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Vitamins and minerals are substances your body needs to grow properly, function normally and stay healthy. It’s possible — and highly recommended — that you get these substances from the foods you eat. However, it sometimes can be difficult to get the recommended amount of some vitamins and minerals from diet alone. That’s why it’s not unusual to hear that taking a multivitamin or other supplement on a daily basis can make good sense. Nevertheless, knowing when you might need a supplement, what kind of vitamin and minerals are best, and how much your body needs can often be confusing. Find out why vitamins and minerals are considered essential to good health and what you should know about the latest research regarding their benefits.
Although supplements may not offer all the benefits that whole foods can provide, there are times when taking vitamins and minerals in pill form may be appropriate. For instance, if you don’t eat the recommended servings of fruits, vegetables, grains and meat , you may benefit from a multivitamin that contains a variety of essential nutrients. Multivitamins can also be helpful if you are a strict vegetarian, eat a diet that’s limited due to food allergies, a food intolerance, or have a disease or condition that doesn’t allow you to digest or absorb nutrients properly. Older age and certain lifestyle habits, such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, also can make it difficult to get all the nutrients you need from food. As for boosting the amount of specific vitamins and minerals, there are times when this can make sense. If you’re pregnant or trying to become pregnant, certain nutrients — such as calcium, folic acid and iron — are needed more than ever to protect your health and the health of your developing baby. In addition, supplementing your diet with additional calcium and vitamin D is often considered crucial following menopause to protect against osteoporosis and the risk of fractures. Having the right balance of vitamins and minerals in your body is important for good health. However, getting too much of some nutrients, usually from high-dose supplements, can be dangerous. This is especially true with some fat-soluble vitamins, which are absorbed and then stored in your body for use as needed.
Vitamin A/beta carotene Vitamin A plays a role in healthy vision, bone and tissue growth, and reproduction. It also helps regulate your immune system, which prevents and fights infections.
Vitamin D (calciferol) Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, a mineral that’s responsible for the normal development and maintenance of healthy teeth and bones. This vitamin also helps maintain proper blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D is often called the sunshine vitamin because your skin produces it after being exposed to ultraviolet rays from the sun.
Vitamin E (tocopheral) Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects red blood cells and may play a role in immune function, DNA repair and other metabolic functions.
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) Vitamin C is an antioxidant that maintains healthy tissue and helps the body absorb iron. It also plays a role in wound healing.
Vitamin B-3 (niacin) Vitamin B-3, commonly known as niacin, is one of the eight B complex vitamins that help your body convert food to energy. Niacin also helps improve blood circulation and cholesterol levels
Vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine) Vitamin B-6 is needed to help your body use protein, form red blood cells and maintain brain function.
Vitamin B-9 (folate/folic acid) Vitamin B-9, also called folate, is important in red blood cell formation and for healthy cell growth and function. It’s also important for the developing fetus during pregnancy. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate.
Vitamin B-12 plays essential roles in red blood cell formation, cell metabolism and nerve function.
Calcium is important for strong teeth and bones. It’s also needed for your heart, muscles and nerves to function properly
Iron plays an essential role in delivering oxygen to the body via the bloodstream. It also has many muscular and metabolic functions.
Magnesium is involved in many biochemical reactions in the body, helping maintain normal heart rhythm, immune system and muscle function.
Fiber-Soluble and Insoluble
Foods with soluble fiber include oatmeal, nuts, beans, lentils, apples and blueberries. Insoluble fiber, which does not dissolve in water, can help food move through your digestive system, promoting regularity and helping prevent constipation.
Prebiotics are nondigestible carbohydrates that act as food for probiotics. When probiotics and prebiotics are combined, they interact beneficially. Fermented dairy products, such as yogurt and kefir, are considered synbiotic because they contain live bacteria and the fuel they need to thrive.
The human body can make most of the types of fats it needs from other fats or raw materials. That isn’t the case for omega-3 fatty acids (also called omega-3 fats and n-3 fats). These are essential fats—the body can’t make them from scratch but must get them from food. Foods high in Omega-3 include fish, vegetable oils, nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds, flaxseed oil, and leafy vegetables.
What makes omega-3 fats special? They are an integral part of cell membranes throughout the body and affect the function of the cell receptors in these membranes. They provide the starting point for making hormones that regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and inflammation. They also bind to receptors in cells that regulate genetic function. Likely due to these effects, omega-3 fats have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke, may help control lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis, and may play protective roles in cancer and other conditions.
Antioxidants help fight oxidation, a normal chemical process that takes place in the body every day. It can be accelerated by stress, cigarette smoking, and alcohol. When there are disruptions in the natural oxidation process, highly unstable and potentially damaging molecules called free radicals are created. Oxygen triggers the formation of these destructive little chemicals, and, if left uncontrolled, they can cause damage to cells in the body.