gain or feeling sluggish on having a “slow” metabolism—you’ll learn later that it’s not completely out of your control. But this is a common misunderstanding of the concept of metabolism.

The meaning of the word “metabolism” is very simple, yet few people seem to understand what it is and what it does. Metabolism is the set of chemical processes that take place in living organisms to sustain life.

On a microscopic scale, the reactions and processes that maintain cellular health are referred to as cellular metabolism. These reactions are catalyzed by enzymes and organisms big and small rely on them for growth, reproduction, structural maintenance, and responses to their environment. In the broadest sense, metabolism is what gives organisms life. Without it, there is none.

Your metabolism has three main functions:

  • Converting food to energy
  • Converting food to building blocks for proteins, lipids, nucleic acids and certain carbohydrates
  • Eliminating waste products

So the health of your metabolism ultimately depends on your diet and nutrition. You must eat and drink to provide the energy (calories) and metabolic building blocks (vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fats) needed to fuel your actions, sustain your structure and integrity, and eliminate toxic wastes and cellular debris.

Without calories, there is no fuel. Without adequate nutrients, there are no building blocks to support structural integrity and mechanical function. And without proper elimination, toxic wastes and cellular garbage accumulate. Inefficient function in any of these areas will result in poor health.

Building Up or Breaking Down—It’s All About the Metabolism

All metabolic reactions are either anabolic or catabolic. Let’s define these different types of metabolism:

  • Anabolism (building up) supports new cell growth and production, storage of energy, and maintenance of body tissues.
  • Catabolism (breaking down) is the disassembling of fat, protein, and carbohydrates to release energy, keep you warm, and allow your muscles to contract.

The food you eat comes in the form of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. So the breakdown of these macronutrients and the elimination of wastes during digestion are catabolic reactions. (Check out a more detailed journey through the digestive system here.)

The Break Down: Catabolic Metabolism Simplified

In general, catabolism is the group of processes that break down large molecules into smaller ones for the purpose of providing energy and building blocks to construct new molecules.

Catabolism happens in stages, from general to very specific. First, large organic molecules (macronutrients) are digested from food into smaller compounds. Specific enzymes breakdown proteins, carbohydrates, and fats into much smaller and simpler chemicals.

  • Proteins yield amino acids.
  • Large carbohydrates (such as polysaccharides) are broken down to mono- and disaccharides (simple sugars).
  • Fats are split up into small fatty acids and monoglycerides.

These processes of digestion occur outside the cells. Then the smaller and more basic molecules are absorbed by the cells and converted into even smaller molecules like acetyl-CoA, which promote the release of energy.

Additional catabolic processes result in molecules that feed the citric acid cycle, electron transport chain, and oxidative phosphorylation (ATP). These chemical reactions release available and stored energy to support activity and build and support tissues.

The following is a very simplified overview of the catabolism of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.

The Build Up: Anabolic Metabolism Basics Explained

The opposite of catabolism is anabolism. Anabolic metabolism uses the energy released from catabolism to build and synthesize complex compounds.

Simple molecules and breakdown products of catabolism—like amino acids, monosaccharides, and nucleic acids—are used as precursors to build increasingly more complex molecules. These include polysaccharides (starch), amino acids and proteins, and fatty acids.

Anabolic carbohydrate metabolism starts with the conversion of basic organic compounds—pyruvate, lactate, and amino acids—into glucose. This sugar molecule can then be used for direct cellular energy and to assemble polysaccharides (starch and

glycogen). Glycogen is a storage form of glucose that can be accessed and broken down easily when the body needs energy quickly. When blood glucose levels drop, the body taps into its reserve of glycogen in the liver and muscles to provide energy for cellular function and activity.

Amino acids are used as building blocks to construct proteins and muscle tissue. In anabolism, individual amino acids are connected by peptide bonds, and their unique sequences result in specific protein structures. These various proteins include enzymes, hormones, and compounds your body uses for cellular transport, digestion, defense, and overall structure.

Long chain fats and fatty acids are built from acetyl-CoA and NADPH through the actions of enzymes called fatty acid synthases. Most of the acetyl-CoA that is converted to fatty acids in anabolic metabolism is derived from catabolized carbohydrates.

