by Sylvia Whitefeather
June 15, 2004
For over 50 years, the federal
government has produced Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs)
as guidelines for vitamin and mineral intake. Then, in 1993,
the Reference Daily Intakes (RDIs) superseded the RDAs. By
applying this new designation, the government's guidelines
are now supposed to represent the designated amounts that an
average person should consume. With this in mind, and the
fact that many experts think you should consume more than
some of the RDIs, how does your nutritional scorecard add
up? Answering a few nutritional questions can point you in
the right direction.
Are you trying to lose weight? If you are, the latest
thinking on weight loss opines that eating more protein may
be the key to keeping your weight down. Two recent studies
published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (5/18/04) found
that people who ate a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet
lost more weight and had better cholesterol levels than
dieters who ate fewer fatty foods. Both studies found that a
low-carb diet can improve your triglycerides (blood fats)
and boost your HDL, or good, cholesterol.
Eating protein satisfies both tummies and taste buds.
Researchers have found that the amount of protein eaten in a
meal determines not only how much food you eat but also how
satisfied you feel after eating (J Nutr 2004 Apr;
134(4):974S-9S). And when you feel satisfied after eating
less food you improve your odds of losing weight.
We need about 50 grams of protein a day to support the
body's functions. The best sources of protein are eggs,
meat, milk, protein shakes and yogurt.
Does your energy level go up and down during the day? To get
off the energy rollercoaster, cut down on carbohydrates, and
make sure the carbs you do eat are complex.
Carbohydrates have been getting some unflattering press
lately. Yes, if you want to lose weight, you may want to go
on a strictly low-carb diet. But for those not concerned
with weight, carbohydrates are the principle source of
energy for the body.
What's more, even if you do restrict carbohydrates, you
should still eat a tiny bit of them. Without some carbs in
the diet your body cannot regulate protein or fat
metabolism. According to Michael and Mary Eades, MD, authors
of The 30-Day Low-Carb Diet Solution (Wiley), "Carbohydrates
control insulin and insulin controls your metabolic health."
So, make your carbohydrates count. Indulge in complex
carbohydrates: whole grains, fruits and vegetables. In those
foods, carbs are accompanied by fiber and larger amounts of
vitamins and phytonutrients. Other reliable sources of
complex carbohydrates are whole wheat bread, brown rice and
Are you concerned about your heart health? Fiber from beans,
oats, legumes, nuts, rice bran, fruits and vegetables helps
stabilize blood sugar and reduce cholesterol. Pectins, found
in apples, pears, prunes and plums, are a particularly
useful form of water-soluble fiber.
Insoluble fiber, in cereals, wheat bran and vegetables,
reduces the risk of colon-related problems. In addition to
adding fiber to the diet, dried beans and soybeans have been
shown to lower cholesterol, improve vascular health and
kidney functioning, preserve bone mineral density and reduce
menopausal discomforts (AJCN 1999 Sept; 70(3 suppl):464S-74S).
Fiber also promotes good bowel health and encourages the
growth of beneficial intestinal flora.
You need 25 to 40 grams of fiber daily. If you have cut back
on your carbohydrates, be sure to take a reliable fiber
Do you have problems focusing on mentally challenging tasks?
If so, you should eat more fish and get more of the omega-3
fatty acids that fish and flax contain. Higher levels of
this type of fat have been linked to better concentration
while performing demanding intellectual work (Lipids 2004
Fats add flavor to food, making meals taste better.
Monounsaturated fats like plain olive oil and canola are
liquid at room temperature and are suitable for use in
cooking at high temperatures. Researchers have found that a
diet high in monounsaturated fat has the ability to decrease
LDL (bad) cholesterol (J Nutr 2001; 131:1758-63). Other
fats, such as extra virgin olive oil and flaxseed oil, are
best used in dishes that don't need cooking, such as salads.
Although the RDI for fat is less than 30% of the total
calorie intake, some researchers believe that if you eat
healthy fat, eating too much is not a concern. Omega-3 fats
are available in supplement form.
Do you suffer from dry skin? You may not be drinking enough
water. This precious liquid is used by every cell of our
bodies and makes up 60% to 75% of our body weight. Water is
important for kidney function. Researchers in Italy found
that drinking adequate amounts of water can help prevent the
formation of kidney stones (Urol Int 2004; 72 Suppl
Your activity level, environment and diet influence how much
water you need daily. Try to drink at least eight cups of
fluid a day from noncaffeinated, nonalcoholic sources.
Do you exercise frequently? If you do, you need more
antioxidant vitamins like natural vitamin E and vitamin C as
well as a healthy supply of carotenoids. A study at the
School of Applied Medical Sciences and Sports Studies,
University of Ulster, found that exercisers need more
antioxidants. Otherwise, their exertion may release an
excess number of free radicals (caustic molecules) in their
bodies and do damage to the heart arteries and other
Vitamins, in general, are defined as micronutrients that are
necessary for life. They are necessary for the production of
energy, a healthy immune system and hundreds of other
functions in the body.
Vitamins aren't the only substances that produce big
benefits in small quantities. Phytonutrients are chemicals
in plants that have health-promoting properties. These
nutrients are getting more and more attention from
researchers who are keeping score on our nutritional
Do your meals contain plenty of calcium? If not, you may
need supplements to keep your bones strong and help keep
your weight down. One study, presented at the Experimental
Biology 2003 meeting in San Diego, found that young women
who consumed more calcium had better luck controlling their
weight. In this research, it didn't take much calcium to
make a difference in waistlines. Consuming just one more
serving daily (a cup of milk or a thumb-sized piece of
cheese, each of which contain about 300 mg of calcium) made,
on average, about a two-pound difference.
In addition, many experts recommend multimineral supplements
(along with multivitamins) to promote better health. A
recent study of people with immune problems, for instance,
found that those kinds of supplements seem to help boost the
immune system (AT News 2004 Feb 27; 398:4-5).