While it's important to get the recommended amounts of macronutrients, such as protein, carbs and fats, it's easy to forget about trace minerals like chromium. Yet, chromium-rich foods play a key role in your overall health.
Turkey, grape juice, whole grains and wheat germ are among the top sources of chromium. Some foods, such as mashed potatoes, green beans, apples, bananas, basil, garlic and lean beef, provide about 4 to 10 percent of the chromium needed each day.
Understanding Chromium Benefits
Your body needs chromium to break down food efficiently, notes the Mayo Clinic. This nutrient helps process sugar and break down fat and protein. While not everything about the relationship between chromium deficiency and overall health has been discovered, a lack of this mineral could lead to stunted growth and problems with your nerves, blood sugar levels and overall health.
Researchers are still working to understand the role chromium plays in diabetes, high cholesterol and weight gain. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) points out that although chromium supplement brands are sometimes marketed as a cure or preventive measure, the research is inconclusive.
Is your sweet tooth currently getting the better of your good intentions? If your diet is about one-third simple sugars, which are mostly present in sweet foods and simple starches, it can lead to chromium deficiency, warns the NIH. A high-sugar diet may also cause this nutrient to be flushed from your system when you urinate.
But for most people following a reasonably healthy diet, chromium deficiency is uncommon. In fact, most of the foods you normally eat will likely provide adequate doses of this nutrient.
How Much Is Enough?
After 2020, it will be easier to pinpoint rich sources of chromium food, according to the NIH. It's not the food that's changing, but the amount now understood to provide adequate chromium. The recommended doses for this mineral will change from a daily recommended amount of 120 micrograms to between 20 to 35 micrograms, depending on your age and gender.
However, you may need to double-check current nutrition charts like that provided by the NIH rather than packaging labels, which rarely list trace minerals.
Specifically, men between the ages of 14 to 50 are advised to take in 35 micrograms of chromium and about 30 micrograms after that age. Women between the ages of 14 and 50 need about 25 micrograms a day and around 20 micrograms in later years. During pregnancy and lactation, they might need as much as 40 micrograms each day.
Children need chromium too. But the number rises gradually, from about 5 micrograms for infants to about 21 to 25 for preteens.
So how many micrograms does it take for a food to qualify as "high" in chromium? The NIH notes that if a food contributes about 20 percent of the daily value (DV) for any nutrient, it is considered rich in that nutrient. That means that for the average adult, foods with 5 to 7 micrograms of chromium are significant sources of this mineral, but even those containing 2 or 3 micrograms are good enough.
Bet on Broccoli
Broccoli, already prized for its overall nutrition content, is a good source of chromium, according to the NIH. A half-cup serving of broccoli provides 11 micrograms of this mineral. That means you'll get about one-third of the DV for chromium per serving under the new guidelines, for a serving that has only 15 calories.
This cruciferous veggie is also packed with other nutrients. It's rich in fiber as well as vitamins A, C, B9 (folate) and K. Along with chromium, potassium is one of the key minerals that broccoli contributes to your diet.
Harvard Medical School points out that broccoli is a versatile veggie. The fastest way to get this chromium-rich food into your diet is to serve the florets raw, perhaps with hummus, a yogurt-based dip or another healthy spread. Or pair broccoli and cauliflower florets to make a fresh, crunchy alternative to a green salad. The tender parts of its stalks can also be chopped finely or shredded into coleslaw.
When cooked, broccoli can be prepared simply as a steamed side dish. Or add the green florets to stir-fries and casseroles. They also puree well for creamy soups.
The Power of the Vine
Grape juice and red wine are both included in the NIH's list of good sources of chromium. But unlike low-calorie broccoli, grape juice is best when enjoyed in moderation. Otherwise, the sugar content can wreak havoc on your weight and blood sugar levels. Because of its alcohol content, moderation is even more important when it comes to red wine.
Although grape juice does contain more calories and sugar than fresh grapes do, it also provides a concentrated source of chromium — about 8 micrograms per each one-cup serving. Red wine, while also on the high side for calories at about 125 per 5-ounce glass, offers up to 13 micrograms of this nutrient, depending on the variety.
Aside from delivering chromium, grape juice and red wine are rich in antioxidants like flavonoids and resveratrol. These are valuable in fighting bad cholesterol and high blood pressure. While you don't want to get too many of your calories from grape juice and red wine, a daily glass may be right for you when it comes to boosting chromium.
One grape juice alternative to consider is orange juice. It provides about 2 micrograms per glass, notes the NIH.
