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"Supplements are not meant to replace a healthy diet," says Stephanie Langdon, a registered dietitian and the owner of Something Nutrishus Counselling and Coaching in Saskatoon. "And taking large amounts of certain vitamins and minerals can be dangerous."
Some people need to take supplements at certain points in their lives. This includes people over the age of 50, women who are pregnant, trying to get pregnant or thinking of trying to get pregnant, and those who have certain allergies, medical conditions or food restrictions, including vegetarians and vegans. For everyone else, however, food is the key to good health.
"The energy your body needs every day for work and play comes from calories, carbohydrates, protein and fat," explains Langdon. "Food also contains fibre, phytochemicals and antioxidants, and has all the nutrients working together."
All you have to do to get the proper vitamins and nutrients is to eat a varied and balanced diet, with special consideration for the following superfoods.
10 amazing foods to add to your diet
Sweet red peppers and kiwis
Oranges may get all the vitamin C glory, but plenty of other fruits and vegetables are even more power-packed with calcium: 1/2 cup (125 mL) of raw sweet red pepper contains 144 milligrams (mg) and one large kiwi contains 84 mg, while a medium orange provides 59 to 83 mg of calcium.
Vitamin C is needed to help grow and repair bones, teeth, skin and other tissues, to protect cells from damage and to maintain a strong immune system, explains Langdon. Aim for 75 mg of vitamin C per day or 85 mg if you’re pregnant and 120 mg if you’re breast-feeding.
Fish and seafood are great sources of protein and also of docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid, two essential fatty acids that are not found in many foods. It only takes two 75-gram (2.5 ounce) servings of these heart-healthy omega-3s per week to meet your requirement.
Fish and seafood are also high in selenium, an antioxidant that prevents cell damage and keeps your thyroid and immune system in top shape. Aim for 55 mg of selenium per day or 60 mg if you’re pregnant and 70 mg if you’re breast-feeding. A 75 gram (2.5 ounce) serving of canned tuna delivers 45 to 60 mg of selenium.Low-fat milk and fortified yogurt
It’s well known that calcium builds strong bones and teeth, but did you know that it is also important for a normalized heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle and nerve function? Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and protects against infections. One cup (250 millilitres [mL]) of milk provides 300 mg of calcium and about 100 international units (IU) of vitamin D. Aim for 1,000 mg of calcium and 600 IU of vitamin D per day.
"Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart, the more you eat them the more you…" There really is something to the childhood rhyme. Beans are good for your heart because they’re packed with folate, a water-soluble B vitamin that helps create red blood cells, stave off anemia and prevent some birth defects.
Women should aim for 400 micrograms (mcg) of folate per day or 600 mcg if pregnant and 500 mcg if breast-feeding. A 3/4-cup (175 mL) serving of cooked lentils provides 265 mcg of folate. Beans and legumes are also high in protein and fibre.
Berries are high in vitamin C, folate and antioxidant flavonoids, which help protect cells from damage. They’re also a delicious source of fibre, which aids in weight control, lowers blood cholesterol levels and keeps you regular. A 1/2 cup (125 mL) serving of berries has about 4 g of fibre. Aim for at least 21 to 29 g of fibre per day.
Kale, collard greens, bok choy, broccoli – the list of nutrient-dense greens goes on and on. Along with a healthy helping of vitamin C, greens are a great source of carotenoids, which may reduce the risk of eye disease, some cancers and heart disease by acting as antioxidants, explains Langdon.
Dark, leafy greens are also high in vitamin K, which is necessary for healing wounds, maintaining blood vessels and keeping bones healthy.
Sweet potato and pumpkin
While vitamin A can be found in liver, dairy products and fish, orange vegetables hold their own with 1,096 mcg of vitamin A in one medium-size sweet potato and 1,007 mcg in 1/2 cup (125 mL) of canned pumpkin. Vitamin A is important for good vision, healthy skin and a strong immune system. Aim for 700 mcg of vitamin A per day or 770 mcg if you’re pregnant and 1,300 mcg if you’re breast-feeding.
Of course, the easiest way to track healthy eating is by following Canada’s Food Guide. Women 19 to 50 years of age should aim for 7 to 8 vegetables and fruits, 6 to 7 grain products, 2 servings of milk and alternatives, 2 servings of meat and alternatives, and 2 to 3 tablespoons of unsaturated oils and fats per day.
For great-tasting recipes featuring these superfoods, search Canadian Living’s recipe database.