5 nutrients you may be lacking

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5 nutrients you may be lacking

If you’re like most Americans, put down your bag of chips and understand there’s a good chance your diet probably has some “missing in action” nutrients.  You may think, “Well, I’ll just take a supplement to make up the nutritional difference.” 

Taking supplements is usually not the answer.  The right answer is to make dietary changes.  Eating food helps supply the right mix of nutrients that work synergistically to promote health.  Besides, you start supplementing with too many pills and it can increase the chance of getting too much of a particular nutrient which can end up being harmful.  In certain situations, some people may need to be taking a nutritional supplement but that decision should be made with their doctor. 

Below are five key nutrients that your diet may be lacking and some simple dietary fixes to up your intake:

1.  Fiber

We’ve all heard it before – eat more fiber.  But do you know why?  Fiber also known as roughage is only found in plant-based foods and includes the parts of plant foods your body can’t digest or absorb.  Fiber is probably best known for its ability to prevent or relieve constipation.  Fiber can also help control your weight by helping you feel full, it can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, it fights inflammation, and can boost your immune system.

Adding a regular rotation of whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables to your diet will help you get the recommended 25 to 30 grams of fiber daily.

Example of a high-fiber meal - 4 ounces of baked chicken breast, 1 ½ cups of roasted Brussels sprouts,  ¾ cup quinoa, and 1 cup pear slices.

2.  Magnesium

Nearly half of all Americans fail to get enough of the mineral magnesium each day.  Experts recommend 320 mg for women and 420 mg for men.  Failing to obtain sufficient magnesium can result in appetite loss, fatigue, weakness, nausea, vomiting, and in severe deficiencies, irregular heart rhythm, muscle cramps, personality changes, sensations of numbness and tingling, and seizures.

The best sources of magnesium are found in dark leafy greens, legumes, nuts, and whole grains.

Example of a meal loaded with magnesium - chili recipe containing both kidney and black beans, 2 cups of kale and collard greens salad, and ½ banana.

3.  Calcium

Calcium is the most abundant mineral found in the human body.  It has the important role of promoting and maintaining our bone health helping to lower our risk of the brittle bone disease of osteoporosis.  Every day, both men and women require 1,000 mg to 1,200 mg.  

Dairy foods are the best sources of calcium – one cup or 8 ounces of milk, 6 ounces of yogurt, and 1 ½ ounce of cheese each supply about 300 mg.  Calcium is also found in almonds, bok choy, broccoli, broccoli rabe, kale, canned salmon with bones, tofu, and white beans.

Example of a calcium rich snack – Plain Greek yogurt topped with frozen blueberries, frozen tart cherries and chopped pecans or walnuts.

4.  Vitamin B12

The water-soluble vitamin of vitamin B12 is a powerhouse nutrient.  It helps make DNA, nerve and blood cells and is crucial for brain health and a strong immune system.  When we fall short of consuming good dietary sources of it, our health can suffer.  Pernicious anemia, fatigue, weakness, constipation, loss of appetite, and weight loss are all signs of a vitamin B 12 deficiency.  The recommended dietary allowance for vitamin B12 is 2.4 mcg. 

Unfortunately, our likelihood of developing a deficiency of this vitamin increases as we age due to a reduction in a glycoprotein called intrinsic factor produced by the parietal cells of the stomach.  In order for vitamin B 12 to be absorbed by the body, it must bind with intrinsic factor when it reaches the stomach but a lack of intrinsic factor will prevent this from happening.  Alcoholism, ulcerative gastritis, H. pylori infection and Zollinger-Ellison syndrome can do damage to the parietal cells that make intrinsic factor which can also reduce the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B 12.

Our bodies do not make vitamin B 12 so it must be consumed from our food choices.  Since this vitamin is only found in foods of animal origin, the best sources include beef, poultry, fish, cheese, eggs, milk, and yogurt. 

Example of a meal brimming with vitamin B 12 – 4 ounce top round beef steak, small baked potato topped with Greek yogurt in place of sour cream, and roasted baby carrots with parsley and thyme.

5.  Potassium

This is another mineral many Americans are lacking – less than 2 percent get the recommended 4700 ng per day.  Too little potassium can cause abnormal heart rhythms, weak muscles, and a minor rise in blood pressure.  All of us should pay attention to our potassium intake as it help our muscles to contract, helps regulate our fluid and mineral balance in and out of cells, and helps maintain normal blood pressure by blunting the effect of sodium.  Potassium may also reduce the risk of recurrent kidney stones and bone loss as we age.

To be sure you are getting the potassium you need each day, consume foods rich in this mineral such as bananas, leafy greens, cooked spinach and broccoli, cantaloupe, tomatoes, baked potato, carrots, low-fat milk and quinoa. 

Example of meal packed with potassium - 1 cup of Swiss chard, 1 cup of acorn squash, and 5 ounces of salmon will supply more than half of your daily recommendation.