By Jenny Everett, SELF magazine
There's been a lot of buzz recently about Vitamin D deficiencies, and just the other day, a study found that B12 can lower Alzheimer's risk.
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This got us thinking: Exactly which vitamins are we not getting enough of, and is it possible to get adequate amounts through our diet? Or is the best option to pop a daily multivitamin? To find out, we spoke to diet and nutrition expert Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D., author of The Real You Diet.
According to Fernstrom, far and away the biggest deficiency among women is Vitamin D because it largely comes from the sun -- and we're all programmed to stay out of the sun and lather up with sunscreen to prevent early aging and skin cancer.
Vitamin D helps maintain normal levels of calcium and phosphorus and aids in the absorption of calcium to keep your bones strong, according to the Mayo Clinic. And recent research suggests it may protect you from osteoporosis, high blood pressure, cancer and autoimmune diseases.
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So, how can you get the recommended 400 units a day (or 800 units if you're over 45)?
"Assuming you'e not willing to eat something like 75 egg yolks a day, it's going to be very difficult to meet your daily requirement," says Fernstrom. You can get some vitamin D through fortified daily products such as milk and yogurt but, again, most women won't get enough of the goodness this way.
"For the average woman, unless you go outside for 20 minutes every day at noon without sunscreen, you should start taking a daily multivitamin."
In general, women under 45 years old should take a multivitamin with 400 units of Vitamin D, but have your doctor or gynecologist check your levels to make sure you don't require more. And don't even consider supplements that boast, say, 2,000 units. It's a waste of money because your body can't absorb that much at one time.
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Fernstrom says that unless you have diet restrictions (hello, vegetarians and vegans!), as long as you're eating fruits, veggies and whole grains, you're likely covered in the B12 department (and studies linking it to Alzheimer's are very preliminary, so no need to go crazy sucking up as much B12 as possible).
The more important ones to worry about: Calcium, iron and folic acid. While you can pretty easily get most of these through a balanced diet rich in leafy greens, broccoli, fruits, fortified milk and whole grains, Fernstrom does recommend taking 500 mg of calcium (which often contains vitamin D -- bonus! -- but isn't covered in a standard multivitamin).
"The bottom line is that people are busy and often cutting back on calories for weight control," she says. "The best insurance is to take a daily multivitamin to make sure your body is getting what it needs."
For more on Vitamin D, check out this new segment featuring SELF editor, Carin Gorrell.
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