Orange juice is still higher in calories than the equivalent amount of oranges. But you can save about 35 calories by choosing unsweetened orange juice over unsweetened grape juice, depending on the brand. And if you're looking for extra calcium and vitamin D, orange juice is often fortified with these nutrients.
Don’t Forget Whole Grains
While simple starches may a no-no when it comes to retaining chromium — both because they lack this mineral and because sugary foods may affect chromium retention — meals that include complex carbs are ideal for getting more chromium into your diet.
Also noted on the NIH list, a whole-wheat English muffin delivers about 4 micrograms of chromium, while two slices of whole wheat bread provide 2 micrograms. A waffle made with whole grains has more than 6.5 micrograms chromium on average, according to the Linus Pauling Institute.
Whole grain bread and waffles deliver nutrients other than chromium because they haven't had the bran and kernel of the germ removed. In contrast, processed foods like white bread only contain the less nutritious endosperm.
The bran, which is the outer layer of the grain, contains minerals like magnesium and iron along with B vitamins and fiber. The germ provides B vitamins as well as vitamin E and some healthy fats. Plus, whole grains are both nutrient-dense and somewhat chewier than softer, "white" foods, and they leave you feeling full more quickly.
Enjoy waffles or English muffins with peanut butter or low-fat cream cheese at breakfast to balance the complex carbs with some protein. For lunch or dinner, use toasted English muffins and or wheat bread for sandwiches, perhaps with chromium-rich sliced turkey.
Take on Turkey
Turkey is a good source of chromium, but not all turkey products are created equally. While everyone benefits from a diet with moderate salt intake, people with high blood pressure should weigh the dangers of high sodium against the benefit of the chromium content.
Processed turkey ham is high on the list of chromium foods supplied by the Linus Pauling Institute. But while that may seem like an easy way to boost chromium intake, given that a 3-ounce serving of lunch meat contains about 10 micrograms of chromium.
The downside is that processed meat manufacturers add extra nitrates and salt to preserve it, points out the American Heart Association. The resulting sodium content makes it unsuitable for a healthy diet.
Nitrate-free turkey breast provides less chromium per serving — about 2 micrograms for a 3-ounce serving. But because it also lacks the unhealthy qualities of turkey ham and other processed meats, you can have it more often during the week.
In fact, turkey breast is versatile enough to eat more than once a day. Serve it thinly sliced in a sandwich at lunch. Using whole wheat bread will also boost the meal's chromium content. Or toss cold, cooked chunks into a midday salad.
At dinnertime, cooked turkey breast can serve as your primary protein. For extra chromium and other nutrients, pair it with a whole-grain roll and a steamed vegetable, such as broccoli or green beans.
Turkey can even fit into breakfast meals. Add cubed turkey to scrambled eggs or an omelet. The American Heart Association also suggests nitrate-free turkey "bacon" as a healthy protein.
Sprinkle on Extra Chromium
While taking chromium capsules is one way to add more of the mineral to your diet, there are other ways to increase your daily intake. The Mayo Clinic notes that healthy ingredients like brewer's yeast and wheat germ boast high chromium levels and can be added directly to foods.
Brewer's yeast shouldn't be confused with the kind of yeast that makes bread rise. A byproduct of beer making, this functional food can add nutrients and flavor to a wide range of dishes. Because chromium is added to only some yeast in the beer-making process, it's important to read the label to confirm that your brewer's yeast brand contains this mineral.
Wheat germ is a versatile ingredient that's high in several nutrients, including chromium. When separated from the rest of the grain during processing for flour and other foods, the germ of the wheat plant can then be preserved and used as a food supplement and flavoring ingredient.
Use wheat germ as a crunchy topping. When added to wet ingredients, it softens enough to substitute for part of the flour in baking recipes. For extra crunch, sprinkle it on savory casseroles, spread it over fish in place of breading or spoon it over yogurt or hot cereal.
Along with providing chromium benefits, wheat germ is rich in other minerals, including zinc, magnesium and phosphorus. It's also a good source of folate, protein and fiber.
- National Institutes of Health: "Chromium"
- Mayo Clinic: "Chromium Supplement"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Vegetable of the Month - Broccoli"
- Mayo Clinic: "Does Grape Juice Offer the Same Heart Benefits as Red Wine?"
- USDA Food Composition Databases: "Fruits and Fruit Juices"
- Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Center: "Chromium"
- American Heart Association: "Meat, Poultry, and Fish - Picking Healthy Proteins"
- Sanford Medical Center: "Guide to Chromium"
- American Council on Exercise: "Satisfying Snacks"
- University of Rochester Medical Center Rochester: "Brewer's Yeast"
- Mayo Clinic: "A Good Germ"
- My Food Data: "Calorie Counts"