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It was 100 years ago, in 1912, when Polish-American scientist Casimir Funk identified the first vitamin. Now, on the 100th anniversary of the discovery of vitamins, men and women still do not get recommended daily intake levels of vitamins. According to a paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, only 1 percent of the population meets minimum standards of a balanced diet.
Age matters when it comes to vitamins. All vitamins are essential – meaning our bodies can’t make them, so they must be obtained from the diet. Throughout life, we all need the right mix of the 13 essential vitamins, but some are more important than others when it comes to different life stages.
“With a century of vitamin knowledge upon us, it’s a good reminder to stay up to date on the latest vitamin recommendations,” says Elizabeth Somer, registered dietitian and author of “Eat Your Way to Sexy” (Harlequin, 2012). “New vitamin research findings are continuously being uncovered around the needs of men and women during unique times in their lives.”
A quick stroll through life’s stages reveals:
20s: Folic acid is important for women in their 20s – a prime childbearing age – because this B vitamin is essential in preventing birth defects like spina bifida in infants. Women need at least 400mcg per day, but often don’t get enough. By the time a pregnancy test comes back positive and women ponder taking a supplement, it could be too late.
30s: Antioxidant vitamins, including C and E are important for men and women in their 30s because these vitamins help protect against the development of cataracts and macular degeneration. Adults with high levels of these antioxidants are at a low risk of vision loss later in life.
40s and beyond: Vitamins D and B12 are important in the 40s and well after. As we get older, we are less efficient at making vitamin D and we may be susceptible to drops in the levels of vitamin absorption. Vitamin B12 deficiencies are typically due to insufficient diet and absorption challenges.
Somer shares tips to help you get more of the essentials into your daily diet.
Tip 1: Survey what you’re eating. Use a food journal to see what you need to add or remove from your diet. Make a weekly food schedule to help you meet nutritional requirements. Gain an understanding of the vitamins found in different foods – one helpful resource is the 100 Years of Vitamins website.
Tip 2: Up your fruit and vegetable intake to help add one or two extra servings of these vitamin-packed foods. Have a cup of frozen blueberries; it will give you about 25 percent of your vitamin C requirement. Eat about a half cup of baby carrots and get 120 percent of your Vitamin A requirement. Try dipping the carrots in low-fat vegetable dip or salsa for added flavor.
Tip 3: Add one or two enriched or fortified foods to your daily diet, like whole grain cereal or oatmeal fortified with vitamin D, soy milk and other soy products fortified with B12, or whole wheat tortillas – like Mission Life Balance – fortified with vitamin A.
Tip 4: Eat “real” unprocessed foods at least 75 percent of the time. You may want to add a multi-vitamin supplement to your diet to help fill in the gaps on days when you don’t eat perfectly.