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Supplements Smarts: Chromium


Chromium is a mineral that we all in need in very small amounts (referred to as a trace mineral). Chromium is a bit of a mysterious mineral in that we don't know exactly how it works in our bodies and we haven't established the amount our bodies need to be the healthiest. Research has found that chromium plays several important roles in our bodies. Chromium helps insulin (a hormone that plays an essential role in nutrient metabolism and storage in the body) work better and, therefore, helps keep blood glucose levels steady. It's also an integral part of the breakdown of the macronutrients--protein, carbohydrate and fat.

Which Foods Give Me Chromium?

Chromium is actually found in a wide variety of foods, but there aren't a lot of foods that provide a large amount of it. Certain foods provide a decent amount of chromium, including broccoli (11 mcg per ½ cup), grape juice (8 mcg per 1 cup), whole-wheat English muffins (4 mcg each), mashed potatoes (3 mcg per 1 cup), dried garlic (3 mcg per 1 tsp), dried basil (2 mcg per 1 Tbsp), beef (2 mcg per 3 ounces), orange juice (2 mcg per 1 cup), turkey breast (2 mcg per 3 ounces), whole-wheat bread (2 mcg per 2 slices), red wine (a wide range of 1-13 mcg per 5 ounces), apples and bananas (1 mcg per 1 medium) and green beans (1 mcg per ½ cup).

What's important to note about the amounts above is that these shouldn't be treated as exact quantities because the amount of chromium in foods can vary quite significantly based on different processes that occur during manufacturing and agricultural practices.

How Much Chromium Do I Need?

The Adequate Intake (AI) level that the National Academy of Sciences set ranges based on age and sex. For people ages 14 to 18 years, the AI for males is 35 mcg/day and the AI for females is 24 mcg/day. For people ages 19 to 50 years, the AI for males is 35 mcg/day and the AI for females is 25 mcg/day. For people over the age 50 years, the AI for males is 30 mcg/day and the AI for females is 20 mcg/day. Pregnant and lactating women need more chromium during these stages. The AI for pregnant females ages 14 to 18 years is 29 mcg/day, 44 mcg/day during lactation. The AI for pregnant females ages 19 to 50 years is 30 mcg/day, 45 mcg/day during lactation.

Can I Get Too Much Chromium?

The Institute of Medicine (which establishes safe maximum amounts of nutrients) hasn't determined a Tolerable Upper Level Intake for chromium because there isn't evidence showing serious negative reactions from ingesting large amounts of chromium.

What About Chromium Supplements?

Chromium is commonly taken as a supplement and it's often advertised as being able to assist with weight loss or to enhance physical or athletic performance. The amount of chromium in most supplements (whether it's sold as an individual supplement or combined with other supplements as a combo) usually ranges from 50-200 mcg. There are several different forms of chromium that are sold as supplements, but there isn't enough data yet to know which form is the best one.

More research needs to be done to evaluate whether chromium supplements are effective. As with any dietary supplement, always discuss this with your physician.

Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children. If you would be interested in working with Kari one-on-one, sign-up for FitDay Dietitian.

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