As the saying goes, “you are what you eat," and that is all the more true when it comes to the essential minerals and vitamins you consume and absorb into your body. Without these minerals and vitamins, important bodily functions could be impeded, and you could end up becoming more susceptible to diseases.
All nutrients are equally important for our growth & development, no matter our age. However, certain groups of people will require more of certain nutrients than those in other groups; for example, a teen would have different nutrient needs from an elderly person or someone that is pregnant.
Minerals and vitamins are essential for growth and development, as well as for maintaining a healthy immune system. Senior dietician Ms. Wong Chai Ling shares about the different nutrients different age groups will require, what food groups these nutrients can be found in, and whether it is necessary to take dietary supplements.
A healthy balanced diet helps strengthen bones, supports brain development, boosts immunity, and regulates growth functions in children and adolescents. One’s tween and teenage years are the years to ensure the adequacy of complete nutrients, especially calcium to strengthen your bones, as well as sufficient vitamin D to ensure the calcium is properly absorbed into the body.
Getting enough calcium in your body will keep your bones strong and help prevent osteoporosis later in life. Some good sources of dietary calcium are Milk and dairy-based products such as cheese and yogurt, and soy-based products such as bean curd, tau huay (soybean pudding), and taukwa (firm tofu).
Ms. Wong adds, “If you can’t consume dairy because of lactose intolerance or dietary preferences, look for calcium fortified products and soy products with labels like ‘high calcium’ or ‘calcium fortified’. Even if you are lactose intolerant, you can still take yoghurt or hard cheeses, as these have lower lactose content compared to fresh milk.”
Vegetables are also possibly sources of calcium, although it may not be as well absorbed as the previously mentioned food products.
Good dietary sources of vitamin D include ‘high calcium low fat’ milk, low fat cheese, fortified or high calcium soy milk, cod liver oil, cooked salmon, vitamin D fortified cereals or milk, and egg yolks. Going outside to catch the sunlight is another easy way to get some vitamin D.
Every red blood cell in the body contains iron in the form of haemoglobin to transport oxygen around the body. Without sufficient iron, the body cannot make enough haemoglobin and red blood cells. This will result in tissues and organs in the body being deprived of oxygen. Iron deficiency also affects growth and learning ability in children.
The best food sources of iron are found in red meat, and to a lesser extent, fish and poultry, which contain ‘heme iron’, the most readily absorbed form of iron. Non-heme iron, the less readily absorbed form of iron, is found in eggs, plant-based sources such as iron-fortified breads and cereals, tofu, legumes (beans, lentils and peas), nuts, fruits and dark leafy vegetables.
To enhance iron absorption, eat foods that are high in vitamin C such as oranges, lemons, grapefruit, and their juices, cantaloupe, etc., and vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, tomatoes, etc. All fresh fruits and vegetables are good sources of vitamin C.
A well-balanced meal helps provide the body with all the nutrients it needs to maintain normal growth and ensure the body functions as it should, and remain healthy. In addition, a healthy, balanced diet provides the body with its necessary energy requirements, protects us against vitamin, mineral, and other nutritional deficiencies, and builds up immunity.
Some population will require a higher amount of specific nutrients compared to others.
Ladies who are trying to get pregnant will require folic acid or folate, which is a type of vitamin B that reduces the risk of brain and spinal cord defects developing in your baby. According to Ms. Wong, the Health Promotion Board recommended taking a folic acid supplement of at least 400mcg at least three months before trying for pregnancy, and for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Some women might require up to 5mg of folic acid. She also recommends those trying for a pregnancy to speak to their doctor for more advice on the appropriate dosage.
“Pregnant lady requires more nutrients and overall calories than pre-pregnancy lady or someone who is trying to get pregnant, especially iron and calcium,” Ms. Wong said. “High risk of iron-deficiency anemia affects more women than men, especially pregnant women and women of childbearing age with heavy menstrual periods.”
Someone on a vegetarian or vegan diet might be prone to some common potential nutritional deficiencies include deficiencies in vitamin B12, vitamin D3, calcium, and iron. Therefore, some dietary vegan sources are recommended, such as breakfast cereals fortified with B12, unsweetened soy drinks fortified with vitamin B12, and yeast extract, such as Marmite.
Some vegan sources of vitamin D include direct sunlight to the skin, fortified fat spreads, breakfast cereals, unsweetened soy drinks, and vitamin D3 supplements.
Calcium and vitamin D will remain essential nutrients for those 51 years old and older. Calcium is a mineral that helps build strong bones and teeth; thus, maintaining an adequate intake of calcium is important to promote good bone health and prevent osteoporosis and fractures.
Meanwhile, vitamin D helps to improve the absorption of calcium in the body. So, an inadequate supply of vitamin D and calcium has negative effects on bone health at all ages; it causes rickets in infants, retards acquisition of an adequate bone mass during skeletal development in adolescents, and is finally responsible for accelerated bone loss in adulthood in both women and men, leading to the development of osteoporosis.
One’s ability to absorb vitamin B12 can decrease with age. Vitamin B12 plays an essential role in red blood cell formation, cell metabolism, nerve function, and the production of DNA. Some sources of vitamin B12 include poultry, meat, fish, and dairy products.
You are encouraged to discuss with your health care providers if there is a need for you to consume dietary supplements. If there is, they can help you determine which dietary supplements might be right for you.
According to a survey by Rakuten Insight on dietary supplements in Singapore in March 2022, 53% of respondents stated that they took dietary supplements. These supplements included herbal or botanical substances, minerals or vitamins taken to supplement the diet to improve one’s health. However, are supplements really necessary?
According to Ms. Wong, if you are eating a healthy well-balanced diet, dietary supplements may not be necessary unless recommended by your healthcare providers. Certain health conditions which require specific nutrients needs, such as:
However, too much of a good thing can backfire, and that is the case with dietary supplements.
“Large doses of vitamin B6 likely to cause damage to your nervous system,” Ms. Wong shared. “While too much vitamin A may lead to headaches and liver damage.”
Some supplements can also adversely interact with other medications you are taken, making them dangerous or reduce their efficiency, such as with vitamin K and Warfarin medication.
As for those wondering if dietary supplements bought over the counter are safe for consumption, Ms. Wong stated, “According to the Singapore Health Promotion Board (HPB), ingredients used in health supplements are generally well-established through the experience of safe use and are not intended for medicinal purposes, health supplements do not require approval and are not evaluated by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) before they can be sold locally.”
She added, “According to the HPB, the dealers (this includes manufacturers, importers, wholesalers and distributors, re-packers and retailers) are responsible for the safety and quality of their health supplements. They also have to ensure that their products meet HSA's stipulated safety and quality standards.”
Ultimately, if you wish to start taking dietary requirements, you are advised to first consult your healthcare provider to determine if there is a need for you to consume dietary supplements. They can also help you determine which dietary supplement will be beneficial for you.