Chromium Rich Diet
by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
Chromium is a trace mineral needed by the body in small amounts for healthy functioning. Chromium is mostly well-researched for blood sugar and diabetes control, heart health, weight management and brain health.
Chromium plays a role in the insulin-signalling pathways that allow our body to control the amount of sugar that goes into our blood to help give us stable energy. Research shows that chromium can help protect DNA chromosomes from damage, which means chromium may potentially protect us from various chronic diseases. Chromium also plays a role in metabolizing fats, proteins, carbs, and other nutrients, so is therefore important for many health benefits.
Chromium is naturally present in many whole foods which we will look at, but we can also consume it from drinking water and cooking in stainless-steel cookware. Even though chromium is something that we all need for good health, it is a bit of a concern to think about a substance that leaches out of our cookware. It reminds me of how aluminium leaches from aluminium cookware and copper from copper pots.
Symptoms of chromium deficiency
It is interesting to see research showing that chromium deficiency isn’t common and that we all supposedly get ‘adequate intake’ (around 30 micrograms of chromium per day for teens and adults) from food. But some medical researchers believe chromium deficiency is much more prevalent, especially for people who don’t respond properly to insulin, are overweight, have diabetes, or elderly.
In fact, I have done hundreds of hair mineral analyses with my clients and most of them showed low levels of chromium. When we corrected their levels, most reported increased energy levels and lower sugar cravings.
Here is a list of common symptoms of chromium deficiency…
- low energy, fatigue
- sugar cravings
- poor skin health
- poor eye health
- changes in appetite
- changes in weight
- low concentration and poor memory
- poor blood glucose control
- weak bones and bone loss
- higher risk for high cholesterol and heart complications
- mood changes, like increases in anxiety
- stunted growth and development in children
- delayed time to heal wounds or recover from surgery
- higher risk of leg ulcers (diabetic)
Helps control blood sugar
Chromium helps to enhance the role of insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar, and helps to bring glucose into cells to be used for energy, which is why those with low chromium often feel tired. Chromium also helps to improve absorption and distribute nutrients from carbohydrates, fats and proteins found in the foods you eat.
Nutritional yeast and broccoli are amongst the highest sources of chromium and have been found to support the metabolism of blood glucose, which is beneficial for preventing glucose-intolerance, insulin-resistance and subsequent diabetes formation.
Helps reduce elevated cholesterol
The body uses chromium to metabolize fats like cholesterol. Research has shown a link between higher chromium intake and healthier arteries and levels of blood cholesterol.
May prevent weight gain and overeating
Chromium has been associated with a reduction in the risk of obesity, less weight gain, and may positively affect food intake, possibly because chromium helps to reduce sugar and carbohydrate cravings. Some studies found that higher chromium intake was associated with a reduction in fat accumulation on the body, as well as better controlled eating.
Helps support brain health and prevent cognitive decline
Recent studies highlight the role of healthy insulin response in maintaining brain health and cognitive function into old age. Researchers are now calling dementia and cognitive decline, diabetes of the brain or type 3 diabetes. Chromium improves glucose levels and insulin response so it may be a beneficial modulator of brain function and is associated with a reduction of age-related alterations of the brain.
Chromium is linked to a healthier hypothalamus. The hypothalamus helps to control things like our body temperature, sleep, hunger, thirst and emotional activity.
Research suggests that chromium can help to keep the hypothalamus in a healthy state, better regulate appetite in the elderly, and prevent brain neuron decline common with aging. Other parts of the brain such as the pineal gland and thymus, also impacted by insulin control, may benefit from higher chromium levels.
May help skin health and prevent acne
Rapid changes in blood sugar levels are associated with acne and other skin reactions, and because chromium helps to balance blood sugar it can help improve skin health. Foods rich in chromium (such as broccoli) often contain other phytonutrients and antioxidants that can improve the skin’s appearance
Supports healthy metabolism and energy
Having plenty of trace minerals like chromium, calcium and magnesium are important for people who are active because these nutrients are needed to boost energy (calorie) expenditure and improve muscle and work performance.
When someone tries to lose weight by eating less food and exercising, they need to include plenty of chromium-rich foods in the diet to keep the metabolism functioning efficiently as more chromium will be excreted via sweating and extra urination from exercise.
Helps eye health
Chromium can help protect age-related eye disorders like glaucoma, because glaucoma is related to diabetes and a build-up of fluid in the eye puts pressure on the delicate optic nerve, retina and lens, which may lead to blindness. Chromium may also lower the risk for diabetes related eye disorders because of its beneficial role in controlling blood sugar/glucose.
