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Supplements for Women: Iron, Potassium and Calcium

Posted Apr 03 2008 10:25am
Supplements like iron, potassium and calcium are often a necessity for women whose diet may be deficient in any one or more of these minerals. Although it is always best to consume a diet rich in all of the essential vitamins and minerals, this is often not possible.

Let's talk about natural sources of iron, potassium and calcium and some of the do's and dont's associated with consumption, followed by some recommendations regarding supplements.

First up is iron. Iron carries oxygen to the body, aids in immune function and cognitive development, metabolizes energy and regulates body temperature.

Iron is mostly conserved and used daily. Women have a more difficult time storing iron than men and menstruating women lose some iron each month.

Heme iron (in animal products) is better absorbed by the body than non-heme iron (in plant products). The best heme iron sources are red meat (beware the high saturated fat content), poultry and fish. Some non-heme iron sources include dates, artichokes, beans, spinach, broccoli and lima beans.

Here is an iron don't: do not eat iron-rich foods with caffeinated beverages (cola, coffee, tea), red wine, bran or calcium-rich foods because they all inhibit the absorption of iron. So, no beef chili with cheese on top folks.

What about potassium? Potassium helps reduce the risk of hypertension, is involved in sending nerve impulses and releasing energy from food.

Sources of potassium include baked potatoes with the skin, bananas, avocados, cooked artichokes, raisins, orange/prune/tomato juices, dried prunes, lima beans and acorn squash.

Here is a potassium don't: do not eat a potassium-rich meal with green or black tea as they partially inhibit the absorption. Also, if you take aspirin (low-dose ASA) for a heart condition, or you take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for arthritis, don't take these drugs with your potassium-rich meal either.

Now for calcium. Calcium is critical for the maintenance of healthy bones and teeth, especially important for post-menopausal women.

Dairy products are rich in calcium as are sardines or salmon (canned with the bones), fortified orange juice, almonds, broccoli, molasses and sesame seeds.

A calcium don't: don't expect a great calcium boost from foods containing both calcium and oxalic acid because when found together in the same food, they inhibit absorption. Spinach and rhubarb are examples. By all means eat these two great foods, just get your calcium from yogurt or milk or some similar food.

Here is a "do" for minerals in general: do consume them with vitamin C (foods like tomatoes, red peppers, oranges, etc.) as it aids absorption.

Now for some recommendations regarding taking iron, potassium or calcium supplements.

Do not take an iron supplement if you are post-menopausal as too much iron is not a good thing. Do take supplements for any of these minerals if you just don't eat much if any of the foods mentioned above. Also, many vegetarians do not absorb enough iron because they eat non-heme sources from plants. As mentioned previously, calcium is an important mineral for post-menopausal women who are at risk of osteoporosis.

Finally, a multi-vitamin is always a great idea, especially for women who are trying to lose weight and are limiting calories as a result.

I am off to a conference in Atlanta and I will be back on Monday. Until then, have a great weekend!

Sandy Huard, President, Women's Health Supply International
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