Catabolism and anabolism work in concert to maintain balance within the body. Under normal circumstances and health, the body attempts to maintain homeostasis. If there is enough imbalance in either direction, the body will change and adapt—at least up to a certain point. If there is a deficit of fuel and nutrients the body will stay in a state of catabolism. That’s because anabolism requires energy, while catabolism releases it.

The Role of Minerals and Vitamins in Metabolism

Vitamins and minerals do not provide direct energy, but they do play vital roles in metabolism. Several B vitamins are required as co-enzymes involved in the breakdown and buildup of macromolecules you read about above.

Several minerals—magnesium, zinc, iron, selenium, copper, and iodine especially—are essential parts of many enzymes in the body involved with metabolism. Minerals are also required for the building of new muscle and bone, which helps support normal body growth.

What is Metabolic Rate?

Metabolic rate is a way of explaining how much energy your body needs to fulfill all of its needs in providing for maintenance of body structure, energy use and storage, and cellular processes. Simply put, it’s the rate at which your body uses energy or burns calories.

When people refer to their metabolism being slow—typically as a cause of weight gain—they are referring to metabolic rate. Now that you have a very general idea of the meaning of metabolism, you can further explore metabolic rate and how they connect.

Basal Metabolic Rate

There are several pieces to the metabolic-rate puzzle. The first and largest fraction of your metabolic rate is known as Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR).

The BMR measures the total calories you need to perform the body’s most basic functions, like respiration, circulation, brain activity, and cellular activities. In other words, it’s the calories you require to maintain your body if you were sleeping all day.

Measuring your BMR accurately is done under restrictive conditions and requires specific lab equipment and procedures. However, there are mathematic formulas you can use to get a reasonably accurate idea of your BMR. In general, your body size and muscle content have the most influence on your basal energy requirements.

You may also see metabolic rate described as Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR). Because BMR and RMR are essentially the same, those terms are often used interchangeably.

Use This Equation to Calculate Your BMR

The Harris-Benedict equation is the most common way to estimate your basal metabolic rate. There are other formulas you can use, or, better yet, calculators that do it for you (see references).

Harris-Benedict Equation:

  • For men: BMR = 88.362 + (13.397 x weight in kg) + (4.799 x height in cm) – (5.677 x age in years)
  • For women: BMR = 447.593 + (9.247 x weight in kg) + (3.098 x height in cm) – (4.330 x age in years)

Adding an Activity Factor

For most people, the next largest portion of their energy requirement and metabolic needs is activity level. The principle is simple—the more active you are, and the more intense your activity, the more energy you require.

Measuring exactly how many calories you burn during any given activity is difficult, if not impossible, under real world conditions. There are various tables available to help estimate the energy (in calories) you expend doing different activities.

Body weight is factored in this estimate because it takes a lot more energy for a 200-pound (91 kilogram) person to run a mile than for a 120-pound (54 kilogram) person. In most people, physical activities account for about 15-30 percent of total daily energy requirements.

Estimate your activity level factor by choosing a category that most fits your current lifestyle:

  • Sedentary (desk job, mostly sitting, little to no exercise or extra activity): Calorie Calculation = BMR x 1.2
  • Lightly active (sedentary job, activity like chores and walking 1-3 days/week): Calorie Calculation = BMR x 1.375
  • Moderately active (moving around and active during the day, moderate workouts 3-5 days/week): Calorie Calculation = BMR x 1.55
  • Very active (active during the day, sports or vigorous exercise on most days): Calorie Calculation = BMR x 1.725
  • If you are extra active (heavy and demanding physical work, intense workouts 6-7 days/week) : Calorie Calculation = BMR x 1.9

Adding activity level to your BMR gives you a value known as Active Metabolic Rate (AMR). You can calculate your AMR by multiplying your BMR and by your current level of activity from above.

Your AMR represents the number of calories you need to consume each day to stay at your current weight. If your goal is to lose weight, you would need a calorie deficit. That means you need to increase your physical activity level or decrease your energy intake by consuming fewer calories.

Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)

In addition to your basal and active metabolic rates, there are a couple of other minor factors that can influence your total energy expenditure. One is the level of energy spent during eating and digestion. This is known as the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF).

It takes energy to digest, absorb, break down, and store nutrients.

