Vitamins are Essential, Part 1
Updated: Jun 16
"Health is like money, we never know it's true value until we lose it" - Josh Billings
Now that we are fully into the swing of things of summer routines, this means we are hopefully spending more time soaking up the sun and getting out of the house… at least as much as possible in the midst of a pandemic. Regardless, what also comes with summertime is a general switch to our diet. Most people would argue that you can’t have a proper summer without making meals out of some of our poolside favorites, for example the classics of pizza and ice cream. Even if these specific foods aren’t your go-to for summer meals, there still tends to be a general shift away from sit down meals and towards carb-heavy/snack-filled meals. This is totally normal and part of what should happen during summer. But what also comes with summer, is the pressure and insecurities surrounding the need for a bikini perfect body – goodbye baggy jeans and hello tiny swimsuits.
There is no doubt it is hard to constantly feel body image pressure, and as a result, many people resort back to old habits of counting calories or restricting food. Here’s the catch – we all want to make room in our diets for the pizza, ice cream, and other summertime favorites, but if we are also counting calories, then our diet ends there. It’s easy to think that you can dedicate all of your calories to the desserts and junk food and be fine. So that’s why Smart Girls Gotta Eat is here – to remind us all what is happening to our bodies on the inside (aka the most important side). For the next few articles this summer, I will focus on some of the most important vitamins/minerals for our bodies, where to find them in foods, and why we can’t go without them.
We all need the simple reminder to take a step back and shift our focus away from the outside and towards the inside. Hopefully by spending the summer dedicated to what happens when we don’t get the vitamins we need, you will be able to do so too.
The first vitamin that we are going to talk about is one of the most important vitamins that our body cannot produce naturally – B-12. Everyone seems to understand that Vitamin C comes from oranges and Vitamin D comes from the sun, so why is the general consensus that we know very little about Vitamin B? Our body uses vitamin B in general to regulate our brain health, metabolism and energy levels – all systems that we definitely don’t want to neglect. And while there are tons of subtypes of vitamin B, today will be dedicated to discussing an important and common form, B-12.
When it comes to maintaining healthy levels of our nerve and blood cells, playing a role in DNA production (the genetic material encoded in all of our cells), and influencing our GI system, B-12 is a key player. On a day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute basis, our bodies need at the very least our red blood cells and other vital organs to be functioning properly. And in order to do so, our bodies need adequate levels of B-12 in our systems. As some of you may remember from biology classes, red blood cells are in charge of carrying the oxygen that keeps our body running properly. So without their proper maintenance or proper levels of red blood cells, we feel fatigued and weak, unable to function as normal. Coupled with this, other symptoms of red blood cell weakness caused by B-12 deficiencies include paler skin than normal, breathlessness, dizziness, or blurred vision.
But as I mentioned earlier, B-12 doesn’t stop at just influencing red blood cell health – people who have deficiencies also can experience symptoms related to GI health and nerve damages. If you regularly experience constipation, you may consider increasing B-12 in your diet. And for older people, this can be especially important as deficiencies in this vitamin may increase the risk for falls, as well as influence numbness and tingling in the limbs. Even more, in order to digest B-12 we need a certain level of stomach acidity that many older people aren’t able to reach, due to the weakening of the stomach lining over time. In this case, you may want to increase B-12 in your diets even more as you age, since the percentage of absorption decreases over time.
Now that we have covered just how important B-12 is for our everyday health, let’s talk about where we can get it. In fact, the reason smart girls gotta eat is because this is a vitamin that our body does not naturally produce; the only ways we can get B-12 is through our diets and supplements!
In general, you can find B-12 in most to all animal and dairy products. So if you are a vegetarian or vegan, or even thinking about cutting out animal products, you might want to rethink your diet to ensure you aren’t missing out on these and other crucial vitamins. After analyzing your diet and if you realize you aren’t getting the levels you need, you can also take a supplement for B-12 in the mornings. Whatever you do, just make sure you aren’t going without B-12 in one form or another!
Foods known with the greatest amounts of B-12 levels are meats, fish, dairy products, and eggs. Specifically, some of the most B-12 dense foods you can eat are liver, clams, sardines, salmon, beef, tuna, trout, milk-based dairy products, and eggs. There are also fortified cereals that include high levels of B-12, as well as non-dairy milks that may be beneficial as well. If you are looking to get your regular intake of B-12 or other vitamins/minerals through cereals, the best thing to do is look at the nutrition label of whatever product you are interested in and look at the bottom where it lists the percent DV, or Daily Value, of each vitamin. In an ideal world, everything would be over 100%, meaning you are getting all of the needed nutrient from that fortified food, but often times it is not so always look out for this.
And finally, I can't write this article without mentioning that unless you are a vegetarian or vegan, it should be relatively easy to get your daily dosage B-12 if you eat regular sit-down meals. This is because generally speaking, our prepared meals tend to include the classic protein, carbohydrate and vegetable servings. But with the combination of quarantine and summertime days at the pool, etc, a lot of people are shifting towards snacking or grazing in place of prepared meals. This is fine in the short-term, but if we fail to regularly eat substantial meals over too long of periods of time, then we may come short on the dense nutrition we need. Diets filled with sugars and empty carbohydrates certainly are fun to eat, but don't forget to also make the calories count! And whatever you do, don't let social media trick you into thinking that restriction is the best way towards a bikini body. If you have learned anything at all through this website, hopefully it is that we are at our best when we put real, good food in our bodies!