It's always better to get nutrients from whole foods, but supplements can be helpful in getting adequate amounts of the vitamins and trace minerals we need to survive. According to new research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, however, most people who take mineral supplements may not need them and could be doing themselves harm. The study of 8,860 adults found that those who took mineral supplements got more minerals from their diets than people who did not use supplements. While the higher intake of minerals reduced the likelihood of inadequate intake of things like calcium, zinc, magnesium, and iron, overdosing on those minerals could be linked to health problems. Too much iron can cause toxicity in the blood and excess calcium intake has been linked to a greater risk of heart attack.

Add to that the fact that a recent large-scale study found older women face an increased risk of death when taking multivitamins, iron, and other supplements in their 50s and 60s, and it seems like a wise choice to get as many nutrients in natural food form as possible. It may be easier than you think ...

Natural sources of important minerals

  1. Iron — According to Prevention magazine, iron-rich foods are essential for carrying the oxygen your muscles need to burn fat. Until menopause, women lose iron each month through menstruation. Unless you restock your stores, you run the risk of low energy and a sagging metabolism. Shellfish, lean meats, beans, and spinach are excellent sources of iron.
  2. Calcium — Getting enough calcium doesn't just result in strong bones, but can help slim your waistline, too. Unless your doctor says you have a calcium deficiency, aim to get your daily dose from foods like collard greens, organic dairy, blackstrap molasses (if you're not living with type 2 diabetes), sardines, tahini, kale, and almonds.
  3. Magnesium — Magnesium is essential for life, helping to stabilize blood pressure, build bone strength, and even reduce stress. Swiss chard, raw sunflower and pumpkin seeds, and black and navy beans serve as magnesium powerhouses that can reduce your dependence on magnesium-containing supplements.
  4. Zinc — This essential mineral is sometimes hailed as a natural cold and sore throat remedy, but the truth is, it's important to get enough of it even when you're feeling well. Zinc-rich food options include oysters, lean beef, and dark meat (such as turkey thighs and drumsticks). Vegetarians can get their zinc fix from raisin bran cereal, lentils, black-eyed peas, and leafy green vegetables.
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