Tag Archive for: nutrition basics

dieting app

dieting app

When you hear the word “innovation,” your mind probably jumps to technology. After all, technology has come a long way in the past 30 years—not to mention the entire 2 million years of human existence. But here at USANA, as we approach our 30th anniversary as a company, we’re thinking about a different type of innovation: nutritional innovation.

Three decades is a milestone that calls for reflection. The field of nutrition has come a long way in the past 30 years, and USANA has been there the whole way. With that in mind, we’re looking back at the top innovations in nutrition and wellness of the last 30 years. Read on for a crash course on the best nutritional research, products, and technological advances in recent history! (The following list is in no particular order.)

  1. Food Fortification

There are two types of nutrients that the body needs: macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients include proteins, fats, and carbohydrates—all of which the body needs in relatively high quantities. Micronutrients—vitamins and minerals—are needed in smaller quantities.

Vitamins and minerals help with a variety of vital body functions but, unfortunately, many people do not consume the necessary amount. To help combat vitamin and mineral deficiencies among the general population, scientists developed the process of food fortification. The idea behind fortification is pretty simple: because people aren’t getting enough micronutrients, scientists developed ways to add micronutrients to foods. It is an especially common practice with staple foods, such as grains and dairy products.

Food fortification isn’t a new process—it’s been common practice in many countries since the 1920s. So why does it make our list of recent nutrition innovations? The answer is simple: food fortification is still a relatively new process in many developing countries. In 1970, for instance, only 20% of households around the world consumed iodized salt. By 2008 that number rose to 70%.

  1. Microbiome Research

New research is constantly shaping the way scientists understand the human body. And recently, some scientists have turned their attention to the gut. Or, more specifically, to the microbiome—the trillions of microorganisms that live in the small and large intestines.

Your microbiome plays a crucial role in helping your body process toxic food compounds, process and produce micronutrients, and break down complex carbohydrates. In short, the microbiome helps protect the body and digest food—both of which are vital to your health.*

So where does nutrition come in? Of the trillions of microorganisms that make up your microbiome, each play a different role. When everything is working smoothly—when your microbiome is “balanced”—these various microorganisms coexist without causing any problems. Recent studies have shown that a variety of factors can affect this balance. One such factor is diet.

There are a number of dietary factors that can influence the variety of organisms in your microbiome. If you’ve heard about prebiotics and probiotics, this is what they’re all about. Probiotic foods and supplements contain live bacteria (the good kind!) that help replenish and maintain balance in your microbiome.*

  1. Macro- and Micronutrient Tracking

As mentioned above, your body requires both macronutrients and micronutrents—and it needs specific quantities of each. (This is why there are percent daily values (DVs) listed on nutrition labels.) Here’s the problem: your body is unique and so are its nutritional needs. Sure, there are baseline levels of nutrients that everyone should be consuming, but beyond that, your required nutrient consumption will depend on your body, your activity levels, and your health and wellness goals for yourself.

Here’s the good news: thanks to a wide variety of fitness and nutrition apps, tracking your macro- and micronutrient consumption is easier than ever. Whether your goal is to build muscle, shed a few pounds, or simply maintain your current level of health, these apps can help you set goals, track a variety of data points related to your nutrition, and identify dietary changes that will help you meet your goals.

These apps—which are often used in coordination with wristbands that monitor heart rate—are a perfect example of the way technological advances and innovations can intersect with the field of nutrition.

  1. Allergen Awareness

Food allergies and sensitivities are far more widespread than previously acknowledged. This has caused a boom in allergy-safe products. Whether you’re lactose intolerant, allergic to gluten, or have a tree nut allergy, there are more and more products hitting the shelves each year that are safe for your consumption. Here at USANA, we jumped on this early, providing a wide variety of allergy-safe products from the get-go.

  1. Vitamin D Dosage

When it comes to healthy bones, your body relies heavily on two micronutrients: vitamin D and calcium. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, but it does a whole lot more, from supporting a healthy immune system to promoting proper muscle function. Needless to say, it’s an important part of your diet. And for years, scientists and dieticians underestimated just how much vitamin D your body needs each day.*

Many sources recommended between 600 and 800 international units (IUs) of vitamin D daily, but these levels may not be enough to prevent vitamin D deficiency. When you’re not getting enough vitamin D, you may not be feeling your best. Vitamin D helps with maintaining energy levels and supporting mood.*

At USANA, we reformulated USANA CellSentials and our vitamin D supplement to contain higher levels of vitamin D before anyone else made the switch. This level of vitamin D intake daily can help your body maintain proper levels of vitamin D, even when you aren’t spending lots of time out in the sun.

