Features October 2019 Issue

Get Nutrients from Food

Dietitians recommend getting nutrients from food rather than supplements as much as possible.

To keep bones and joints as strong and healthy as possible, we know that our bodies need certain nutrients. Why not get them by taking supplements? Or, cover all the nutrient bases by taking a daily multivitamin?

It's not that simple. Even though vitamins, minerals and other nutrients can be isolated and put in pills, supplements should not be used as substitutes for food.

Whole foods contain multiple nutrients that work together synergistically with your body. "I tell my patients to get their nutrients from food, meaning lots of vegetables and fruits in a variety of colors, healthy protein, whole grains, legumes, healthy fats and low-fat dairy or dairy equivalents," says Cleveland Clinic dietitian Mira Ilic, RD, LD.

Bone Health

For optimal bone health, we need a combination of multiple nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D, vitamin K and magnesium. Recommended calcium intake is 1,000 mg a day for men up to age 70 and women up to age 50, and 1,200 mg a day for women over age 50 and men over age 70. "If you can't get that much from food, try to get at least half," says Ilic.

"When you get calcium from food, you get other nutrients as well," she says. Milk and other dairy products have calcium, protein, magnesium, potassium, vitamin A, B vitamins and other nutrients. There are nondairy sources of calcium as well, which also contain other important nutrients.

If you don't get all your calcium from food, take a supplement to make up the rest. Ilic suggests calcium citrate, which can be taken without food and is well absorbed. Keep in mind that your body doesn't absorb more than 500 mg of calcium per couple hours, so space out your consumption (whether from food or supplements) throughout the day.

You may not get the recommended amount of vitamin D from food, but you can get it from exposure to the sun. Food sources include fortified dairy products and cold-water fish (such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines). You need a supplement only if you are deficient, which you can determine by getting a blood test.

Vitamin K is plentiful in leafy green vegetables. Magnesium is in lentils, chickpeas, whole grains and nuts.

Joint Health


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When it comes to easing painful joints, it's best to eat a variety of foods with possible anti-inflammatory properties. These include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and foods with omega-3 fatty acids.

Cold-water fish is a great source of omega-3s fatty acids. You can take a fish oil supplement. But it's better to eat fish, which also contains protein, vitamin D and other nutrients. Protein helps build muscle. You need strong muscles for healthy bones and to support joints. If you eat sardines with bones, you get the extra advantage of a good dose of calcium.


"If you eat a balanced, healthy diet, you should be able to get all your nutrients from food," says Ilic. There are certain groups of people who may not get enough of certain nutrients, and taking supplements is appropriate. These include people with absorption problems, pregnant women, older adults and people with a poor diet.

If you take a supplement, talk to your doctor first to make sure you are taking one that you need and that won't adversely interact with any medications you take.

Sources of Calcium

You can get calcium, along with other important nutrients, in these foods:

Food and serving size


Plain, low-fat yogurt (8 oz)

415 mg

Sardines with bones (3 oz)

325 mg

Cheddar cheese (1.5 oz)

307 mg

Reduced fat milk (8 oz)

293 mg

Collard greens (1 cup)

266 mg

Tofu, firm (1/2 cup)

253 mg

White beans, canned (1 cup)

191 mg

Turnip greens (1 cup)

198 mg

Kale (1 cup)

94 mg

Bok choy (1 cup)

74 mg

Almonds (1/4 cup)

72 mg

Broccoli (1/2 cup)

21 mg

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