  • Protein requires the most energy to digest and metabolize, so it has the highest thermic effect.
  • Carbohydrates require less energy than protein, and the more complex the carbohydrate, the higher the thermic effect. Starch and fiber have higher energy demands than simple sugars.
  • The thermic effect of fat is very low. It takes very little energy to digest, absorb, and store fat.

Overall, the TEF can account for as much as 10 percent of calories burned per day. That means eating a healthy protein-rich diet can make a difference over time.

Brown Adipose Tissue

Energy expenditure in adult humans isn’t impacted much by brown adipose tissue (BAT). But it’s worth mentioning since it’s a hot topic of current research.

Most adipose tissue (fat) is white. Each white fat cell contains a single lipid droplet. By contrast, brown fat cells contain numerous smaller droplets. The high number of iron-containing mitochondria and capillaries in the brown fats cells are what give the tissue its brown color. The primary function of BAT is in thermoregulation, or maintenance of core body temperature. This explains the abundance of BAT in newborns and hibernating mammals.

The prevalence of BAT diminishes with age in humans, but it is known to be present in adults with active and healthy metabolisms. Currently there is little evidence to support products or techniques to exploit or activate BAT in adults, but it is possible that this tissue may account for a small percentage of energy expenditure in some individuals.

What You Can Do to Support Your Metabolism

Many products and exercise methods promise to instantly rev-up your metabolism. But it’s not quite as simple as advertised. There are many factors in your control that can positively affect your metabolism, though. And making strides in these areas support your metabolism and help optimize vim and vigor throughout all aspects of your life.

Here some habits and activities you can perform to keep your metabolism performing at its best:

  • Exercise Regularly – Remaining sedentary is not good for you or your metabolism. All activity and exercise that increases heart rate increases blood flow. This delivers more oxygen and nutrients to cells where they are needed to support metabolism. With sporadic activity, the effect may only be temporary, but consistent exercise leads to more long-term effects and benefits. Combining endurance or aerobic exercise with resistance exercise and weight training will deliver the greatest benefit. You may have heard it takes a lot more metabolic energy to maintain muscle than fat. That’s true. So maintaining or increasing your muscle mass will help keep your metabolism younger while you age.
  • Stay Hydrated – If you want to extract the most from your exercise and metabolism, you need to stay hydrated. Some research has shown that lack of good hydration can stall your metabolism, putting the brakes on burning energy and weight loss. Cool, pure water or an appropriate sports drink are typically best.
  • Commit to Restful Sleep – It may seem obvious, but poor and irregular sleep can make your metabolism sluggish. It can also affect your motivation to exercise and eat right. Your body performs important repair and building functions during sleep, so cutting corners on sleep is likely to lead to poor overall health—in addition to a slower metabolism.
  • Manage Stress – Stressful situations prompt your body to increase cortisol production. That’s good if you need to handle a short-term crisis. On the other hand, chronic and unmanaged stress leads to consistently high cortisol levels that can be a huge problem. Cortisol impairs insulin sensitivity and that leads to possible weight gain and a lethargic metabolism.
  • Avoid Starvation Diets – Your metabolism can’t zip along efficiently if it doesn’t have the right fuel and a consistent supply of nutrients. If your calorie (energy) intake is too low for very long, the body will slow down building, repair, digestion, and other high-energy consuming functions of metabolism. This often happens when people undertake excessively rigid or strict diets, and one reason why trying to lose weight too fast can be counterproductive. If your daily energy intake is not enough to maintain normal activities and alertness, that’s a sign you may also be blunting your metabolism.
  • Eat a Varied, Nutritious Diet – Adequate fuel alone doesn’t do the trick. Quality protein, vitamins, and minerals in the right amounts are needed to build and supply hormones, enzymes, and structures you need to keep your body and metabolism strong. Several B vitamins and minerals, like calcium and iron, are key nutrients for maintaining a healthy metabolism. A plant-based diet is healthy and generally recommended.

But don’t skimp on quality protein or your muscles and your metabolism will suffer for it.

  • Get Regular Medical Check-Ups – If you’re doing everything else right but aren’t making the progress you should, check with your health-care provider about your medications, hormones, and genetics. Some medications can interfere with metabolism. And, for many reasons, some hormones levels can be off kilter. Hormonal issues related to the thyroid or endocrine system can often be adjusted or treated to put you on the right track. You can’t really alter your genetics, but, in some cases, it can provide information that a qualified professional can use to structure a diet or regimen that works best for you.

