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Teaching Nutrition: Background information about nutrition, the nutrients, and healthy eating habits


Minerals are inorganic substances necessary for building bones, tissues, and other compounds as well as for regulating body processes. Minerals found in large amounts in the body or those with high daily intake requirements (at least 100 milligrams per day) are called macrominerals. Macrominerals include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, and chloride.

Vitamins help the body convert carbohydrates and fat into energy and assist in the formation of bones and tissues. Vitamins are either fat-soluble or water-soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins cannot be dissolved in water, so they are stored in the body fat until they are transported to the cells by the blood. Because these vitamins can accumulate in the body, it is especially important for a person’s regular daily nutrient intake of fat soluble vitamins not to exceed the Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (UL). Water-soluble vitamins are easily dissolved by water and therefore are not significantly stored by the body. Water-soluble vitamins must be replenished frequently.

Vitamins A, D, E, and K are the fat-soluble vitamins.

Calcium   Needed for bone rigidity, blood clotting, muscle contraction, normal nerve function;
Just because an individual eats food containing calcium does not mean that the body absorbs the calcium. Factors that increase calcium absorption include: an overall balanced diet; intake of vitamins C and D; intake of certain amino acids
Factors that decrease calcium absorption include: vitamin D deficiency; fat malabsorption; eating large amounts of fiber; lack of exercise; stress; lactose deficiency or lactose intolerance
  Milk and dairy products, soft-boned fish, calcium-fortified orange juice, leafy dark green vegetables, and broccoli.

  Helps build strong bones and teeth, important in cell membranes, a significant factor in energy production and storage, and in maintaining pH levels in the body   Dairy products, meat, eggs, fish, lentils, almonds
Magnesium   Metabolism of carbohydrates and fats; synthesis of DNA, RNA, enzymes; structure of bone, cell membranes; movement of potassium and calcium   Green leafy vegetables, nuts, whole grains, meat, fish, dairy products
  These three work together to regulate: the flow of fluids in the body, help regulate nervous system, regulate muscle function (including the heart), regulate nutrient absorption in the cells   Sodium and chloride are found together in table salt, and in foods with added salt (processed meats, butter, etc.). Potassium is found in meat, milk, bananas, leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits.

Minerals found in small amounts in the body are called trace elements or microminerals. Trace elements that appear to be needed by the body include: arsenic, boron, chromium, copper, fluoride, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, selenium, silicon, vanadium, and zinc. We know they are needed because of the results of animal studies; when the elements are completely removed from the diets of laboratory animals, the animals begin to show ill effects. However, some of these elements are needed in such small amounts that scientists are still trying to determine their exact functions within the body. Please see below for more information about some of the best researched microminerals.

Chromium   Maintains normal glucose uptake into cells; helps insulin bind to cells   Meat, poultry, fish, some cereals

  Necessary for the formation of hemoglobin and melanin.
  Organ meats, seafood, bran products, cocoa products, nuts.
Fluoride   Prevents dental caries (decay); stimulates bone formation   Fluoridated drinking water, dental products; tea, marine fish
Iodine   Required by the thyroid gland for hormone creation   Iodized salt; marine fish, seaweed
Iron   Component of hemoglobin (oxygen-carrying protein in the blood) and cytochrome.   Meat, poultry, eggs (heme sources; more readily absorbed); leafy green vegetables, fortified bread and grain products, dried fruit (non-heme).
Manganese   Involved in bone formation, metabolism of carbohydrates, protein   Nuts, legumes, whole grains, tea
Molybdenum   Helps enzymes break down amino acids   Legumes, grain products, nuts
Selenium   Defends against oxidation; regulates thyroid hormones   Seafood, organ meats, grains and plants grown in selenium-rich soil
Zinc   Involved in protein and DNA synthesis; metabolism; part of many enzymes   Fortified cereal, redmeat, oysters, herring



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