Nutrients that work together

Posted by Santosh Kumar Menon on May 15, 2019 8:00:00 AM

Nutrition guidelines can make things look very cut and dry. They tell us to get this amount of that vitamin and that amount of this mineral. Separating out nutrients this way makes the guidelines relatively easy to understand. And this kind of thinking probably helps us avoid diseases of nutritional deficiency, such as scurvy (not enough vitamin C) or pellagra (not enough niacin).


But most nutrients don't fly solo. They interact — sometimes they join forces, other times they cancel each other out. You have probably heard before that eating vitamin-rich food is better for you than taking a vitamin supplement. One reason why this is true is that food contains a mixture of nutrients that interact with one another in each mouthful.

The following is a list of nutrients that work in pairs. It's just a sampler, and far from a complete catalog. But hopefully, it will help you when you're choosing what to eat.

Vitamin D and calcium

Like most nutrients, calcium is mostly absorbed in the small intestine. Calcium is important because it strengthens bones, but the body often needs vitamin D's assistance to absorb the nutrient. Vitamin D also has many other benefits throughout the body. The official nutrition guidelines recommend that adults get 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium and 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily. For older adults, the recommended daily allowance is a bit higher: 1,200 mg of calcium starting in your 50s, and 600 IU of vitamin D starting in your 70s.

Sodium and potassium

Excess sodium interferes with the natural ability of blood vessels to relax and expand, increasing blood pressure — and increasing the chances of having a stroke or heart attack. But potassium encourages the kidneys to excrete sodium. Many studies have shown a connection between high potassium intake and lower, healthier blood pressure. According to the current guidelines, adults are supposed to get 4,700 mg of potassium and 1,200 mg to 1,500 mg of sodium daily.

Vitamin B12 and folate

Vitamin B12 and folate (also one of the eight B vitamins) form one of nutrition's best couples. B12 helps the body absorb folate, and the two work together to support cell division and replication, which allow the body to replace cells that die. This process is important during times of growth in childhood, and throughout the body of adults as well. Cells that line the stomach and the cells of the hair follicle, for example, divide and replicate often. Nutrition guidelines recommend 2.4 mg of B12 and 400 mg of folate daily.

Zinc and copper

Copper and zinc don't work together — they actually compete for places to be absorbed in the small intestine. If there's a lot of zinc around, copper tends to lose out and a copper deficiency may develop.

Niacin and tryptophan

Niacin is one of the B vitamins, although it rarely goes by its B-vitamin moniker, B3. The daily niacin requirement is 16 mg for men and 14 mg for women. Niacin deficiency causes pellagra, a disease that causes a bad rash, diarrhea, and dementia. Tryptophan, an amino acid, is a source of niacin.

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Topics: Key to Wellness, Healthy Eating, Health, Food

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