Your metabolism is very complex. But the basic principle is simple: It’s the way your cells convert the food and nutrients you eat into the energy and processes you need to move, think, breath, and exist. Under normal conditions, having a healthy metabolism has little to do with luck—and everything to do with following principles of healthy eating, exercise, and beneficial lifestyle habits.

Teamwork creates awe-inspiring results. The intricate harmonies intertwining during a soaring duet. A delicate dance playing out during a doubles tennis match. Peanut butter’s salty crunch deliciously counterbalanced by the smooth sweetness of your favorite jelly. And don’t forget the amazing combination of calcium and vitamin D—complementary nutrients that help optimize your health.*

Huh? That last one isn’t exactly the Batman-and-Robin-esque dynamic duo you were expecting. But they are just one of many powerful pairs of nutrients that work together to support various aspects of your overall health.*

You need all the essential vitamins and minerals, but some are better acquired in combination. That’s because many vitamins and minerals interact with each other and certain pairs work to create beneficial nutrient synergy.

To be useful in maintaining health, nutrients have to be absorbed. And complementary nutrients are often helpful because they support proper absorption. This makes compounds available for your body to maintain healthy levels and utilize the nutrients it needs. Other pairs provide aid through optimized performance or transformations that support nutrient action.*

Complementary nutrients are a heartwarming—and in some cases heart-supporting—concept. Vitamins, minerals, and other healthy compounds combining for the good of your health. And you can take advantage of nutrient synergy to help you feel your best and live your life to the fullest.*

Pick up the following pairs to make sure you’re taking in plenty of nutrients that work together.

How Magnesium, Calcium, Vitamin D Operate as a Power Trio

Here’s the recipe for a variety of important nutrient synergies:

  • add the most abundant mineral in the body (calcium)
  • toss in a powerful, hormone-like vitamin (D, that is)
  • finish it off with a mineral that impacts hundreds of enzyme systems (magnesium)

That essential trio accounts for many complementary connections. Calcium holds down the center of this tremendous trio. With the importance of that particular macromineral, it’s not a big surprise it relies on the most other nutrients to work optimally.*

Magnesium’s supporting act in service of calcium starts with absorption in the small intestine. The two minerals share similar passage into the blood stream, and both depend on comparable activation in the kidney. Through enzyme activity and the parathyroid hormone, magnesium also helps maintain normal calcium levels in your blood—providing important support for bone and overall health.*

Calcium’s utility is also complemented by vitamin D. That’s because the hormone-like vitamin helps maintain healthy calcium levels in two ways. First, it helps optimize absorption of the mineral in your gut. Second, vitamin D supports the regulation of calcium in your body.*

The regulatory functions of these complementary nutrients have an important role in maintaining bone health. That’s because vitamin D’s work supporting calcium regulation revolves around the optimal functioning of the bone mineralization process. Vitamin D acts as a key cog to maintain this process, which helps calcium fill in your bone matrix to optimize skeletal health and strength.*

The trio’s connections aren’t completely dependent on calcium. Magnesium works in so many enzymes that it also acts as complementary nutrient to vitamin D in two ways. The hard-working mineral helps optimize the metabolism and activation of the sunshine vitamin.*

Magnesium, calcium, and vitamin D are an excellent example of three nutrients that work together. So take advantage of their connections and the many ways they help maintain your overall health.*

Vitamin K Pairs Well with Calcium

When talking about calcium complements, vitamin K2 bears mentioning. Achieving the right balance of calcium and K2 supports the mineral’s important role in bone-health maintenance. And it does this while helping safeguard against the effects of too much calcium.*

This happens because vitamin K2 supports the action of osteocalcin. You need this compound in the body to collect calcium from the blood and help the mineral become part of your bones. Osteocalcin isn’t created in an active form. To ready it for work, you need the support of vitamin K2.*

Bones aren’t the only benefactors of this partnership. These complementary nutrients support proper calcium utilization, which helps maintain a healthy circulatory system. When calcium is shipped to the bones instead of settling in arteries, you’re able to maintain healthy, flexible blood vessels—supporting your heart and circulatory health.*

Two Ways Vitamin C Acts as a Complementary Nutrient

Vitamin C is plenty powerful on its own. You’ll summon antioxidant activity, circulatory support, and maintain healthy collagen production. And vitamin C plays well with two other important nutrients—iron and vitamin E.*

Under normal conditions, your body is good at taking in iron from meat sources. The same can’t be said of plant-based forms of the metal. But it’s vitamin C to the rescue, helping iron from plant sources become available for absorption in your gut cells.

