Men who give a damn about their diet have a general idea of which foods give them the nutrients they need for good health. But even those guys aren’t always sure which vitamins and minerals they’re actually getting and what in the world they do.
When it comes to nutrition, there are levels. Most folks are concerned with calories — they know too many can give them a spare tire. Guys who work out regularly may concern themselves with macronutrients — fats, proteins, and carbohydrates — as they’re interested how these components help them put on muscle, stay satiated, and provide enough energy to get through the day. But who is showing love to micronutrients?
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. They’re called micronutrients because you only need a minute amount of each. But you definitely need them. Failure to get enough of each of these important vitamins and minerals can lead to disastrous health outcomes. And while they’re all important in one way or another, we’ve selected a handful that you may want to pay particular attention to.
The sunshine vitamin is generally known for its bone strength benefits, and really, this is where most of the research has been done on this important micronutrient. But emerging research has tied vitamin D to cancer and diabetes prevention, immune health, heart health, and even depression — all important for men’s health. Further, for the guys, there is some evidence that vitamin D can help increase testosterone levels.
You could be at risk of deficiency if you don’t get any sunlight or if you have darker skin — UVB rays are converted to usable vitamin D beginning in the skin. Staying out of the sun doesn’t give you an opportunity to soak in these rays, and melanin can also reduce the amount of UVB rays your skin absorbs.
Getting enough. Dietary sources of vitamin D are few, but mostly include fatty fish like salmon and sardines. Vitamin D “fortified” foods like dairy products and cereals also carry the vitamin. Getting out in the sun a few times a week for 5 to 30 minutes can also ensure you’re getting enough.
When all else fails, supplementation with a vitamin D2 or D3 supplement can help. Men should get 600 IU or 15 mcg of the vitamin each day.
Iron helps carry oxygen in the blood. Sounds important, right? It is. Very. Most of the iron in your body is found in hemoglobin in your blood, where it takes oxygen from the lungs and distributes it throughout your body. There is also iron present in muscle cells, called myoglobin. This iron stores and transports oxygen, too. Not enough iron = not enough oxygen.
Perhaps not surprisingly, a lack of iron in your body leads to symptoms like dizziness, fatigue, headache and pale skin. Iron deficiency or insufficiency is less common in men than women, but it can still happen. Men with cancer, frequent blood donors, those with heart problems, rheumatoid arthritis, or recent surgeries or conditions that could lead to internal bleeding are all at a greater risk.
Getting enough. Fortunately, iron rich foods are pretty easy to come by. Iron fortified cereals, legumes and beans, oysters, dark chocolate, beef liver, spinach and other dark green vegetables, tomatoes, nuts, and potatoes are all good sources. Iron is also available in supplements and is generally included in multivitamins.
Men should aim to get 8 mg of iron each day.
The primary function of iodine is in regulating hormones. It is a primary component in thyroid hormones, which are responsible for a wide range of functions in your body — the biggest of which is controlling your metabolism. However, iodine may also play a role in immune health.
When you don’t have enough iodine, you can develop hypothyroidism or a goiter. (Goiter is enlargement of the thyroid gland. It’s not only ugly, it can cause nerve damage and obstruct your airway.) And when a lack of iodine affects your thyroid hormones, it can wreak havoc on your weight.
Getting enough. Most people get plenty of iodine through food sources. It’s found in seafoods (including sea plants, like seaweed), milk and yogurt, and enriched bread products. It’s also found in iodized table salt.
Adult men should aim to get 150 mcg of iodine each day — one cup of yogurt or 0.25 teaspoons of table salt should get you halfway there.
Magnesium is imperative in enzyme regulation and functions within the body. It plays a role in blood pressure, glucose control, nerve function, muscle function, energy production, DNA and RNA synthesis, muscle contractions, and heart rhythm.
Magnesium levels are difficult to measure because most of the magnesium in your body is within your muscles and bones. And while deficiencies are rare, the consequences are serious. Magnesium deficiency can lead to a host of heart problems including stroke, high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, heart attacks, and sudden death. It can also cause muscle cramps, seizures, nausea, vomiting and weakness. Those most at risk for deficiency are people with absorption diseases like Crohn’s, type 2 diabetes, alcoholism, and elderly people.
Getting enough. There are numerous food sources of magnesium including almonds and cashews, spinach, soy products, peanuts, peanut butter, avocado, brown rice, potatoes, yogurt, and more.
Men should try to get 400 mg to 420 mgs daily,
Few people are deficient in vitamin B12, as your body can store several years’ worth. But, vegetarians and vegans are at risk, hence it’s inclusion in our line-up.
Vitamin B12 is used in the formation of red blood cells, DNA, and nerves. Deficiency can lead to fatigue, weakness, constipation, weight loss, loss of appetite, neurological changes, dementia and memory problems, depression, confusion, and difficulty with balance.
Getting enough. Men who eat plant-based diets are most at risk of deficiency because the best food sources of vitamin B12 are animal based, such as clams, liver, trout, salmon, tuna, sirloin, milk, yogurt, cheese, and the like. Some cereals are fortified with vitamin B12. Supplements are one possibility, but the body only absorbs about 10 mcg of a 500 mcg vitamin B12 supplement, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Overall, men should get 2.4 mcg of B12 on a daily basis.
When it comes to trace minerals, this is a biggie. Zinc is important down to the cellular level, where it plays a role in cell growth, division, and DNA synthesis. In young people, one of its primary roles is in growth in development. But in men of all ages, it aids in immune health and wound healing. At least one study has linked this mineral to testosterone regulation as well.
Deficiency is most common in developing countries where the diet is rich in grains and lacking in animal protein. Signs of zinc deficiency include infections, hair loss, problems with senses of smell and taste, skin sores, and poor wound healing.
Getting enough. The best sources of zinc are animal sources. That’s because the zinc in plants isn’t easy for your body to use. Beef, pork, and oysters have some of the richest concentrations of zinc. Cashews, fortified cereals, chickpeas, and almonds are also good sources.
Men should aim for 11 mg of zinc every day.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant, fighting free radicals that seek to damage the cells of your body. It also aids in the formation of muscle, cartilage, blood vessels, and collagen. It aids in healing, immune function, and cancer prevention.
Vitamin C deficiency, which leads to something called scurvy, starts with fatigue and gum inflammation, but can lead to joint pain, poor wound healing, depression, loosening of teeth, and iron deficiency. Those most at risk for deficiency include smokers or people who inhale a lot of second hand smoke, people with some malabsorption diseases like Crohn’s, and those who don’t have a varied diet.
Getting enough. If you eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, you’re likely getting enough vitamin C. Plants are the best source of this vitamin. One-half cup of red bell peppers has 158% of your daily vitamin C, according to the National Institutes of Health. One medium orange has 117%.
Non-smoking men should get 90 mg of vitamin C daily. Those who smoke should get an additional 35 mg.