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Many of us strive for a healthy, well-balanced diet with plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, calcium and protein-packed dairy, plant-based fats and protein and fish.  But how just how likely are you to get the 5, yes 5 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit each day, plus 3 servings of calcium-rich dairy, whole grains and don’t forget the fish twice each week?

While true vitamin deficiencies are thankfully quite rare in developed countries, there are a few vitamins and supplements that most people do need.  I’m all about food first, because the whole food matrix makes it easier to absorb the macro-nutrients, anti-oxidants, and vitamins, but if you’re not getting what’s recommended, you might consider a vitamin or supplement. 

Here are the 5 most forgotten:

1. Vitamin D:  Now that most of us are wearing sunscreen and skipping the daily recommendation of 3 glasses of Vitamin D enriched milk, about 40% of Americans are Vitamin D deficient!  Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin that becomes available from Ultra-violet (UV) light exposure. It’s naturally occurring in some fatty fish, such as salmon and mackerel. It’s also found in fortified foods like milk, some orange juice brands and cereals. 

Vitamin D helps keep our bones, hearts and even brains strong and healthy. It’s also a powerful anti-oxidant.  Pregnant women often need supplementation. 

Recommendations vary about how much people should have each day, but in general 800 IU – 2,000 is considered safe.

2. Fish Oil with Omega-3: Unless you’re eating a lot of fatty fish such as cod, salmon, mackerel, Herring, Oysters, Sardines or Caviar, chances are you would benefit from taking a Fish Oil supplement with Omega-3 fatty acids. These are loaded with 2 important long-chain fatty acids: 

EPA – eicosapentaenoic acid 

DHA – docosahexaenoic acid 

If you’re wondering: Algae only contains DHA

Omega-3’s with DHA is recommended for pregnant women to help with the baby’s brain and eye development. Omega-3’s provide many other benefits including reducing inflammation, especially in our arteries and helping reduce the risk of cancer. It’s also recommended to help reduce dry eyes, and lubricate our joints. 

Look for a fish oil supplement that has no after taste.

3. Probiotic:  We are learning more each day about the amazing universe of bacteria that live within our GI system. Known as the microbiota, these hard-working microbes help control our digestive system, our metabolic rate, our immune systems, and even mood. While everyone’s microbiota is as different as they are, but there are some species, such as lactobacillus that most people have. Keeping a healthy balance of lactobacilli and Bifidobacterium typically helps people avoid bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation.

You can find naturally occurring probiotics in yogurt and kefir. Look on the labels to see that it says “Active cultures”. If you need a supplement, you don’t have to spend a fortune on a probiotic. Look for one with a high microbe count that will last up until expiration. 

4. Zinc: A trace nutrient, but a little goes a long way. Zinc helps regulate our immune systems, helps prevent macular degeneration and can help with wound healing.  Many people find that a zinc lozenge helps with the common cold. In addition, zinc can really boost sex-drive. Drinking too much alcohol will lower zinc levels.

Zinc is naturally found in shellfish, nuts and seeds, eggs, brown rice, oats, chicken and turkey and dairy products. If you do need a supplement look for one that contains 12 mg or less of zinc per day.

5. Vitamin B12: With the increase in more plant-based and plant-exclusive diets, there are more people developing a Vitamin B12 deficiencies. In addition, the medications people take for an overproduction of stomach acid and reflux will reduce Vitamin B12 as does alcoholism and weight loss surgery, from lack of absorption. 

People with a Vitamin B12 deficiency will often develop numbness or tingling in their arms or legs. Some notice a tremor or shaking in their hands and arms and others feel very tired or have difficulty with balance.  

Because Vitamin B12 is only found in meat, dairy, and eggs, vegans and vegetarians are at particular risk of a deficiency. 

Vitamin B12 is essential for blood and nerve cell development and function as well as our metabolism.

The amount people need depends upon their age and whether they eat any animal products. Look for a supplement with 500 mcg in it as very little gets absorbed from supplements while eating foods that contain Vitamin B12 provides ready absorption. 

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