Vitamin C and E are also both powerful antioxidants. And they happen to be a pair of nutrients that work together to support other parts of your health, as well. The immune system is one of the big recipients of their combined powers. Working together, the two vitamins help support healthy immune function. They also help provide proper antioxidant support during exercise.*

The Teamwork of Sodium and Potassium Involves a Delicate Balancing Act

Name a more powerful electrolyte duo than sodium and potassium. It’s hard to do. They’re both important forces for maintaining your body’s healthy fluid balance. And they act as complementary nutrients in other aspects of health, too.*

This relationship is especially key in conversations about maintaining healthy blood pressure already in the normal range. You need potassium to help balance out all the sodium in the modern diet and support heart health and keep blood pressure in the normal range.*

These potent electrolytes also combine to support bone and kidney health. They also work together to optimize the transmission of nerve and muscle signals. That’s because the intake of potassium by cells bumps out sodium, helping to maintain proper communication between nerves and muscles alike.*

Two Symbiotic B Vitamins: B12 and Folate

It seems right that a pair of B vitamins makes the list of complementary nutrients. Not all B vitamins work together as well as B12 and folate (B9), though.

Their teamwork helps support two of the most bedrock processes of life—cell division and replication. They also support the metabolism of homocysteine (a prevalent amino acid with ties to heart health). But this relationship starts at the absorption stage, where B12 supports a string of natural processes that make folate available for use in your body.*

Smart Food Choices Help You Maximize the Power of Complementary Nutrients

Food is a delicious delivery device for nutrients. Filling your meals with a variety of nutritious foods is the best way to have your diet constantly deliver packages of nutrients that work together.

Diversify by eating a rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables. Pair your impressive array of plants with lean proteins, healthy fats, and plenty of water. (One reason you need the fat and water is to support proper absorption of the various vitamins in your diet.)

So load up a spinach salad (for the iron) with orange wedges (packed with vitamin C) and add in sunflower seeds (to add in vitamin E). Your taste buds will be happy while you crunch down on complementary nutrients your body can use to help you thrive.*


*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

The first three words that come to mind when you read “vitamin D” are probably essential, sunshine, and bones. That’s a good start, but it fails to fully capture the diverse duties of one of your body’s most necessary nutrients. And one area that’s often overlooked is the connection between vitamin D and immunity.

Vitamin D’s role in supporting and maintaining bone health is the basis for its classification as an essential vitamin. However, newer research has revealed how vitamin D supports immune health. This happens through the fat-soluble vitamin’s involvement in helping regulate several important processes related to normal cellular repair and healthy immune response. These findings, coupled with the observation about the health status of those deficient in vitamin D, have led to an increased interest into vitamin D’s role in supporting and maintaining good immune health.*

One Vitamin Supporting Two Sides of Immunity

The significance of vitamin D’s role in immune function was established and confirmed following the discovery that nearly all cells of the immune system contain vitamin D receptors. The effects of vitamin D on immune cells are very complex, but research has shown its functions support the innate and adaptive immune system.*

The innate (or first-response) immune system’s main function is to protect the body using physical barriers, chemicals, and certain immune responses. It also includes immune cells (neutrophils and macrophages) that can act as your normal, front-line cellular defenses. Although effective and quick, the innate immune system’s approach can possibly cause some collateral damage and lacks the inability to identify repeated exposures.

The adaptive immune system is slower, but more specific and methodical. Your adaptive response includes specific immune cells that coordinate the destruction of infected cells (T-lymphocytes) and that activate and secrete antibodies (B-lymphocytes). The adaptive system uses an immunological memory to quickly and vigorously defend against repeated exposures. This forms the principle behind natural or lifetime immunity after antibody-producing immune interactions.

Learn more about T cells and adaptive immune response and review the basics of your immune system.

