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Healthy Living

Tr(Eat) Your Body Right

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 07/03/2013
Last Updated: 07/03/2013

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The old saying, "Treat your body right, and it'll treat you right," refers to more than just getting adequate sleep (7-9 hours a night for most of us), exercising and managing your stress levels.

It also means carefully considering the foods you're eating to fuel your body.

You know that fatigue that knocks you off your feet in the middle of the afternoon? That cracked tooth? Or that moodiness that randomly strikes and results in an ugly spat with your spouse? Could be that your body is out of whack and missing out on important nutrients; all the more reason for you to eat a well-rounded diet.

1. Your Teeth/Bones Need: Calcium

Why You Need It: Ninety-nine percent of the body's calcium supply is stored in the bones and teeth, where it supports their structure and function. But since our bones are continuously remodeling themselves, they need a constant supply of calcium to reabsorb into new bone. The balance between bone reabsorption and deposition changes with age.

Where to Eat It:

  • Fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk, yogurt and cheese
  • Broccoli, spinach and other green leafy vegetables
  • Tofu with added calcium
  • Soy-based drinks with added calcium (soy milk)
  • Orange juice with added calcium

Who Needs It Most: Postmenopausal women, people with lactose intolerance or an allergy to cow's milk, women with history of prior stress fractures.

2. Your Eyes Need: Lutein and Zeaxanthin, Omega-3s, Vitamins C and E, Zinc, Beta-carotene

Why You Need It: Nutrition plays a vital role in your overall eye health as you age and helps replenish nutrients that decline as a result of the normal aging process.

Where to Eat It: Registered dietitian Kerri Gans says that kale and spinach are both packed with lutein and zeaxanthin. You can also add berries to yogurt in the morning for extra vitamin C. Other sources:

  • Vitamin C: citrus fruits, berries, tomatoes and broccoli
  • Vitamin E: vegetable oils, wheat germ, nuts and legumes
  • Zinc: oysters, beef and other meats, nuts, legumes and dairy from plant sources of zinc
  • Lutein and zeaxanthin: kale, spinach, broccoli, peas, corn, colored bell peppers, goji berries and Brussels sprouts
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: fish oils from cold water fish like salmon or tuna
  • Beta-carotene: carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and spinach

Who Needs It Most: In a review titled "Nutrients for the Aging Eye," Elizabeth Johnson, Ph.D., a nutrition researcher at Tufts University, and Helen Rasmussen, Ph.D., R.D., an adjunct faculty member at Lesley University, found that Americans over 50 are not getting recommended amounts of important nutrients that support eye health through their daily diet. The eye is particularly susceptible to oxidative damage, and the key nutrients can help diminish the oxidative stress that lead to eye disease as we age.


3. Your Muscles, Nerves, Blood Sugar Levels, Immune System, Heart and Bones Need: Magnesium

Why You Need It: Magnesium is responsible for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. Aside from those mentioned above, it also helps promote normal blood pressure and is involved in energy metabolism and protein synthesis.

Where to Eat It:

  • Spinach and other green vegetables
  • Legumes (beans and peas)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Whole unrefined grains

Who Needs It Most: Magnesium absorption can be impaired by certain gastrointestinal disorders such as Crohn's disease, vomiting or diarrhea.

4. Your Bones and Mood Need: Vitamin D

Why You Need It: Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption in the gut; without it, bones can become thin, brittle or misshapen. Paired with calcium, it also helps protect older adults from osteoporosis. This vitamin acts on areas of the brain that are linked to depression; research is ongoing and mixed on whether low levels cause depression or low levels develop as a result of depression.

Where to Eat It: Vitamin D is tough to get in food since it's present in very few foods in nature. A few sources include:

  • Flesh of fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel)
  • Fish liver oils
  • Beef liver
  • Cheese
  • Egg yolks
  • Mushrooms


Who Needs It Most: Vitamin D deficiency can occur when exposure to sunlight is limited or absorption from the digestive tract is inadequate. People who have milk allergies, are lactose intolerant or vegans can also suffer low vitamin D levels.

Exposure to sunlight is the most natural way to get vitamin D. But don’t get burned! You need just enough exposure for around half the time it takes for your skin to turn pink and begin to burn.

5. Your Immune System, Cells, Senses of Taste and Smell Need: Zinc

Why You Need It: Zinc is involved in many aspects of cellular metabolism and plays a role in immune function, wound healing and cell division. The body has no specialized storage system for zinc; maintaining a steady state requires a daily intake of zinc.

Where to Eat It:

  • Whole-grain breads
  • Cereals
  • Legumes
  • Oysters


Who Needs It Most: There is some evidence that suggests older adults might have marginal zinc intakes. The same is true for people in households with inadequate food supplies. Certain conditions like colitis, Crohn's disease, chronic diarrhea and diabetes can also impair zinc absorption.


Thank you, thank you, for reminding me I need to eat well. I keep trying and failing, but you keep pulling me back from the edge -- like a good mother. But it's hard!

Thanks for all this wisdom. I wish I had paid more attention back in science class. I have Lyme. Perhaps you could do a post on what women with Lyme should eat?

Sorry about your Lyme. That is an interesting topic for a post...I wonder if there is any helpful information out there. Definitely will check it out. And I hope you feel better soon!

I recently added a magnesium supplement since I have to avoid a lot of the foods it is due to kidney stones. These are great tips

I wonder if you've felt a difference from adding this supplement, Brette?

I live in Hawaii and I still test as having low vitamin D, so I supplement. The one I always forget is magnesium. I do have a magnesium spray; I just tend to forget to use it!

Surprising being in Hawaii that you are low in Vitamin D...do you not get as much sunshine as we all think you get? And I've not heard of magnesium in a spray.

Great article! It sounds like eating a healthy and varied diet has a lot of benefits. I never knew oysters were a good source of zinc.

Too bad I don't care for oysters...will have to find my zinc elsewhere, I suppose!

There's a movie coming up called Elysium where they put you into a full body scan and it immediately fixes problems. Cancer cells? Gone. Until then, we'll keep reading your wise advice.

What a cool movie - and device - that sounds like! If only...

Great post. Just wanted to mention that I am completely off soy and anything made with a soy powder/processed soy powder. All the soy-based products were making me feel not so good, but I didn't realize it until I quit them. Edamame, because it is natural, is something else, though I don't eat it much - only on rare occasion. Tofu is out, too. Unreal what can make you feel better once you know it doesn't agree with you!

The effort will get you there, Ruth. Happy to be of assistance.


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