11 Nutrients Americans Aren't Getting Enough Of
Last Updated: Jul 10, 2017
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Research shows that the American diet is far from healthy and in fact, we’re coming up short in some important nutrients that our bodies need to function and be in good health. Read on for a list of 11 nutrients that are seriously lacking in the American diet, and find out what you can do to make sure you’re getting your daily dose.
Fresh kiwi with leaves on wooden ground.
One out of four Americans are not getting enough vitamin C. This important nutrient is responsible for making collagen, improving iron absorption and keeping our immunity top-notch. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant, so it helps the body fight free radicals. Some research (although not conclusive) suggests that vitamin C may reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and age-related macular degeneration. So, how much do you need? Women should aim for 75mg and men, 90mg per day. You can find vitamin C in many fruits and vegetables including oranges, grapefruit, peppers, strawberries, cantaloupe, kiwifruit, tomatoes and baked potatoes. Some beverages are also fortified with vitamin C.
There are two different types of dietary fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is found in nuts, oatmeal, lentils, apples, strawberries, seeds, oranges, carrots, and beans. It lowers cholesterol levels and slows digestion, which may help balance blood sugar. This delay also makes you feel fuller longer, helping with weight control. Insoluble fiber, found mainly in whole grains and seeds, supports gut health and digestion. Despite the fact that fiber is found in an abundance of foods, we’re still not getting enough in our diets. Men should aim for 38 grams per day and women should aim for 25 grams per day, but on average, Americans are only getting 15 grams of fiber on a daily basis.
A November 2013 study published in The Journal of Nutrition revealed that the mineral magnesium might help people live longer. Researchers followed more than 7,000 men and women (ages 55-80) and found that people with the highest daily intakes of magnesium had a 34 percent decrease in mortality from heart disease and cancer. Magnesium is involved in more than 300 metabolic reactions and helps with a wide range of functions in the body including muscle and nerve function, blood sugar control, blood pressure, bone development and more. Unfortunately, 45 percent -- almost half of the American population -- fails to consume enough magnesium. So, which foods contain magnesium? Nuts (pistachios and almonds), fruits and vegetables (spinach, bananas, avocados), beans, lentils, and whole grains (oatmeal and whole wheat bread) are all great sources of magnesium.
A fat-soluble nutrient, vitamin E acts as an antioxidant, staving off free radicals and it’s also responsible for supporting the immune system, keeping blood vessels healthy and preventing blood clots. Vitamin E exists in eight forms, but the one you need to pay attention to is alpha-tocopherol. What should your daily dose be? Men and women require 15mg of vitamin E per day, but 60 percent of Americans aren’t getting enough. Vegetable oils such as sunflower oil and olive oil, nuts, seeds and cereal grains are all great sources of vitamin E. Smaller amounts of this vitamin can also be found in fruits and vegetables such as spinach, mangoes and avocados.
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Vitamin D reduces inflammation, keeps bones healthy, increases immunity and it may also help reduce mood disorders. The trouble is, vitamin D isn’t found in many foods -- mostly fatty fish and fortified milk and juices. So, it comes as no surprise that 70 percent of Americans are not getting enough vitamin D through their diet; even when consuming fortified foods and supplements. Sun exposure is a major endogenous source of vitamin D, but age, sunscreen use, and skin tone may limit many people’s exposure and absorption of this essential vitamin. The Institute of Medicine currently recommends 600 IUs per day, although some experts recommend higher intakes of 1,000-2,000 IUs. If you’re not getting outside for 15 minutes a day or regularly consuming foods rich in vitamin D, you may want to have your levels checked by your doctor. If your blood levels for vitamin D are low, discuss taking a USP- or NSF-certified supplement such as Nature Made or Country Life (which also has a vegan option) with your doctor.
Related: 9 Ways to Help Avoid Vitamin D Deficiency
Yellow peppers, (Close-up)
Vitamin A is important for many reasons: bone growth, healthy vision, immunity, reproduction and proper functioning of your heart, lungs and other organs. Unfortunately, more than 1/3 of Americans (34 percent) aren’t getting enough vitamin A, and if it weren’t for fortified foods and supplements, this number would be about 75 percent. Vitamin A is found in food in two forms: preformed (retinol) and carotenoids. Eggs, some fish, green leafy vegetables, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables (squash, peppers, mangoes, cantaloupe) and fortified milks and cereals are all great sources of vitamin A.
