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The whole(some) story: Get the nutrients you need every day

Calcium, iron, fibre, healthy fat – just how do we get it all in a day without being attached to a nose bag?

Why: Aids absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K; supplies essential fatty acids (EPA, DPA, DHA); a concentrated energy source; improves food flavour and texture.

Food sources: Olive, canola and peanut oils are rich in monounsaturated fats; sunflower, safflower and corn oils are rich in omega-6 polyunsaturated fats; canola oils and margarines, legumes, walnuts, some green leafy vegetables provide some omega-3 polyunsaturated fats; oily fish like salmon, tuna and sardines are rich in long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fats. Red meat, the fat in poultry, coconut and palm oils, dairy products like milk, butter, cheese and cream contain less healthy saturated fats.

How: 2-3 serves of fish each week provides your entire week's omega-3 fat requirements; 2 teaspoons of reduced-fat spread provides 5-9% of your daily fat needs; 10 almonds provide 8-15% of your fat needs.

Surprising fact: Canola and sunflower oils are more effective at lowering LDL or 'bad' cholesterol levels than olive oil and they're generally cheaper.

Why: A key fuel source.

Food sources: Whole grain breads and cereals, fruits, beans and vegetables.

How: A sliced banana on 1/2 cup of muesli or two pieces of whole grain toast provides 25% of daily needs; one cup of cooked brown rice provides 25%.

Surprising fact: Our brains live strictly on a diet of glucose, a form of carbohydrate. Studies show that low blood glucose levels make it harder for us to think and concentrate.

Why: Important structural and functional roles in body cells; an energy source.

Food sources: Meat, fish, poultry and beans. Milk, cheese, yoghurt, other dairy products, nuts, whole grains, vegetables and fruit also contribute.

How: Baked beans on two pieces of wholegrain toast and a pottle of yoghurt provides 50% of protein needs; one beef/lamb steak plus a glass of milk will give you 80%.

Surprising fact: Every protein in our body is made from the same set of 20 or so amino acids. In nature, milk and eggs have an amino acid compo­sition most similar to our bodies.

Why: For immunity, reproduction and vision.

Food sources: Preformed vitamin A is found in milk, cheese, eggs, liver and oily fish. Pro-vitamin A compounds (which our body converts to vitamin A) are found in red, orange, yellow and green vegetables and fruit like capsicums, carrots, and plums.

How: Eating 5+ servings of fruit and vegetables each day provides 50% or more of your vitamin A needs – one serving is 1/2 cup of cooked/salad vegetables or stewed fruit; 1 medium apple or orange; 2 small apricots or plums. Margarine and dairy products also contribute.

Surprising fact: One carrot provides over 100% of your daily vitamin A requirements; a tablespoon of that cod liver oil your granny raved bout contains three times your daily vitamin A needs.

Why: Antioxidant that protects our cell walls and LDL cholesterol from free radical damage; involved in anti-inflammatory and immune systems, and making DNA.

Food sources: Nuts, seeds, whole grains, soy beans, vegetable oils, avocado, kiwifruit, broccoli, dark green leafy vegetables and peas.

How: One tablespoon of sunflower oil provides nearly 100% of your vitamin E, and a small handful of nuts provides 50%. Other good sources are kiwifruit (one kiwifruit gives you 25% of needs), avocado and reduced-fat spread.

Surprising fact: If we don't have enough vitamin E to protect our cells, the walls can become damaged by free radicals and they literally start leaking!

Why: Needed for collagen synthesis, transport of fatty acids into our cells and as an antioxidant.

Food sources: Fruits, vegetables and tubers. Rich sources include kiwifruit, blackcurrants, citrus fruit, strawberries, papaya, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, capsicums, cauliflower, tomatoes, spinach and watercress. Kumara and potatoes contain smaller amounts, especially in and right under the skins.

How: 1/2 cup of stir-fried veges provides over 80% of needs; one kiwifruit provides double our vitamin C needs and 1.5 times more vitamin C than an orange.

