Did you know that Chromium is an “essential mineral”? You may only need to eat trace amounts to get the benefits, but with Chromium, a little goes a long way.
What is Chromium?
Chromium is best known for its role in metabolizing insulin. Insulin is essential for the use of glucose (a type of sugar) in the cells—and the metabolism and storage of fat and protein. In fact, chromium used to be called the ‘glucose tolerance factor’ because it prevents the natural deregulation of your blood sugar balance as you age—including in type 2 diabetes and even in pre-diabetes. Inadequate chromium is also linked to high cholesterol and may increase your risk for coronary artery disease (CAD). Low chromium levels is related to an increased risk of glaucoma. Eating foods rich in chromium may help you manage or even reverse these conditions.
How much do we need for optimal health?
If you’re a woman between 19 and 50 years of age, you need 25 mcg per day and if you’re 50 and older, 20 mcg per day. If you’re a man in those age ranges, you need 35 mcg and 30 mcg per day, respectively.
That’s a tiny amount, but it’s very common for people to get less than they need, due to the fact that the modern diet is highly refined and high in added sugars. It is also the minimum amount established by the U.S. Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. At this point, we just don’t know the amount of chromium required for optimal health, despite ongoing scientific research.
Factors that affect chromium levels in the body
Although chromium is extremely important to your health, the body doesn’t absorb it very well at all—unless chromium-rich foods are paired with foods rich in vitamin C and niacin (or B3), which aid absorption.
If you eat a lot of simple sugars and refined carbohydrates or have pre-diabetes, insulin resistance or diabetes, your body will excrete more chromium. Infections, prolonged strenuous exercise, pregnancy, nursing and stress can also increase your chromium losses and requirements, especially if you’re already getting too little. Medications that alter stomach acidity, such as antacids, corticosteroids and proton-pump inhibitors, can also impair chromium absorption or enhance excretion.
Food sources of chromium
The chromium content of food varies greatly around the world, based on the chromium content of the soil in which the food is grown. The following are averages from food sources from several different locations:
Food and Amount
Chromium Content (mcg)*
|Broccoli, ½ cup|
|English muffin, whole grain whole wheat, each|
|Potatoes, mashed, 1 cup|
|Garlic, dried, 1 tsp|
|Basil, dried, 1 Tbsp|
|Beef, 3 oz, 85g|
|Turkey breast, 3 oz, 85 g|
|Bread, whole grain, 2 slices|
|Apple, unpeeled, 1 medium|
|Banana, 1 medium|
|Green beans, ½ cup|
*Source: USDA database
Chromium is a popular supplement among individuals seeking a healthy body composition because of its role in glucose and insulin balance, and in fat storage. Supplemental chromium has been evaluated for its ability to increase “good” (HDL) cholesterol and lower triglycerides and total cholesterol levels in people with high blood sugar and diabetes; however, more studies are needed to confirm these benefits.
Because chromium slows the loss of calcium, supplements are also thought to be a factor in prevention of bone loss in women during menopause. Chromium supplements are promoted as being helpful in building muscle and burning fat and in helping the body use carbohydrates, but this has not been proven.
Among supplements, the two most popular forms are polynicotinate and picolinate. Chromium polynicotinate is chromium bound to three molecules of niacin (also called nicotinic acid), thought to be the form in which the body uses chromium to manage glucose. Chromium picolinate, a combination of chromium and picolinic acid, is the form most popular among dieters and fitness enthusiasts.
Are there any health risks from getting too much chromium?
Chromium has a good safety profile: very few adverse effects have been seen, which is why the Institute of Medicine did not set an upper level, or UL, for chromium. The UL is a daily maximum intake of a nutrient that is unlikely to cause adverse health effects, and is an amount that has a large safety margin built it. Multivitamin/mineral supplements that have chromium provide amounts ranging from 50 mcg to 200 mcg per dose, an amount that has never been shown to cause problems.