Ribeye steak with arugula and tomatoes.
Iron is a crucial mineral that our bodies need to make hemoglobin and myoglobin, which help to carry oxygen from our lungs to the rest of the body. Iron is also part of many enzymes which help our bodies to digest food and perform many other functions. Iron deficiency is most common in young women and while fatigue is the most well-known symptom, difficulties with pregnancy and infants’ health are other potential concerns. There are two types of iron in the diet: heme and nonheme. Heme iron is better absorbed by the body and is found in animal sources such as meat, poultry and fish while non-heme iron is found in plant and dairy foods such as eggs and fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains. How much iron does your body need? Men need 8mg a day, women 18mg and pregnant women require 27mg a day of iron.
Potassium balances out sodium’s impact on blood pressure and it also reduces bone loss and the risk of kidney stones, builds proteins and muscles, and keeps a safe acid-base balance in our bodies. It’s recommended that men and women get 4,700mg of potassium a day, but Americans are falling short. Potassium is available in a variety of food sources including fruits (citrus, kiwi, apricots, cantaloupe), vegetables (sweet potatoes, peas, broccoli), dairy, nuts, meats and poultry (beef, chicken, turkey) and fish (cod, salmon).
Related: Fruits and Vegetables High in Potassium
Folic acid is found naturally in fruits (oranges and melons), vegetables (dark leafy greens), nuts, beans and many grains (pasta, cereal, bread) which are fortified with this B-vitamin. Despite the preponderance of fortified foods, there are certain groups of people who are still at greater risk of folate shortfalls. These risk groups include women age 14-30 (specifically before and during pregnancy) and people with some GI conditions including Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel and celiac disease. Folate is important because it helps make DNA and healthy cells including red blood cells. Because of this, it’s especially important for expectant mothers to consume enough folic acid. Your doctor may prescribe a prenatal vitamin which will include this important nutrient.
Omega-3 fatty acids reduce risk of heart disease, and they also help control rheumatoid arthritis, depression, asthma and may even help stave off dementia as we age. There are three types of omega-3s: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is converted by the body into the biologically active eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are primarily found in fatty fish and algae while ALA is found in plant sources like walnuts and flax. Problem is, most of us get about half of the Omega-3s we need for optimal health. If you don’t eat at least two servings of fish per week, choose a supplement that is USP- or NSF-certified for potency and purity, such as Omax3 or New Chapter Wholemega Fish Oil. That way, you can be sure the supplement you’re taking is free of any potential contaminants.
Related: 17 Reasons Why You Probably Need More Omega-3s in Your Diet
greek yogurt with honey and walnuts
Almost 40 percent of Americans aren’t getting enough of this vital nutrient that is necessary for strong bones and teeth, muscle movement, transmitting nerve signals from the brain to the rest of the body and for healthy blood vessels. Current recommendations are that men and women take in 1,000mg of calcium a day. Women 51 years or older should get 1,200mg a day, although some researchers advocate for re-examining and potentially lowering these recommendations based on new research. There are a few food sources that can help you meet these daily calcium requirements: dairy foods (yogurt, milk, cheese), calcium-fortified orange juice, soy milk, rice milk, canned salmon, almonds, kale, broccoli, bok choy, grains and fortified cereals. If you avoid dairy foods and your diet is lacking in greens, you may want to consider a daily supplement to help meet your needs.
Related: The 20 Most Overrated Supplements
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Were you aware that such a large percentage of Americans have nutrient deficiencies? Have you asked your doctor to check your levels of key nutrients such as vitamin D? Do you take supplements or daily multivitamins? Which ones do you take, and do you think they are helping you to stay healthy? If you don’t take any vitamin supplements, join the conversation and let us know why by leaving a comment below.
Related: Could Micronutrients Be the Missing Link in the Fight Against Obesity?
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