4 Examples of How Vitamin D Supports Immune Health

Going through all of vitamin D’s roles in immune health could take up an entire textbook. But if you remember these four important impacts the nutrient has in helping support healthy immune defenses, you’ll be well on your way to understanding how important the sunshine vitamin is for maintaining health.*

1. Vitamin D supports the maturation and function of key immune cells*

Innate immunity is a coordinated effort involving many different cellular players. Macrophages and their monocyte precursors as well as T-lymphocytes (cytotoxic T-cells) all play vital roles in your innate immune response and cell-mediated immunity (those that occur without antibodies from your immune system’s memory).

Vitamin D is an important cog in the mechanics that support the normal maturation and differentiation of monocytes into macrophages. Once grown into specific macrophages, these immune cells support a healthy first-response cellular immune defense. They also participate in clean-up operations—eliminating or assimilating cellular waste. In addition, macrophages secrete a key immune protein called cathelicidin. The normal cathelicidin production of activated macrophages is largely dependent on the presence of adequate levels of vitamin D.*

2. Vitamin D supports antigen presentation*

In order to prompt defensive actions, immune cells—like lymphocytes—need to be exposed to antigens (specific proteins that alert the immune system). The most effective antigen-presenting cells are known as dendritic cells.

A major function of dendritic cells is to capture, process, and present antigens to the adaptive immune system and initiate T-cell-mediated immunity. Dendritic cells are critical to the development of immunological memory and tolerance. Vitamin D plays a key role in supporting the healthy maturation and regulation of human dendritic cells.*

3. Vitamin D plays a role in supporting your immune system’s natural ability to produce proteins required for it to function at an optimal level*

This connection between vitamin D and immunity provides biological weaponry your immune system needs to help keep you healthy. Vitamin D helps maintain proper regulation over production of specific proteins that support healthy immune function.*

A good illustration of this is seen in the lungs, where immune cells and epithelial cells are known to contain large numbers of vitamin D receptors. Researchers studying these vitamin D receptors in lung tissue found that activated vitamin D helps support the activity of a compound that maintain healthy immune function in the lungs. It also helps support the production of a protein that assists cells to perform their natural, normal abilities.*

4. Vitamin D lends a helping hand to your T-cells

Vitamin D’s ability to help support normal, healthy development and differentiation of immune cells extends to adaptive immunity, as well. T-cell types are helped by vitamin D.*

T-cells start out as inactive, or naïve, cells. To be helpful to your body’s defenses, they must first transition into either killer cells or helper cells to actively participate in immune response. The natural process of mobilization and activation to keep you healthy is supported by vitamin D. The essential vitamin also helps maintain the proper migration of T-cells to and away from specific tissues, like the skin, digestive tract, and lymph nodes.*

Using What You Know About Vitamin D and Immunity

This is a very basic overview of vitamin D’s role in immune function. The ways vitamin D helps maintain the health of the immune system is very complex and is a matter of balance. You don’t want your immune system too cranked up or too lazy. Maintaining a healthy vitamin D level is important for helping maintain the overall balance and normal functioning of your immune system.*

If you are unsure about your current vitamin D status, it is important to get it checked by your preferred health professional. Blood levels of 30 ng/ml-50 ng/ml are considered optimal by most experts.

So to help your immunity, keep your body well-stocked with vitamin D. Do it through smartly getting some sun. Also adjust your diet to include more foods enriched with vitamin D. You can also turn to supplementation if you live in higher latitudes or if poor food choices cause gaps in your diet that make optimal levels hard to achieve.*

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

You need all 13 of the essential vitamins and 14 essential minerals to maintain health. But let’s be honest—some essential micronutrients perform a larger variety of jobs than others.

No offense to nutrients like molybdenum—with its focus on supporting detoxification processes—but the list below highlights the 10 multitasking micronutrients you need to acquire from your diet.

Vitamin D

The sunshine vitamin is a fat-soluble force for good all over your body. The spotlight shines brightly on vitamin D’s role in supporting bone health—by helping maintain balanced levels of calcium in your blood.

But vitamin D also helps:

  • Support healthy immune function
  • Maintain a balanced mood
  • Support cardiovascular health by helping maintain healthy blood pressure already in the normal range

Exposing your skin to the sun will help your body make vitamin D. You can also add a supplement, fatty fish, and fortified dairy or grains to your diet.

