Reflecting on Chromium

Chromium is an essential trace mineral. French chemist Louis-Nicholas Vaquelin discovered it in 1797. Many years later, Walter Mertz, an American physician and research scientist, discovered that chromium played a key role in carbohydrate metabolism. Later researchers agreed that chromium may be the most active component in a group of nutrients that play an important role in blood sugar balance, including nicotinic acid (a version of vitamin B3), and the amino acids that make up glutathione (glutamic acid, cysteine, and glycine).Chromium helps control blood sugar levels by increasing the action of insulin, the hormone responsible for carrying sugar (glucose) into your cells, where it can be used for energy. After a meal, blood glucose levels rise, and, in response, your pancreas secretes insulin. Insulin lowers blood glucose levels by increasing the rate at which glucose enters your cells. To accomplish this, insulin must be able to attach to receptors on the surface of cells. Chromium is thought to help initiate the attachment of insulin to the insulin receptors. Chromium may also help with cholesterol metabolism, and may help maintain normal blood cholesterol levels. In addition, chromium is involved in nucleic acid metabolism. Nucleic acids are the building blocks of DNA, the genetic material found in every cell. Chromium also influences the regulation of serotonin, the brain’s so-called happiness chemical. The more sugar and refined carbohydrates like pasta, white bread, pastries, and cookies you eat, the greater your risk for chromium deficiency, for two reasons:

  1. Because chromium naturally occurs in the bran and germ of whole grains, when whole grains are milled to make white flour, the germ and bran are removed, and consequently most of the chromium is lost. In the same way, the refinement of sugar cane and sugar beets to make white sugar (sucrose) removes most of the chromium that naturally occurs in the plants.
  2. Diets high in simple sugars increase the urinary excretion of chromium and rob your body of some of the chromium it needs. Consumption of sugar and refined foods increases the amount of insulin your body must release into your blood stream, which increases the amount of chromium that is used and ultimately excreted in your urine.

Dietary deficiency of chromium is believed to be widespread in the United States, a consequence of eating too many processed foods from which the naturally occurring chromium has been removed. Chromium deficiency leads to insulin resistance, a condition in which the cells of your body do not respond to the presence of insulin. Insulin resistance can lead to elevated blood levels of insulin (hyperinsulinemia) and elevated blood levels of glucose, which can ultimately cause heart disease and diabetes. In fact, even mild dietary deficiency of chromium is associated with a medical condition known as Syndrome X, which includes hyperinsulinemia, high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels, high blood sugar levels, and low HDL cholesterol levels, all of which can increase your risk for heart disease. In 2001, the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences conducted a thorough review of the chromium research and concluded that excessive intake of chromium from foods or supplements is not associated with any adverse effects. As a result, no Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) was established for this mineral. However, the Institute of Medicine noted that people with liver or kidney disease may be more susceptible to adverse effects from excessive intake of chromium, and cautioned such individuals to avoid taking chromium supplements in higher than recommended amounts. If you have diabetes or heart disease, the amount of chromium your body needs may be increased. You may also need extra chromium if you experience physical injury or trauma or mental stress. All of these conditions increase the excretion of chromium. In addition, in the case of stress, the need for increased chromium may relate directly to blood sugar imbalance. Under severe stress, your body increases its output of certain hormones. These hormonal changes alter blood sugar balance, and this altered blood sugar balance can create a need for more chromium. Whole grains contain significant amounts of chromium, and the activity of phytic acid in grains does not prevent us from getting chromium from whole grain foods, especially if the grains are germinated (soaked overnight) before cooking. Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) increases the absorption of chromium. Acidic foods cooked in stainless steel cookware can accumulate chromium by leaching the mineral from the cookware. Concentrated foods sources of chromium include brewer’s yeast, corn, wheat bran, sweet potatoes, apples, rye bread, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, wheat germ, buckwheat, green pepper, bran cereals, parsnips, cornmeal, broccoli, spinach, banana, and puffed rice cereal. Many people do not get enough chromium in their diet due to food processing methods that remove the naturally occuring chromium in commonly consumed foods. Beer and wine can accumulate chromium during fermentation and are therefore considered to be dietary sources of the mineral. There is no recommended daily intake of chromium. You can calculate your actual daily requirements here. My recommended daily intake is 20 micrograms, so that’s what I used as the Daily Value (DV) in the chart below.

Food Sources

Serving

Chromium (mcg)

DV

Brewer’s yeast

2 tablespoons

120

500%

Corn on the cob

1 ear

52

260%

Wheat bran

3.5 ounces

38

190%

Sweet potato

1 medium

36

180%

Apple

1 medium

36

180%

Rye bread

3.5 ounces

30

150%

Onion

1/2 cup cooked

24

120%

Potatoes

3.5 ounces

24

120%

Tomato

1 medium

24

120%

Wheat germ

3.5 ounces

23

115%

Buckwheat

1 cup cooked

22

110%

Green pepper

3.5 ounces

19

95%

All-Bran cereal

1 cup

14

70%

Parsnips

3.5 ounces

13

65%

Cornmeal

3.5 ounces

12

60%

Broccoli

1/2 cup

11

55%

Spinach

3.5 ounces

10

50%

Banana

3.5 ounces

10

50%

Puffed Rice cereal

1 cup

10

50%

Orange juice

1 cup

9.5

48%

Carrots

3.5 ounces

9

45%

Navy beans

1 cup cooked

8

40%

Grape juice

1 cup

8

40%

Red wine

5 ounces

7

35%

Molasses

2 tablespoons

4.4

22%

Cabbage

3.5 ounces

4

20%

Green beans

3.5 ounces

4

20%

English muffin, whole wheat

1

4

20%

Garlic, dried

1 teaspoon

3

15%

Whole wheat cereal

1 cup

3

15%

Basil, dried

1 tablespoon

2

10%

Whole wheat bread

2 slices

2

10%


This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this website to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors. This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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5 thoughts on “Reflecting on Chromium

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