According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a healthy diet is one that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or fat-free milk and milk products; includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts; and is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars. But just what nutrients and minerals are essential for our health and well-being? Think about these nutrient-dense foods when you’re looking to improve your vitamin and mineral intake.
Vitamin A is required for good eyesight and optimal functioning of the immune system. Cod liver oil, dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables and sweet potatoes are all great natural food sources of vitamin A.
Vitamin B1, also known as thiamin, is important for the body’s ability to process carbohydrates. Whole grain breads, cereals and pastas have high amounts of thiamin.
Riboflavin, or B2, is contained in fortified cereals, almonds, asparagus, eggs, and meat. It’s used in many body processes, including the production of red blood cells and converting food into energy.
Niacin, also known as B3, can be found in lean chicken, tuna, salmon, turkey, enriched flour, peanuts, and fortified cereals. It aids in digestion and also plays an important part in converting food into energy.
Vitamin B6 is found in fortified cereals, fortified soy-based meat substitutes, baked potatoes with skin, bananas, light-meat chicken and turkey, eggs, and spinach. It is important for a healthy nervous system, and helps break down proteins and stored sugars.
Vitamin B12 is required to create red blood cells, and is contained in beef, clams, mussels, crabs, salmon, poultry, and soybeans.
Citrus fruits, red berries, tomatoes, potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, red and green bell peppers, cabbage, and spinach are all loaded with vitamin C, which is vital to promoting a healthy immune system, and making chemical messengers in the brain.
Vitamin D is contained in fortified milk, cheese, and cereals; egg yolks; salmon; but can also be made by the body from sunlight exposure. Vitamin D is needed to process calcium and maintain the health of bones and teeth.
Vitamin E functions as an antioxidant and is required for your skin’s good health. You should plenty of leafy green vegetables, almonds, hazelnuts, and vegetable oils like sunflower, canola, and soybean to get this vital nutrient.
Folic acid can be found in fortified cereals and grain products; lima, lentil, and garbanzo beans; and dark leafy vegetables. Folic acid is vital for cell development, prevents birth defects, assists with heart health, and helps red blood cells form. Pregnant women need to take special care to ensure they are getting enough of this for themselves and their developing baby.
Dairy products, broccoli, dark leafy greens like spinach and rhubarb, and fortified products, such as orange juice, soy milk, and tofu contain lots of calcium. Like vitamin D, calcium is very important in helping to build and maintain strong bones and teeth.
Organ meats, oysters, clams, crabs, cashews, sunflower seeds, wheat bran cereals, whole-grain products, and cocoa products are high in copper, which aids in metabolism of iron and red cell formation. It also assists in the production of energy for cells.
Iron is contained in leafy green vegetables, beans, shellfish, red meat, poultry, soy foods, and some fortified foods. It’s needed to transport oxygen to all parts of the body via the red blood cells.
Potassium is contained in foods like Broccoli, potatoes (with the skins on), prune juice, orange juice, leafy green vegetables, bananas, raisins, and tomatoes. It aids in nervous system and muscle function and also helps maintain a healthy balance of water in the blood and body tissues.
Red meat, fortified cereals, oysters, almonds, peanuts, chickpeas, soy foods, and dairy products are great sources of zinc. Zinc supports the body’s immune function, reproduction capabilities, and the nervous systems.
Protein is the main component of muscles, organs, and glands. All living cells and body fluids, except bile and urine, contain protein. The cells of muscles, tendons, and ligaments are maintained with protein. Children and adolescents require protein for growth, and adults need it to maintain cell integrity. It can be found in foods like beans, milk and meat.
The main role of carbohydrates is to provide energy for the body, especially the the nervous system and brain. Complex carbohydrates are the best choice for a stable blood sugar level. Whole grain breads and cereals, legumes, and starchy vegetables are all good complex carbohydrate sources.
Essential fatty acids play an important part in many metabolic processes, and there is evidence to suggest that low levels of essential fatty acids, or the wrong balance of types among the essential fatty acids, may be a factor in a number of illnesses. Good sources of essential fatty acids are fish and shellfish, flaxseed, canola oil, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, leafy vegetables, and walnuts.
Though this list is far from complete, it gives a good base of knowledge on which to build a healthy, well-balanced diet. There are several blogs available online that may be able to provide further information, such as Food and Drink Information. Topics range from how to cook rice to how to make a great coffee.