Today’s fast-paced schedules and convenience food culture don’t leave much room for solid nutrition, so it’s no surprise that most Americans fall short in the nourishment department. In fact, more than half of all Americans aren’t consuming enough fruits, vegetables and whole grains to meet their nutritional needs.
Macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals and phytochemicals) provide the fuel your body needs to function. Learn which four nutrients are most lacking in the American diet – and how to ensure you get your due:
1. Potassium. Your body needs potassium to keep your heart pumping, your muscles working and your other organs working normally. Get too little and you’re at an increased risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Potassium and sodium are the yin and the yang for blood pressure. While you may hear a lot about lowering sodium intake to help keep blood pressure in check, it’s also important to simultaneously increase your potassium intake.
Where to get this nutrient: While the best-known source of potassium may be bananas, you can find the critical mineral in a variety of foods, including potatoes, beans and lentils, yogurt, milk, tomatoes and orange juice.
2. Fiber. Dietary fiber fills you up (without weighing you down), keeps blood sugar levels in check and helps prevent diseases ranging from cancer to stroke. Despite these benefits, most Americans get very little of this critical nutrient. The average is a paltry 15 grams of fiber daily, compared to the recommended 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. Not only does low fiber intake increase the chance of constipation – an ailment that affects millions of Americans – but it also can increase your risk of chronic disease.
Where to get this nutrient: Fortunately, fiber is easy to find. Oatmeal, beans, barley, quinoa and most fruits and vegetables (especially apples, berries and broccoli) are chock full of the stuff. But if you’re adding fiber to your diet, make sure to boost your water intake, too. A sudden spike in fiber intake without additional water can lead to tummy troubles.
3. Vitamin D. Vitamin D’s primary role is to enhance the absorption of calcium from food. But new research shows that vitamin D deficiency is associated with myriad ailments from cancer to mood swings. While our bodies do make vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, getting sufficient D from food and sunlight alone can be a struggle if you live in Michigan.
Where to get this nutrient: Not many foods are high in vitamin D. Fatty salmon, cod liver oil, tuna, sardines, pork, mushrooms and eggs are solid sources, as are milk, yogurt and other D-fortified dairy products. If you don’t consume dairy, you might want to talk to your registered dietitian or doctor about taking a supplement.
4. Calcium. Calcium and strong bones are inextricably linked. Trouble is, you aren’t likely to recognize the impact of low calcium intake until much later in life. In addition to building – and protecting – bones, calcium helps prevent diseases ranging from colon cancer to heart disease. Yet only 21 percent of adults get the recommended amount of calcium (1,000 mg for adults age 19–51 and 1,200 mg for women 51 and over).
Where to get this nutrient: If you’re getting two to three servings of dairy every day, you should meet your needs. Don’t eat dairy? You can still find calcium in fortified foods (like OJ, cereal and plant-based milk), broccoli, collard greens and beans.
What do all four of these nutrients have in common? They’re all found in either vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes or dairy. Following the USDA recommendations – meaning that half of your plate is full of vegetables and fruits, one-quarter is whole grains and that you get two to three servings of dairy each day – makes you more likely to get the nutrients you need.
Learn more about needed nutrients – and get answers to your other dietary questions – by signing up for a grocery store tour with our registered dietitians.
To find a doctor or registered dietitian at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).