  1. Widespread Adoption of Traditional Chinese Medicine

In recent years, Traditional Chinese Medicine (or TCM) has experienced growing popularity in the United States and Europe. This alternative framework for approaching health and wellness focuses on keeping the body balanced and includes a variety of practices such as acupuncture, forms of massage, and cupping. There is also a dietary aspect to this medicinal framework.

These practices and others have been adopted by some health practitioners in the United States and integrated with Western medicine. This isn’t an innovation per se, as TCM has existed for centuries, but it is being used in innovative ways alongside other medical frameworks.

  1. Upcycling Grape Seeds

Grape seeds

It’s no secret that there’s a lot of waste in the food industry. Naturally, people are always looking for ways to reduce that waste—or ways to put waste products to good use. That’s exactly what USANA did with grape seeds.

The story starts with polyphenols, a category of micronutrients found in plants. Polyphenol consumption is associated with a number of health benefits—so naturally, people want to maximize their polyphenol consumption. Many supplements sourced their polyphenols from maritime pine bark, which is a limited resource. Here at USANA, our scientists found that grape seeds contained similar levels of polyphenols, as well as additional polyphenols not found in pine bark. And that’s not even the best part. Grape seeds are typically a form of food waste—by sourcing polyphenols from those seeds, USANA is cutting down on that waste.

  1. Higher Protein Consumption

Most people—especially gym-goers—are familiar with the benefits of eating protein-rich foods. Protein is good for your brain and helps your body build and repair muscle tissue. The amount of protein typically recommended for daily consumption is between 0.8 and 0.83 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

That being said, recent studies suggest that there are certain advantages to consuming more protein per day—especially for individuals looking to shed a few pounds. High-protein diets (that is, diets that include more protein than the previously recommended amount) have been shown to help with weight management and promote the synthesis of lean muscle mass.

  1. Meat Substitutes

As most long-time vegetarians can attest, meat substitutes—plant-based products that simulate the flavor and texture of meat—have been around for a long time. For years, however, these products were not very meat-like nor nutritious. Recent products have changed the game entirely.

Nowadays, vegetarians, vegans, and those simply avoiding red meat, have a variety of meat-substitutes available at most grocery stores. These recently developed nutritional products contain similar levels of protein to ground beef, but less fat and cholesterol. What’s more, the flavor and texture is closer to real meat than ever before.

  1. Glycemic Index

When you eat carbohydrates, your blood sugar levels rise. This isn’t necessarily a problem—carbs are an essential nutrient, after all—but it is something to keep in mind. And, as it turns out, some foods raise your blood sugar more than others. Enter the concept of glycemic index. This is essentially just a way of measuring the amount of carbohydrates in a food and the rate at which they raise your blood sugar levels, and assigning that food a numerical value accordingly.

So foods that range from 1-55 on the glycemic index (GI) are considered low-glycemic. Foods in the 56-69 range are moderately glycemic and anything above that is considered high-glycemic.

Using the glycemic index as a guide, some people follow what is known as a GI diet. This diet focuses exclusively on the GI value of foods. At USANA, we take glycemic index into account while developing food products, working to ensure that our products are low-glycemic.

exercise and aging

exercise and aging

Most people know the basics of staying healthy—at least in theory. Eat nutritious foods. Exercise regularly. Sleep enough. But putting these healthy habits into practice is where there’s room for improvement. This is natural. Nobody is perfect, after all, and change can be difficult, especially after years of forming certain lifestyle habits.

Here’s the good news: supporting health at any age is possible no matter how long you’ve been putting off healthy lifestyle changes. It’s never too late to start living your best life.

Many people—especially those in middle age and later—think they’ve passed a point of no return on their health journey. That is, they think it is too late to see the health benefits of certain lifestyle changes. But studies show you can enjoy the benefits of healthy lifestyle changes at any age.

In other words, it’s never too late to start caring about your health and learning how to take care of your body. The first step is learning about the supporting science, and then applying health tips for all ages to support physical and mental health throughout your life.