Helps protect bones from Osteoporosis
Chromium is known to slow the loss of calcium, so it might be beneficial to help prevent bone loss and bone-related disorders that are especially common in older women. Therefore, it is also a natural support for osteoporosis.
Adequate intakes for chromium are based on age and gender, but your current health, weight and level of activity may have an influence on what you really need. These levels were developed by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 1989. The chromium dosage amounts required daily are:
- Infants 0 to 6 months need 0.2 micrograms
- Children 7 to 12 months need 5.5 micrograms
- 1 to 3 years need 11 micrograms
- 4 to 8 years need 15 micrograms
- 9 to 13 years need 25 micrograms for boys, 21 micrograms for girls
- Teens 14 to 18 years need 35 micrograms for boys and 24 micrograms for girls
- Adults 19 to 50+ years need 35 micrograms for men and 25 micrograms for women
- Women who are pregnant need 30 micrograms
- Women who breastfeeding need 35 micrograms
Health care professionals usually recommend more chromium to help with blood sugar control, sugar cravings, insulin-resistance, or diabetes, with doses of 200 micrograms a day common and as high as 1,000 micrograms per day for those with type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome.
As with all nutrients, try to obtain enough from natural whole food sources so you know you are acquiring the right mix of vitamins and minerals that nature intended, without posing the risk for overdoing it with supplementation.
Chromium content varies widely within various foods depending where it was grown, when and what season the food was grown, the plant species, the ripeness of the produce, how long it was sitting around after harvest, and possible contamination from the environment. Chromium can also increase in concentration when it leaches into food during cooking with stainless steel cookware.
Here are some of the best food sources for obtaining more chromium naturally. You can see the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for the different age groups and males and females above.
Note: mcg = micrograms.
- Broccoli: 1 cup = 22 mcg
- Nutritional yeast: 1 tablespoon (can be in a smoothie or muesli) = 15 mcg
- Grapes/Grape Juice (pure): 1 cup juice = 8 mcg
- Basil: 1 tablespoon = 2 mcg
- Potatoes: 1 cup = 3 mcg
- Garlic: 1 teaspoon = 3 mcg
- Grass-Fed Beef: 3oz (85g) = 2 mcg
- Oranges/Orange Juice (pure): 1 cup = 2 mcg
- Turkey: 3oz (85g) = 2 mcg
- Green Beans: 1 cup = 2 mcg
- Apples: 1 medium = 1 mcg
- Bananas: 1 medium = 1 mcg
From the above list you can see for teens and adults, apart from broccoli, nutritional yeast, or grapes, you would need large quantities of the other foods to reach the required daily value.
If you have an underactive thyroid, then large amounts of broccoli are not suitable to eat, and eating too many grapes means lots of sugar. No wonder so many people are deficient in chromium!
However, a combination of these foods can help to raise your levels. Chromium from food sources won’t cause any problems, and prescribed supplements can be used to make up any deficit.
However, taking high levels in supplement form has the potential to interact with certain medications and worsen existing health conditions. Excessive use of chromium as a supplement has been linked to low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia) and digestive problems, such as belly aches. Although rare, chromium toxicity can occur when very high levels are consumed via supplementation, which has the potential to cause damage to the liver, kidneys and heart.
Speak to your doctor or health practitioner about appropriate doses.
If you research chromium containing foods it is interesting to see that grains, including gluten grains, are on the list. It is for this reason that some scientists say that most people don’t have a chromium deficiency, even though there’s an obesity and diabetic epidemic going on in our world.
I say interesting, because chromium’s absorption is blocked by the co-consumption of phytates found in grains, so it is possible that someone may consume enough chromium, but it isn’t getting to where it is needed.
I couldn’t find any other food substances that do this, so it is possible that the use of gluten foods may in part be contributing to obesity and diabetes. In the non-food world, the heavy metal lead is said to hinder chromium absorption by its antagonistic action (blocking).
So if you have trouble with chromium levels, even if you have a diet rich in chromium foods like nutritional yeast and broccoli (two of the highest) then it might be a good idea to get a hair mineral analysis to see if you have any lead in your body.
While I have mentioned that yeast and broccoli are the highest foods containing chromium, be aware that even the small amounts found in many other foods do add up. Thus a balanced healthy diet should provide you with the chromium you need, particularly when you include the high chromium food options.
Before you commence your diet, see your medical or health care professional for qualified guidance about what foods and supplements are best for your body. While on the diet do not stop any medications or supplements previously prescribed unless advised otherwise by your medical or health care professional.
During the early stages of a new diet, you may experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, or body aches, which may occur because your body is detoxifying. However, if you are unsure about a symptom at any time, check immediately with your medical or health care professional.