Eating certain nutrients, vitamins and minerals in combination – instead of in isolation – boosts their nutritional value, according to a new Harvard report.
The report – detailed in a special health publication from Harvard Medical School “Vitamins and Minerals: Choosing the Nutrients You Need to Stay Healthy” – noted nutrition guidelines generally recommend minimum daily requirements of certain amounts of individual vitamins and minerals. But those recommendations don’t take into account that many nutrients work in combination, often compounding health benefits.
“Most nutrients don't fly solo,” according to the report. “They interact – sometimes they join forces.”
Among the nutrients that work best in pairs:
Vitamin D and calcium: Calcium is important for strengthening bones, but the body needs vitamin D's assistance to absorb the nutrient. Official nutrition guidelines recommend that adults get 1,000 milligrams of calcium and 400 international units of vitamin D daily. For older adults, the recommended daily allowance is 1,200 mg of calcium starting in your 50s, and 600 IU of vitamin D starting in your 70s. An 8-ounce glass of milk contains 300 mg of calcium and 100 IU of vitamin D.
Sodium and potassium: Federal officials say most Americans consume more sodium than they need (mostly in the form of salt), but potassium encourages the kidneys to excrete sodium. Studies have linked high potassium intake to lower blood pressure. According to the current guidelines, adults should get 4,700 mg of potassium and 1,200 mg to 1,500 mg of sodium daily. To increase potassium, eat lots of fruits and vegetables. To cut sodium intake, limit salty snacks, fast foods, and ready-made meals.
Vitamin B12 and folate: Vitamin B12 helps the body absorb folate (one of the eight B vitamins) and the two work together to help the body to replace cells that die. This process is particularly important during childhood. Nutrition guidelines recommend 2.4 micrograms of B12 and 400 micrograms of folate daily. Good food sources of vitamin B12 include meat, eggs, and milk. Folate is found in leafy green vegetables, beans, and other legumes.
Niacin and tryptophan: Niacin is one of the B vitamins, and a deficiency in the nutrient causes pellagra, a disease that can lead to a bad rash, diarrhea, and dementia. The daily niacin recommendation is 16 mg for men and 14 mg for women. Tryptophan, an amino acid, is a source of niacin. One way to avoid niacin deficiency is to eat foods with a lot of tryptophan, including chicken and turkey.