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Nutrition 101

How to Eat Your Vitamins

It's possible to get your daily quota from your plate instead of the drugstore shelf. Here, the nutrients you need every day and how to get them from your diet.

Fish with broccoli, beans, nuts and an orangeAnita Calero
Pills might seem like an easy fix, but food provides an abundance of nutrients, as well as fiber, that pills lack, says Mary Ryan, a registered dietitian in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

These nutrients are what keep your body functioning at its best―building strong bones; improving brainpower, mood, and memory; and possibly helping the immune system ward off ailments both small (a cold) and large (cancer).

"Vitamins should be used only as supplements to the diet, not substitutes for healthy food," says Jeffrey Blumberg, Ph.D., director of the antioxidant research lab at Tufts University, in Boston.

While there are hundreds of nutrients, the following information explains the ones you need to consume every day, what they do, and how to get them from your diet.


Vitamins B6 and B12

What it does for you: The B complex of vitamins (especially B6 and B12) keep blood, nerves, and the immune system functioning properly. A deficiency may be a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

How much you need daily: The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is 1.3 milligrams for B6 and 2.4 micrograms for B12.

Best food sources: B6 is plentiful in whole grains, bananas, beans, nuts, wheat germ, chicken, and fish. B12 is found in beef, pork, poultry, eggs, fish, and dairy.

How to eat enough of it: One cup of plain yogurt and a banana, one ounce of sunflower seeds, and three ounces of roast beef will fill your B12 and B6 quotas. B12 is found only in animal products, so vegans should take a supplement.


Vitamin C

What it does for you: Vitamin C is an antioxidant that has been shown to fight DNA-damaging free radicals. It may help to maintain a healthy immune system and boost HDL, the so-called "good" cholesterol.

How much you need daily: Seventy-five milligrams, but some experts recommend getting at least 200 milligrams. As for megadoses of C to prevent colds, there's no scientific evidence that they accomplish anything.

Best food sources: Citrus fruits and juices, strawberries, red and green peppers, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, spinach, kale, and collard greens.

How to eat enough of it: Just one orange almost gets you to the RDA. Eat your recommended five servings a day of fruits and vegetables and you shouldn't be lacking in C.

 
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Nuts

Juice may serve up vitamins, but it won’t do much to ease hunger: Unlike solid foods, liquids don’t trip the brain’s satiety mechanism. For a more effective snack, pair a glass of 100 percent juice with a few nuts. Get more tips.