Neuroplasticity: Habits, Change, and the Aging Brain

Humans are creatures of habit. Daily life is built around routines—meals, work, sleep, and hobbies. And, as you’re probably aware, these habits can be hard to break or change.

There’s a neurological reason for this. As you repeat certain behaviors or activities, the neurons in your brain rewire and adjust the way they fire to code that behavior as a habit. So the behavior literally becomes wired into your brain.

Naturally, these wired habits are difficult to break—difficult, not impossible. Your ability to change habits has, in part, to do with neuroplasticity, which is simply your brain’s ability to change.

From infancy and childhood (even into early adulthood), the brain is incredibly plastic. This means it changes and develops easily. As you age, this process slows so much that scientists used to think neuroplasticity disappeared completely around age 25. In other words, they thought the brain’s wiring was fully set by your mid-twenties.

Recent studies, however, have shown this isn’t the case. Your brain can form new connections, create new neurons, and change its structure at any age. The process might look different as you age, but it is still possible.

So yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks. And, more importantly, you can form new habits to support health at any age.

Out With the Bad: The Benefits of Dropping Unhealthy Habits Today

When people confront lifelong habits—whether it’s smoking, drinking too much, or eating too many processed food—they often ask the same question: how much of a difference could it really make?

The answer is simple. Dropping unhealthy habits as soon as possible can have a huge positive impact on your health.

Take smoking for instance. For a pack-a-day smoker of 20 years, each additional day spent smoking might seem like drops in the river. But the health benefits of quitting smoking, such as decreased risk of heart disease, can be seen after just one day.

Remember, if your goal is to replace unhealthy habits in your lifestyle, you have to start somewhere. Each day that you stick to your goals, you work towards rewiring your brain. So even if you’re not seeing immediate health benefits, you are working to create new neural pathways that will help you maintain a healthier lifestyle going forward.

Making the Change: How to Take Care of Your Body as You Age

The habits you set in early adulthood are factors that will shape your health profile later in life. Depending on your lifestyle, your risk for serious ailments will change. But those statistics aren’t set in stone.

Adults in their sixties, seventies, and beyond can still see the benefits of improving their diet, physical fitness, and mental health. Together, these positive lifestyle changes can set the stage for a happy and healthy life that extends well into old age. Whether you’re a teen, early adult, or pushing past middle age, look at the following tips for supporting health at any age:

  • Incorporate exercise into your routine: Whether it’s a daily walk, weight training, or high-intensity cardio, it’s important to stay active no matter your age. In young adults, high levels of physical activity improve cardiovascular health, respiratory health, and can help you maintain a high level of fitness later in life.
    If you’re middle aged or older, physical activity is just as important, if not more so. Increased levels of physical activity can help support you overall cardiovascular health, and more. And for older adults, physical activity helps keep muscles strong, helping maintain mobility and ensuring you can continue performing day-to-day tasks.
  • Eat nutritious food: Your diet affects nearly every aspect of your life. Food is fuel, and you want to make sure you’re giving the body the nutrients it needs to run effectively throughout life. During childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, your diet provides your body with the fuel it needs to grow and develop.
    As you age, your diet can help you maintain a healthy weight—which looks a little different for everyone—and can help support total body health throughout your life.
    Additionally, healthy eating can just make you feel better. It’s hard to quantify, but people who eat nutritious foods often report feeling more satisfied and energized throughout the day. And this is a benefit you can take advantage of at all ages.
  • Keep your brain engaged: Scenic walks, reading, or learning a new skill are a few activities that can help keep your brain engaged throughout life. The brain loves a challenge—so why not give it one?
    By striving to learn throughout life, you can keep your brain active. This promotes neuroplasticity and your brain’s ability to continue to learn and grow into old age. Staying mentally engaged and challenged can also help optimize mental health throughout life.

Stay Positive with a Growth Mindset to Stay Healthy as Your Age

No matter your age, caring about your health involves adopting a growth mindset. It means believing that your health and lifestyle can change for the better. It’ll just take time and effort.

Remember, these changes don’t have to occur all at once. Start small and work towards your larger goals. It’s natural to slip up, but it’s up to you how you respond to your mistakes. So what are you waiting for? Take the first step towards health—no matter how small.

Little girl refuse to eat

Little girl refuse to eat

Whether it’s your food preferences, a picky spouse, or a child that will eat anything but a vegetable, you’ve probably had to deal with a picky eater in one form or another. This can range from a minor inconvenience to a major annoyance. But can picky eating also be a health concern?

