The 4 Essential Nutrients You’re Likely Missing
There’s so much focus on how much Americans eat that we miss the idea that many of us actually aren’t getting enough of certain essential nutrients – nutrients that are vital to our health and well-being.
In fact, Americans remain undernourished, falling short of recommendations for four essential nutrients: calcium, vitamin D, potassium and fiber, according to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report (DGAC). Nutrition experts describe these nutrients as “nutrients of public health concern” because not getting enough of them may pose health risks.
How do we get these nutrients you may ask? Here are some simple ways to incorporate these important essential nutrients them into your daily diet.
How we’re doing: People generally don’t get enough calcium, particularly among adolescent girls, and in adult and pregnant women.
Why we need calcium: The mineral gained fame for bones and teeth, but calcium also is needed for proper muscle contraction, nerve function and blood clotting. Some studies suggest calcium may support healthy blood pressure and heart health.
How to get calcium. Milk is the top food source for calcium. It’s hard to replace nutrients lost, like calcium, when you skip milk. In fact, if no dairy is consumed, the DGAC found through modeling analysis that calcium intake levels drop by 68 to 88 percent in all age groups. Some plant milks, such as soy and almond, contain minimal amounts of natural calcium, so they are typically fortified. That’s why it’s important to check your ingredient labels to know what you are getting.
Other sources of calcium include dark leafy greens, sardines and fortified cereals, but keep in mind, you’d need 7 cups of raw broccoli to get the same amount of calcium in just one 8 oz. glass of milk.
How we’re doing: Our intake of vitamin D is well below daily recommendations for all age groups, especially young adults and seniors.
Why we need vitamin D: Vitamin D works with calcium to support healthy bones. Together with calcium, vitamin D also helps protect against osteoporosis. Plus, your muscles need it to move. Nerves need it to carry messages between the brain and every body part. A growing body of evidence supports the potential role vitamin D plays to reduce the risk of both cardiovascular disease and cancer, according to the report.
How to get vitamin D: Dubbed the “sunshine vitamin” because our bodies can make vitamin D when sunlight hits our skin, there aren’t many foods that naturally contain vitamin D. Milk is the top food source, although some yogurts are now fortified with vitamin D as well. The DGAC found that if no dairy is consumed, vitamin D is lowered by 20 to 30 percent. You can also find vitamin D in certain types of fish, mushrooms, some fortified juices and fortified cereals.
How we’re doing: Potassium intake is low across the entire population, but there is a particular concern for middle-aged and older adults, who are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease.
Why we need potassium: Potassium helps regulate the balance of fluids in the body and plays a critical role in maintaining a healthy blood pressure. The mineral was identified as a nutrient of “public health significance” because low intakes are linked to hypertension and cardiovascular diseases, according to the report.
How to get potassium: Fruits, vegetables, legumes, milk and yogurt are all good sources of potassium. Potatoes top the list for potassium-rich vegetables, while oranges and bananas score the highest for fruits. A glass of milk has about the same amount of potassium as a small banana.
How we’re doing: Our country’s average intake of dietary fiber is about half the recommended levels of 25 grams per day.
Why we need fiber: Fiber is best known for its role in digestive health, but newer studies suggest fiber may play a role in reducing the risk of heart disease, certain cancers, type 2 diabetes and obesity, according to the report.
How to get fiber: You’ll only find fiber in plant foods, especially high-fiber cereals and whole grains. Other good sources of fiber include legumes, seeds, vegetables and fruits – especially apples with the skin and seed-filled raspberries.