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Exceeding the RDAs: Do You Need Extra Minerals?

If your diet provides enough mineral nutrients to meet the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs), you’re in pretty good shape. A restrictive diet, the circumstances of your reproductive life, and just plain getting older can increase your need for minerals. Here are some scenarios to consider whether you may be a candidate for extra minerals:

  • You’re a strict vegetarian. Vegetarians must get their iron from fortified grain products such as breakfast cereals or commercial breads or naturally from foods such as seeds, nuts, blackstrap molasses, raisins, prune juice, potato skins, green leafy vegetables, tofu, miso, or brewer’s yeast. Because iron in plant foods is bound into compounds that are difficult for the human body to absorb, iron supplements are pretty much standard fare.

  • You’re a vegan. Vegans have a similar problem getting the calcium they need. Calcium is in vegetables, but it, like iron, is bound into hard-to-absorb compounds. Good food choices are soybean milk fortified with calcium, orange juice with added calcium, and tofu processed with calcium sulfate.

  • You live inland, away from the ocean. Seafood and plants grown near the ocean are exposed to iodine-rich seawater. Freshwater fish, plants grown far from the sea, and the animals that feed on these fish and plants are not exposed to iodine. So people who live inland and get all their food from local gardens and farms cannot get the iodine they need from food.

  • You’re a man. Men who are extremely active sexually may need extra zinc. However, no one has ever written down standards for what constitutes “extremely active.” Check this one out with your doctor.

  • You’re a woman: The average woman loses about 2 to 3 teaspoons of blood during each menstrual period, a loss of 1.4 milligrams of iron. Women whose periods are heavy lose more blood and iron. Because getting the iron you need from a diet providing fewer than 2,000 calories a day may be impossible, some doctors prescribe a daily iron supplement.

    Women who use an intrauterine device (IUD) may also be given a prescription for iron supplements because IUDs irritate the lining of the uterus and cause a small but significant loss of blood and iron.

  • You’re pregnant. A recent finding suggests that pregnant women may not need extra calcium. This finding is so surprising that it probably pays to stay tuned for more research — and definitely check with your own doctor. Meanwhile, pregnant women still need supplements to build fetal tissues, and new tissues and blood vessels in their own bodies. You may also need extra copper to protect nerve cells in the fetal brain. Nutritional supplements for pregnant women are specifically formulated to provide the extra nutrients they need.

  • You’re breast-feeding. Nursing mothers need extra calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, and selenium to protect their own bodies while producing nutritious breast milk. The same supplements that provide extra nutrients for pregnant women will meet a nursing mother’s needs.

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