Nutrition, after all, is a fundamental aspect of health no matter your age. And a key part of nutrition is eating a well-rounded diet. But is it possible to eat a balanced, nutritious diet as a picky eater?

The short answer—it depends. Read on to puzzle out the long answer and find tips for how to deal with picky eaters, and—whether it’s yourself, your child, or your partner—how to provide the nutrients they need.

What is Picky Eating and What Creates Picky Eaters

Picky eating looks a little bit different for everyone. There are a number of eating preferences that can be described as pickiness and each of these can range in intensity. But if you distilled the variety of picky eater experiences into one, single definition, you’d end up with something like this: picky eating is the avoidance of specific foods, textures, flavors, or other elements of food and eating.

When it comes to picky eating, most people have the same question: how can I get my picky eater to be, well, not picky? But before you start thinking about solutions for how to deal with picky eaters, it’s important to understand the underlying causes of picky eating.

Not all picky eaters are the same. Some avoid certain foods simply because they dislike the taste, while others’ aversion is based on texture. Some have a visceral reaction—gagging, spitting, or inability to swallow—to the foods they avoid, while others simply prefer not to eat certain items. The severity of an individual’s aversion to specific foods—as well as their reaction to those foods—can help you identify the underlying cause of their pickiness.

In some cases, picky eating can be attributed to neophobia (the fear or dislike of new and unfamiliar experiences). New foods can introduce you to a wide array of new experiences— flavors, textures, smells, etc. This multifaceted experience is part of what makes eating enjoyable and exciting. But for some, these new sensations can be intimidating.

Familiar foods are comforting and predictable. And some people want their eating experiences to be just that: comforting and predictable. While there’s no single identified cause for food-related neophobia, some studies suggest it is an inherited trait. That means if your parents are neophobes, there’s a good chance you will be, too.

There is also a link between picky eaters and being introduced to different foods later in childhood. Basically, the longer a toddler settles into the routine of only eating a set assortment of foods, the more likely they are to develop picky eating habits. If they aren’t exposed to tart foods early on, for example, they may develop an aversion to tart foods.

If a picky eater experiences bodily reactions, such as gagging or spitting, to certain foods, their pickiness may be the result of sensory food aversion. Individuals with sensory food aversion experience heightened sensory input from certain aspects of their food. This could be temperature, texture, taste, or smell. And because of this heightened sensory input, eating these foods can be overwhelming and unpleasant.

Is Picky Eating Unhealthy?

Picky eating can be frustrating for everyone involved. But for many parents, that frustration is rooted in concern. Eating a well-balanced diet is a crucial part of living a healthy lifestyle. And in many cases, picky eating stands in the way of a well-balanced diet. In short, it can start to impact nutrition.

This leads many parents to the same question: just how bad is picky eating for my child’s health? While the effects of picky eating on nutrition vary from person to person, there are common trends that parents should note.

One of the most common effects of picky eating in children is difficulty maintaining a healthy weight. For extremely picky eaters, especially those with sensory food aversion, eating can easily become a chore. There just aren’t many foods picky eaters like, and so they don’t eat as much as they need to. While being underweight isn’t always a health risk, it   can indicate malnutrition—meaning a child isn’t getting the nutrients they need to support the body’s growth and development.

Oddly enough, picky eating can also have the opposite effect on your child’s weight. Because picky eaters tend to avoid fruits and vegetables, their diets often consist primarily of carbs—especially refined carbohydrates—and processed foods. And, when eaten in high quantities, both of these food types can lead to weight gain. Once again, this is an indication that your child isn’t acquiring the nutrients they need.

Put simply, children (and any picky eater adults, for that matter) should eat a variety of whole foods, including fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Unfortunately, these are typically the foods picky eaters avoid most. Without fresh fruits and vegetables, unprocessed meat, and whole grains, it is difficult to get the appropriate amounts of fiber, protein, and vitamins a child’s growing body needs.

Strategies for How to Deal with Picky Eaters

So your suspicions have been confirmed: picky eating isn’t exactly healthy and is certainly not ideal. What’s next? Fortunately, picky eaters don’t have to be picky for life. There are a variety of strategies you can use to help a picky eater broaden their tastes—it’s just a matter of choosing the right strategy for the situation.