Deepen your connection to vitamin D.


It’s called a macromineral for a reason. Your body’s vociferous appetite for magnesium stems from the mineral’s participation in 300-plus enzyme systems. This nutritional jack-of-all-trades plays a role in:

  • Supporting energy production
  • Helping maintain healthy calcium levels
  • Supporting normal, healthy insulin function and blood glucose levels already in the normal range
  • Bone-health maintenance

Maximize your magnesium knowledge.

Vitamin C

You know vitamin C. It’s possibly the most well-known nutrient in the world. Much study has revealed wide-ranging impacts on maintaining your health.

  • Acts as an antioxidant, helping protect you from free radicals by shedding electrons to neutralize damaging compounds
  • Helps support collagen production, which is important for skin-health maintenance
  • Plays an important part in maintaining healthy immune function through support for white-blood-cell production and protection
  • Supports cardiovascular health

See more information about Vitamin C.


The connection to supporting bone health is so strong you may miss calcium’s incredible versatility. This amazing mineral:

  • Supports cardiovascular health and normal, healthy blood clotting
  • Helps maintain healthy cellular communication through its role in cell signaling all around your body
  • Supports muscle movements—both contraction and relaxation require calcium
  • Aids in the maintenance of healthy nerve function

Solidify your understanding of calcium.

Vitamin A

Being a fat-soluble-free-radical fighter is just the start of vitamin A’s supernutrient origin story. Sure, it acts as a powerful antioxidant. But did you know its support for healthy cellular differentiation expands vitamin A’s role throughout your body?

Your eyes, skin, reproductive system, as well as organs and tissues throughout your body are supported by this essential nutrient. It also helps maintain healthy cell growth and communication, supports healthy immune function, and is a component in a key protein for your vision.

Earn top marks for your vitamin A knowledge.


Don’t let the trace-mineral tag fool you. Copper is key to help building a healthy body. Here’s what it does for you:

  • Supports the construction of connective tissue throughout your body
  • Helps maintain healthy red-blood-cell production
  • Supports your brain and nervous system
  • Aids in cardiovascular-health maintenance by supporting healthy blood vessels
  • Supports energy production and cellular respiration
  • Helps maintain immune function and bone health

And it even acts as an antioxidant—although indirectly.

Connect with the science of copper.


You can call it vitamin B7 or biotin. Either way, it will help all over your body—from supporting energy production to maintaining healthy cell signaling.

Biotin is also frequently talked about in the context of supporting healthy hair. But it does so much more. It also helps maintain healthy bones and normal gene expression, while supporting the production of glucose from sources other than carbohydrates.

Boost what you know about biotin.


It’s no small feat being second to calcium on the list of the body’s abundant minerals. That’s how important phosphorous is, though. You need it to support energy production—and you have adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to thank for that.

Phosphorous also:

  • Supports bone and cellular health
  • Helps maintain healthy cell signaling
  • Supports protein synthesis
  • Works with B vitamins to help support heart, kidney, muscle, and nerve health

Familiarize yourself with phosphorous.

Vitamin B6

Over 100 of your body’s enzymes wouldn’t be the same without vitamin B6. Let’s jump right to the list—because it’s a long one.

  • Supports production of glucose from the stored sugar molecule glycogen
  • Helps maintain immune health through support for immune-cell production
  • Supports normal modulation of hormones
  • Plays a role in supporting fat metabolism
  • Helps maintain normal neurotransmitter formation
  • Supports cardiovascular health by playing a role in regulating homocysteine levels in the blood
  • Plays a role in coenzymes that help support healthy protein metabolism

Be more aware of all vitamin B6 does for you.


You might not need as much zinc as other minerals, but it still is involved in 300-plus enzymes and many important bodily system and functions.

Immune support may spring to your mind first. Zinc does help maintain healthy immunity. One of the biggest roles it plays in your health starts at the genetic level. Zinc helps support healthy DNA construction and repair. And then it also is a structural component of proteins related to gene expression.

Supporting the health of your kidneys, eyes, muscles, bones, and skin also falls under the job description for zinc. So does antioxidant activity, support for the production of a component of blood, and aiding the absorption of folate into cells.

What more is there to know about zinc? Find out here.