Surprising fact: Between the years 1500 and 1800, scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) was the leading cause of naval death, killing more sailors than all other diseases, disasters and battles combined.

Why: Assists building of amino acids (for protein) and nucleic acids (for DNA). Low levels during pregnancy increase foetal neural tube defect risk.

Food sources: Green vegetables like spinach, broccoli, salad greens, citrus fruits, whole grain breads and breakfast cereals. Chickpeas, nuts, dried beans and peas are good sources, too.

How: Check the nutrition labels on breads and breakfast cereals: a slice of grainy bread or cup of fortified breakfast cereal provides 25% of folate needs; 1/2 cup of spinach provides over 25%.

Surprising fact: Mandatory folate fortification of our breads in late 2009 will increase New Zealand women's folate intake to around 30% of our daily needs.

Why: Essential to kick-start important chemical reactions in over 100 of the body's enzymes; important structural role in some proteins and cell membranes; involved in controlling how information from our genes is used.

Food sources: Beef, lamb, pork, chicken and some seafood, peanuts, cashew nuts and sesame seeds, green leafy vegetables.

How: A beef sirloin steak provides over 100% of needs; a lamb/pork steak 80%; a small handful of peanuts provides 20%.

Surprising fact: Absorption of zinc from the diet can be impeded by high intakes of iron from dietary supplements.

Why: Inside body cells, it works with sodium to create the electrochemical environment needed for transmission of nerve impulses, muscle contraction and heart function.

Food sources: Bananas, citrus fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, milk, yoghurt.

How: A fruit smoothie containing a banana, berries, yoghurt, milk and rolled oats will give you 50% of your potassium needs.

Surprising fact: A diet low in potassium may increase the risk of high blood pressure as much as a diet high in sodium!

Why: Essential component of blood clotting process; and has an important role in bone health.

Food sources: Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and cabbage; fermented foods like cheese and yoghurt.

How: 1/2 cup of cabbage provides over 100% of daily needs; 1/2 cup of spinach provides 8 x our daily requirements.

Surprising fact: Vitamin K doesn't cross the placenta between mother and developing baby, and babies' guts don't have bacteria to produce vitamin K, so when they're born babies have very little vitamin K – hence the routine jab of vitamin K at birth.

Why: Stored in skeletons and teeth, contributing to their hardness; needed for conduction of nerve impulses, muscle contraction and blood clotting.

Food sources: Milk, cheese, yoghurt, ice cream, nuts, legumes, breakfast cereals, small fish and tinned fish with bones.

How: A glass of trim milk and a pottle of yoghurt provides 75% of calcium needs, or 40g of cheese and two scoops of ice cream! Add a calcium-fortified breakfast cereal and you're done.

Surprising facts: Every 2300mg of sodium excreted by our kidneys takes 40mg of calcium with it. If sodium is consumed excessively our precious calcium stores will be excreted with it.

Why: All three work with enzymes to convert food into fuel our body cells can use.

Food sources: B1 is found in grainy breads, unrefined cereals, potatoes, kumara, nuts, seeds, legumes; B2 in milk, yoghurt, ice cream, red meat, poultry, fish; B3 in meat and some cereals.

How: One sirloin steak provides 25% of thiamin and riboflavin, plus 100% of niacin needs. One glass of trim milk provides over 60% of riboflavin and 30% of niacin needs. Two Weet-bix and 1/2 cup trim milk provide 50% of thiamine, 70% of riboflavin, 25% of niacin needs.

Surprising fact: Marmite really is mighty! One teaspoon of Marmite provides 70% of your B1 and 50% of B2 and 25% of B3 daily requirements.

Diagnosing deficiency:

If you're concerned you might have a deficiency, the best thing to do is to see your doctor and have blood tests done. Iridology, reflexology and hair analysis are not proven or accurate methods of finding out if you have a deficiency.

First published: Mar 2009



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