Studies suggest many food aversions can be overcome with repeated exposure. This means a picky eater may come to enjoy a food they avoid if they try it enough times. Say your child hates tomatoes—if you offer them tomatoes enough times, in a variety of forms, they may eventually come to enjoy them. If you’ve heard the term “acquired taste,” the same principle applies here. It’s just a matter of helping your child acquire a taste for certain foods.

Children respond to modeling. If you don’t eat your veggies, there’s a good chance your child won’t either. Don’t prepare separate meals for you and your child—sit down and eat the same food together. Show your picky eaters that you enjoy the tricky foods. Additionally, preparing food in a variety of ways can help a child branch out to new foods. If they hate raw carrots, try steaming them. (Worried about how this will affect the nutrient content of your food? Read up on the effects of cooking on vegetables!)

6 Tips to Make Feeding Your Fussy Eater Easier

If you’re looking for a variety of simple, actionable items to try to get your child to eat, look no further. Give these six tips a try!

  1. Give your child options: As children grow and develop, their sense of autonomy grows, too. This means kids may want more say in what foods they eat. Obviously a four-year-old boy shouldn’t have full control of his diet, but you can indulge his budding sense of autonomy by providing options. If you’re struggling to get your kids to eat carrots, it might not be about the carrots. It might be about the children’s sense of autonomy and control. Instead of forcing them to eat a carrot, provide two healthy options and ask which they’d prefer. Sometimes a question as simple as “Do you want carrots or green beans tonight?” can solve the problem.
  2. Don’t prepare separate meals: As mentioned above, children look up to their parents for modeled behavior. Don’t give in if your child sees a meal you’ve prepared and demands something else. Sit down to eat the meal together. As they watch you eat and enjoy the food, your picky eaters might decide to do the same. Again, be sure to allow for choices within the meal—peas vs. broccoli, for example—but don’t simply let kids opt out and choose a different meal entirely.
  3. Establish and maintain routines: Children thrive in an environment with established routines—and mealtime is no exception. A lot of picky eating can be attributed to children avoiding the unfamiliar. Trying new foods and branching out is stressful enough for young children, so try to make the rest of their eating experience predictable and consistent. Set aside blocks of time each day specifically for meals. Be consistent in when and where you and your children eat.
  4. Be patient and don’t force it: If your child refuses to eat broccoli, they probably won’t wake up one day and miraculously love it. Acquiring the taste will take time and repeated exposure. This might mean your child chews up a piece of broccoli only to spit it out—and there’s nothing wrong with that! Give picky eaters time to adjust to new foods and keep giving them opportunities to try the different items.
  5. Mix it up: While repeated exposure is one way to help a child eat a food, this doesn’t mean you should only prepare that food until they like it. If your child hates raw bell peppers, for example, don’t try to feed them raw bell peppers every night. Remember, their aversion might be rooted in texture. Mix up your preparation and try grilling or sauteing. And, let’s be honest, bell peppers aren’t the only healthy food out there. Don’t be afraid to give it a break and serve your child other nutritious foods—maybe carrots, broccoli, or green beans.
  6. Give feeding therapy a try: If you have an extremely picky eater or a child with sensory food aversion, feeding therapy is also an option to consider. Feeding therapy is especially helpful for children with strong bodily aversions to food—in other words, kids who gag, cough, spit, or choke when eating foods they don’t like. Although it shouldn’t be your first solution, feeding therapy can be a great way to help your child enjoy eating when all else fails.

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.

To understand cellular nutrition, you can take the better part of a decade to earn a PhD in microbiology or you can set aside about six minutes to read this story.

Opting for the doctoral route means deeper knowledge, a nice degree to frame, and many fancy words to throw around. But reading on will simply answer four key questions to provide an actionable understanding of possibly the most important topic in nutrition.

And you’ll save a few hundred thousand dollars in the process. The choice is yours.

What’s the difference between cellular and regular nutrition?

One word—scale.

Most people talk about nutrition on a system-by-system or body-wide scale. (Examples: eating fiber helps you feel full and manage your weight, protein supports healthy muscles, or you should target immune-supporting foods in your diet.) But nutrition, like your overall health, starts in the cell.

In fact, properly nourishing your cells should be—and sneakily is—the real aim of all nutrition. The disconnect is that cellular nutrition happens on a microscopic scale, and involves intricate, complicated mechanisms.

