3 Essential Nutrients We All Need (But Most Of Us Don't Get Enough Of)

At SmartyPants, we've made it our mission to be in-the-know, to sift through all the latest nutrition research to make it easier for people to be healthy. And we've found that amid the hype of all the new wellness trends, it can be easy to overlook some of the most essential nutrients that our bodies really need.

That's why we're taking the time to point a spotlight on some of our favorite (and potentially most overlooked) nutrients. Here are three superstar nutrients that we're learning new and amazing things about everyday--nutrients that are on rise and deserve our undivided attention...

1. B12, methylcobalamin

As we mentioned in a previous post on MindBodyGreen, vitamin B12, like other B vitamins, is important for your metabolism. It's a facilitator of macronutrient processing and helps in the formation of red blood cells and in the maintenance of the central nervous system. In it's natural form, B12 is called cobalamin and only found in animal products, which is why the synthetic form of B12 is preferable to anyone limiting their meat intake.

There are two types of lab-created vitamin B12: (1) cyanocobalamin and (2) methylcobalamin. Cyanocobalamin is a man-made form of vitamin B12. As its name implies, it contains a minute dose of cyanide, a toxin your body must work to remove, and is the most common and least expensive form of B12.

But B12 methylcobalamin is an important nutrient that deserves more attention. As the name implies, it's part of the methyl group and is nontoxic and more bioavailable. It's also been shown to be potentially better absorbed in your tissues, which is more beneficial for your liver, brain, and nervous system.

2. EPA, omega 3

There are many kinds of omega 3 essential fatty acids that can be derived from food sources and supplements such as fish oil and flax oil, but the most important of them are EPA, DHA and ALA. They're essential and cannot be produced by the body so we must get them from our diets.

In wellness, we hear a lot about DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in omega 3's, but the truth is, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), is just as important and deserves more attention because, unfortunately, EPA isn't present in a lot of omega 3 supplements.

EPA's are excellent for your heart. They help in maintaining healthy triglycerides levels, blood vessel function and they support a healthy heart rhythm.*

Additionally, EPA and DHA are the dynamic duo of bio-available omega-3s that may have increased benefits when consumed together. These benefits include:

  • Slowing the progression of age-related memory loss*
  • Supporting memory and learning ability including focus and attention*
  • Support healthy brain function and promote a positive mood and well-being*
  • Promoting a healthy immune response*
  • Promoting back health and join mobility and flexibility*
  • Promoting the healthy development of the fetal brain, eyes and nervous system*
  • Supporting healthy birth weight and gestational length*
  • Supporting optimal fat metabolism and body composition*

High quality fish oil supplements often have both naturally occurring EPA and DHA in the formula (while vegetarian forms contain ALA, only approximately 3% of which is converted into EPA/DHA), which means there is no need to purchase separate DHA and EPA supplements to fully obtain the wide-spectrum benefits of omega 3 fatty acids.

It's important that EPA to DHA are present in a specific 3:2 ratio, so read the labels. Labels that don't contain the breakout likely fail to do so because they don't test every batch of fish oil (reason enough to leave it on the shelf).

Also because we want to get complete fatty acids but don't want to increase the impact on our environment, make sure the fish oil sources are considered eco-friendly small fish (like sardines) or a vegetarian source (like algae).

3. Fiber

Of course, we all know fiber is important and yet, most of us simply do not get enough of it. That's why we're calling it a superstar nutrient that deserves more attention.

The recommended adequate fiber intake for adults is 25 to 38 grams per day (as part of the guidelines from the American Heart Association, the Institute of Medicine and other groups). Experts recommend that men get up to 38 grams of fiber per day, women 25 grams. This is a lot of fiber, the equivalent of eating up to eight large apples, seven oat bran muffins, or almost three cups of lentils every day!

In fact, recent studies have shown that fiber intake in the U.S. has generally "not progressed toward national goals" at all during the past decade. (Our national mean dietary fiber intake in 2008 was only 15.9 grams/day, about half the target range.)

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the body can’t digest. It cannot be broken down into sugar molecules, and instead it passes through the body undigested. Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol and rich in fruits, vegetables, and grain products that contain some types of dietary fiber, particularly soluble fiber, may reduce the risk of heart disease, a disease associated with many factors.

Fiber, unfortunately, can get a bad rap for it’s effect on bowel movements, and so people avoid it. This belief is, sadly, mistaken. While insoluble fiber is rightly called “nature’s laxative,” soluble fiber has a much less dramatic affect on bowel movements. If insoluble fiber works as a bowel mover, then soluble fiber functions as a bowel “healer,” loosening the stool for those constipated, and hardening the stool for those suffering from diarrhea. In other words, soluble fiber returns you to a healthy normal.

We believe many Americans are misunderstood when it comes to fiber, and because people have a hard time finding proper sources of it, we suffer from issues that can be helped by fiber – issues like constipation and chronic diseases like diverticulitis.

Experts recommend increasing fiber intake gradually rather than suddenly, and because fiber absorbs water, you should also increase your water intake when you consume more fiber.

* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. SmartyPants’ products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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