Can’t I get these vitamins and minerals from the foods I eat?

A woman holds an apple but is staring at cake.
Image credit: iStockPhoto

RDA stands for “recommended dietary allowance,” and it’s a term coined in 1941 to explain the amounts of vitamins and minerals needed to avoid a severe deficiency. Really, that was the goal! The RDA does not help us understand how much of a vitamin or mineral you need to have excellent health, only sub-optimal health just over deficiency. Can your everyday diet meet even the minimum RDA of all these nutrients? Nutritional visionaries like Linus Pauling found that our bodies can handle high dosages of vitamins like vitamin C, and they can be therapeutic. If you can’t eat enough of the whole foods necessary to supply the nutrients your body needs, and not very many people can accomplish this, then take a readily absorbable multivitamin and a separate mineral supplement to fill the nutritional holes in your diet.

These days, everyone needs to take vitamin and mineral supplements. Remember, vitamins not only help with physical health, they also improve mental sharpness, as well. Take multi-vitamins instead of buying singles because vitamins and minerals are so often interdependent and synergistic. It may be dangerous and/or ineffective to supplement long-term with a single vitamin or mineral. For instance, if you are low in B-6, your body also needs all the other B vitamins, vitamin C, manganese, vitamin E, and potassium to effectively eliminate the deficiency.

As mentioned under “Selenium,” the nutrient levels in foods can only be as rich as the nutrient level in soil. Many farmlands are depleted of nutrients, resulting in fruits and vegetables that are also depleted. Nutrition is depleted from over-cooked foods, over-processed foods, and improper storage. And our modern-day best friend in the kitchen, the microwave oven, changes the molecules of the food cooked in it enough to decrease the nutritional value of the food.

Combine already-depleted foods with substances like alcohol and caffeine that leech vitamins and minerals from the body, and it’s finally easy to see why close to half the population suffers from a deficiency of at least one vital nutrient, even though the starvation rates in the West are very low. Alcoholic drinks, refined white flour and sugar, coffee, and the phosphate in soda26, all contribute to vitamin and mineral imbalances and deficiencies in the body.

Some people recommend “whole food supplements” in place of multi-vitamins. The reason for this is that nowhere in nature is there an isolated vitamin B or vitamin C. Whole foods always contain complexes of hundreds of phytonutrients that work synergistically, and modern science cannot synthesize that. So, a “whole food supplement” is actually a food that has been concentrated, and not extracted, to supplement format like a pill or liquid27.

If you’ve tried various forms of talk therapy to work through your issues and you’re making slow progress, wouldn’t it make sense to take a look at the foods you’re eating or not eating? The brain is so complex in its chemistry that nutritional deficiencies show up as either mental or physical imbalances, or both. Start including whole foods and reducing refined foods and keep a diary for a month to see if you really do feel changes.

26. Natural “The health effects of drinking soda - quotes from the experts”

27. Shurtleff, Russell W. “Using Whole-Food Supplements in Clinical Nutrition.” Dynamic Chiropractic – March 12, 2001, Vol. 19, Issue 06.

Ways to eat to keep depression at bay

Eat breakfast

The number one thing you can do to ensure stable moods during the day is to eat breakfast, and take it at most an hour after getting up. Eight to ten hours have gone by since you ate last. Imagine going for over five hours between daytime meals! You would feel lethargic, irritable, and you’d have low blood sugar. Those who skip breakfast often feel fine for the first few hours after getting up, but then energy supplies dwindle. In fact, you’re more likely to end up gaining weight after a long duration of skipping breakfast because your brain chemicals urge you to eat more carbohydrates later in the day than you would normally eat if you had only taken breakfast.

Eat a light, low fat and healthy breakfast that mixes carbohydrates with a little protein to set up your day for stable moods. Try mixing vanilla yogurt with some granola and berries, or have oatmeal with low fat milk and wheat germ. Another example is cottage cheese and fruit with sprouted bread or whole wheat toast. Vegans, try sprouted bread or essene bread with your favorite nut butter. If you’ve never made a habit to eat breakfast, it will take two weeks for your body to get used to it, so you’ll have to get creative in making yourself eat during this time. The rewards for doing this will be a more even temper and better ability to handle stress. A factor in being depressed is the feeling of not being able to handle the stress in your life, like you’re overwhelmed.

Cut your sugar and caffeine consumption

Both refined sugar and caffeine actually make you more fatigued and depressed. They also increase your food cravings. Give them up slowly, and you’ll find you have more energy and less struggles with bad moods. If you are a soda drinker, then limit yourself to only one soda per day. Eat sweets with your meals, not by themselves. That means you’ll have to look for a more healthy alternative pick-me-up than that midday candy bar. Try a bagel and cream cheese instead.

The goal with sugar consumption is to make sure refined sugar doesn’t account for more than ten percent of your daily calories. If you eat 2000 calories a day, your allotment of sugar is 10 teaspoons.

It’s not that you become depressed because you eat sweets, it’s that the phosphorous in the soda and the empty calories in the excess sweets actually inhibit your body from absorbing the minerals and vitamins you actually do eat. There is a little more to it than that, regarding blood sugar levels and other brain hormone triggers, but suffice it to say, your brain doesn’t have a chance to prove what it can do if it is constantly undernourished!

So, even though the sweets may not have caused you to be depressed, clinical doctors notice that depression often disappears when sugar and caffeine are eliminated from the diet29. Testimonials about improvements in mood when refined sugar and caffeine are removed from the diet abound. Just check some online discussion forums on ADD and ADHD! Talking about ADD, did you know that children 1 to 6 years old should only be drinking 4 to 6 oz. of fruit juice per day, because fruit juice is often loaded with extra sugar?30


29. Somer, Elizabeth, Food and Mood: The Complete Guide to Eating Well and Feeling Your Best (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1999) pg. 153.


Increase water consumption

Now that you’re not drinking as much soda, you still have to quench your thirst. Drink purified water. A low-grade headache often means you’re dehydrated.

Your cells need water to be able to function properly. You’ve heard it all before. Think of clever ways to get yourself to remember to drink water during the day. You may like to buy a water filter that sits in your fridge, so when you open it, you can see cold water there. You may like to buy water in small bottles and stash them in different places so water is always convenient. If you really can’t stand water, then buy sparkling water and put a little bit of fruit juice in it.

Eat steadily throughout the day

Nutritionists recommend that to keep your blood sugar from waning too low, thus causing you to crave quick sugary snacks, eat several small meals throughout the day. Combine carbs and protein to stabilize your energy and moods. Again, get creative in order to break bad habits like grazing on sugary bars or hitting up the vending machine. Keep sunflower seeds and/or trail mix in your office desk. Stash cans of fruit in places where you normally want to eat *something else!* Put pre-washed baby carrots in the fridge…the list goes on and on. For detailed healthy eating recipes, try the link in the reference below31.

31. The World’s Healthiest Foods. “100 Quick and Easy Recipes.”