More people will follow if you talk about nutrients for brain health or heart-smart snacks than if you wade into the intricacies of how your mighty mitochondria get properly fed. And that’s OK. Any understanding of nutrition is helpful and great for public health.

Just remember, when you’re talking about nutrition in any way, you’re actually discussing cell nutrition. You’re just doing it without drowning in the complexities and verbiage of PhD-level microbiology.

Why is cellular nutrition important?

Maintaining cellular health through proper nutrition is essential to optimizing your overall wellness. That sentence sounds stuffy, but the concept is pretty simple.

You’re made up of cells of different types. If they aren’t fed what’s needed to maintain health, it’s hard to imagine your body, as a whole, feeling great. Put another way: a building made of broken bricks doesn’t stand long.

Cell nutrition is the starting point for maintaining the health of all your large body systems and overall physical wellness. And supporting cellular nutrition doesn’t require a big shift in the usual dietary advice.

You still want the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and macronutrients you find in healthy whole foods. (More on this below.) But while munching on your salad, you can think about how you’re doing it for your cells as much as your waistline.

I understand digestion, but it seems like there’s a few steps beyond the basics that help facilitate cell nutrition. So, how do nutrients from the diet eventually enter cells?

Each stage of digestion breaks your food down into smaller and smaller pieces that are more useable. After nutrient absorption happens in the small intestine and the molecules are distributed in the blood, your cells can start chowing down, too.

This part can become confusing, so let’s explore—as simply as possible—three of the main ways nutrients enter cells.

  • Route No. 1: The cell opens up a temporary mouth in its membrane and basically swallows what it wants. This process of cellular eating and drinking—usually reserved for bigger molecules—is called endocytosis.

Lipids and proteins in the cell membrane start to form up walls around the molecule trying to enter the cell. This literally looks like a mouth opening up—hence the mouth analogy. As the molecule pushes through the membrane, a bubble is formed around it. That protective coating is then broken down by special proteins in the cell and its nutrient contents are utilized for energy, growth, repair, or whatever the cells need.

  • Route No. 2: Nutrients hitch a ride on a carrier protein (such as albumin). This is like a nutrient having an usher accompany it through the membrane’s set of locked doors and into the cell. In more scientific terms, the carrier proteins latch onto the nutrient molecule and help it pass through into the intercellular space.
  • Route No.3: Hop into an express lane into the cell—formally referred to as a channel protein. As long as the nutrient molecules pass tests for size, charge, and other properties, it can enter fairly easily through the pores created by channel proteins. These entry avenues can help many more molecules per second pass through the membrane and into the cell than any other path.

No matter the route taken, once inside the cell, nutrient molecules are used for their appropriate purpose to support your health at the cellular level. The glucose from carbohydrates in your diet are broken up and used for energy. Fatty acids (lipids) and amino acids (protein parts) are used as building blocks or energy—depending on what’s needed.

What nutrients are vital for maintaining healthy cell nutrition?

Read enough about nutrition and you’ll experience informational déjà vu. That’s because the human body needs what it needs—most importantly, those nutrients labeled essential. And there are only so many ways to acquire it all.

You should be eating a varied, balanced diet full of whole fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and beneficial fats. That’s the best way to acquire the variety of essential vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and amino acids your cells need. The “essential” label comes from your body’s inability to make certain substances. So they must be found in your diet. You’ll also contribute other nutrients that can help maintain your health, too.

Now that you know the most important nutrients for cell nutrition, let’s see why they’re so crucial for maintaining health. Taking in all those essential macro- and micronutrients help fill cell nutritional needs and support four basic mechanisms for maintaining cellular and overall health.

  1. Energy: You can dive deep into cellular energy production and ATP. But, for now, all you need to know is that your cells break the bonds of nutrient molecules to unleash energy.
  2. Structure (growth and repair): Proteins, fats, and some minerals are used by cells to build or repair cellular and bodily structures.
  3. Supporting Reactions: Vitamins and minerals act as cofactors for enzymes and support key reactions and processes that keep your body running optimally.
  4. Protection: Antioxidants can come in the form of vitamins or other nutritional compounds. Either way, they help maintain cellular health by neutralizing free radicals from metabolism and environmental elements.

It’s a lot to accomplish, but you’re made of amazing cells. Your job in the big machine of health is simple: feed your cells all the important nutrients they need to maintain overall health.

The modern diet and lifestyle can make this tricky. You may want to supplement your diet to optimize cellular health. If you choose to, target products with the right forms and amounts of the essential nutrients and beneficial dietary compounds you need most.

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.

Magnesium

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.

Calcium

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.

Copper

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.

Biotin

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.

Phosphorous

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.

Zinc

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.

http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins

http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-A

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-HealthProfessional/

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB6-HealthProfessional/

http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-B6

http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/biotin

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Biotin-HealthProfessional/

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/

http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-C#function

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/

https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2891-9-65

http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-D#sunlight-sources

http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals

https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/guide/vitamins-and-minerals-good-food-sources#1

http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/calcium#food-sources

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0092867407015310

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK21190/

http://kidshealth.org/en/teens/calcium.html

http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/magnesium#deficiency

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1464-5491.2006.01852.x/full

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/

http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/copper

https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002424.htm

http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/phosphorus

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-Consumer/

http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/zinc

The human brain is an incredible organ. But it is also a hungry one. Weighing in at only around three pounds, your brain is an apex feeder. It uses 20 percent of all blood and oxygen produced in the body. So, it’s important to understand the connection between your diet and brain health so you can eat to support your cognitive functions.

Your brain does a lot, and it needs glucose to do all that work. Glucose is a type of carbohydrate—sugars found in fruits, grains, vegetables, and milk products. But the brain can’t store any of that glucose itself. It must continuously receive a supply from the body.

Because your body must absorb and metabolize sugars before they make it to the brain, it’s actually best to focus on eating complex carbohydrates. They power your body and keep your brain operating at optimal levels. This means focusing on whole, natural foods and limiting processed foods high in simple carbohydrates and low in fiber and micronutrients.

But what’s the best diet type to help your brain? Here’s a good rule of thumb: what helps your heart, helps your brain. Let’s dig deeper to examine popular diets and discover how to be mindful of what you eat.

Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Sea connects Europe, Asia, and Africa. Since the time boats were first put into the water for fishing, trade, and conquest, the Mediterranean has been the aquatic breadbasket of the Western world.

There are over 500 different species of fish in the Mediterranean, including omega-3 rich, oily fish like sardines, mackerel, and herring. Traditional trading routes connect different cultures with regional foods: protein-rich chickpeas from Israel, Egyptian figs, Greek olive oil, Libyan couscous, and Italian tomatoes.

The nations bordering the Mediterranean focus on a daily consumption of fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats, like olive oil. Weekly, they consume oily fishes plus poultry, beans, and eggs for protein. Diets here have a limited intake of dairy products and very little red meat.

An abundance of cruciferous vegetables, nuts, and fresh fish supply the primary benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Oily fish are packed with omega-3s, a type of polyunsaturated fat the brain uses as a cell-building nutrient. Omega-3s are also important for normal brain function, preserving cell membrane health, and facilitating neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to form new neural connections.

The Mediterranean diet’s focus on vegetables, fruits, nuts, and limited red meat supports your brain and heart health. The connection between the two is important. Your brain requires 20 percent of all blood and oxygen supplies, so helping your heart will aid your brain.

Keto Diet

If you have a sweet tooth, this isn’t the diet for you.

The ketogenic diet focuses on foods that provide healthy fats, adequate levels of protein, and nearly zero carbohydrates. The idea is to consume most of your calories from fat and limit carbs, thereby putting your body into ketosis—a metabolic state where fat provides most of your body’s fuel.

Growing evidence suggests keto diets may help support and protect your brain and nerve cells. Ketones, the product of ketosis, may provide a neuroprotective impact on the brain, especially as you age. While it’s difficult to start and maintain a keto diet, there are a number of potential health benefits. By limiting carbohydrates and total calories in your diet, you can experience weight loss (and a healthy weight will stress your heart less), and protected brain function.

Your brain still requires fuel to function. Instead of relying solely on carbs to create glucose, the brain uses ketones to meet its energy needs. Your liver and muscles store glucose in the form of glycogen. After two or three days without ingesting carbs, these reserves are depleted and insulin levels drop. Your liver increases production of ketones by breaking down fat stored in cells.

A sample of foods you can eat on a keto diet are seafood, non-starchy vegetables, cheeses, avocados, eggs, meat, and plant-based oils. Providing the food is low/zero carb, your body will convert stored fat into energy, resulting in weight loss.

Avocados are an excellent food source for brain health. A medium-sized avocado contains nine grams of carbs. The good news is seven of those grams are fiber, so your net carb consumption is only two grams. Avocados are also packed with vitamins and minerals, including potassium.

Ultra-Low-Fat Diet

The polar opposite of keto is the ultra-low-fat diet. As the name suggests, the goal of this diet is to eliminate as much fat consumption as possible from your daily intake. You instead turn to whole grain foods, lean meats (skinless chicken and turkey), white fish, vegetables, lentils, and fruit. Butter, eggs, and cheese are out, but you can eat pasta, rice, and oats.

This diet requires a lot of discipline because your body still needs approximately 10 percent dietary fat to function. Foods like salmon and flaxseed help. And walnuts are an excellent option—loaded with omega-3s, antioxidants, vitamin E, and minerals to support your brain.

Since you can eat fruit, strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries provide flavonoid antioxidants your brain needs to function properly. Berries can boost brain health by maintaining healthy communication between brain cells, fostering neuroplasticity, and supporting normal cognitive function as you age.

Intermittent Fasting

This diet is more about when to eat than what. On intermittent fasting, you avoid eating for set, extended periods of time. It’s a new diet trend with centuries-old roots. As hunter-gatherers, humans would often go long period of time between meals. Today, those who intermittent fast eat only during certain time windows, like 16-hour fasts with eight-hours of feeding or one meal per 24-hour cycle.

During fasting, scientists believe new neural pathways are created, strengthening both connectedness and communication paths in your brain. When you’re not eating, fat stored in your body can be pulled for energy to power your body. The stress of fasting makes the brain look for nutrients inside the body. The result is your brain receiving the energy it requires and your body losing weight.

This approach to eating brings other cellular-level benefits. Fasting helps your body adjust hormone levels to make stored fat more accessible. Human growth hormones help increase fat loss and muscle gain. Insulin levels drop. Cells undergo cellular repair processes, including autophagy—removing old cells and dysfunctional proteins from inside the cell.

Special consideration should be given to intermittent fasting. If you have a chronic health condition, you should consult a physician before starting—sound advice for anyone starting a new diet program.

Vegan Diet

Veganism is as much a lifestyle as it is a diet. Proponents of the vegan diet abstain from all consumption of animal products for ethical, environmental, and health reasons. Saying no to any meat, dairy, or other animal-based foods and ingredients requires discipline but comes with some brain benefits.

Cruciferous vegetables—bok choy, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, and broccoli—are packed with folate, a water-soluble B-complex vitamin that supports the formation of red blood cells to help the production of energy. Circulation and energy are important for feeding your brain oxygen and nutrients. Folate and other B vitamins (B6 and B12) also have been shown to help support normal cognition function as you grow older.

Beans and legumes, an important staple in a vegan diet, provide proteins and complex carbohydrates. Your body slowly digests beans, helping to maintain stable blood-sugar levels. Because your brain utilizes so much energy, beans are a good source of complex carbohydrates that slowly enter your bloodstream to continually feed your cognition.

However, a strict vegan diet can place demands upon your brain. You need choline to support healthy brain functions like the regulation of memory, mood, and muscle control.

Unfortunately, the best sources of choline are beef, eggs, fish, and chicken, while nuts, legumes, and vegetables contain little. Because it is difficult to obtain optimal levels of choline from a vegan diet, you may consider supplementing to meet your needs. The same is also true of vitamin B12, since it is only found in animal foods

Many may find a strict vegan diet to be difficult. But you should try to incorporate elements of a plant-based diet into your normal routine. Cutting back on animal proteins can benefit your weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.

Mindful Eating

As you’ve seen, parts of many popular diets can be good for your brain. So, how do you choose?

The best diet for you is the one you can stick with. Being conscious of your consumption helps you appreciate your food and, hopefully, encourages better food choices. Maintaining a healthy diet isn’t always fun. But a lifetime of considerate eating can fuel your brain and body with the nutrition they need.

And good brain health doesn’t stop and start with your fork. Exercise helps improve blood flow and memory by stimulating the release of growth factors—chemicals in your brain that enhance learning, mood, and thinking. Get smart. Include exercise and a healthy diet to live a healthy life.

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