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Top 8 Nutrients Missing in the US Diet and How to Eat More of Them

Getting complete nutrients from your diet is essential to achieve optimal health. However, most Americans don’t adhere to US Dietary Guidelines. The typical American diet exceeds the recommended limits of added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium. When paired with a sedentary lifestyle, a nutrient-poor diet could put American adults at risk for developing diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and chronic diseases.

It’s easy to prevent nutritional deficiencies. You just need to increase your consumption of foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals. A well-balanced diet with more vegetables, fruits, fatty fish, lean protein, nuts and seeds, and whole grains will help avoid nutritional deficiencies. You can also follow the Recommended Dietary Allowances and Adequate Intakes for Vitamins and Minerals to meet the daily nutrient requirements for your age.

Missing Nutrients in the American Diet The USDA Dietary Guidelines 2020-2025 has identified four nutrients that Americans don’t get enough of in their diet: calcium, potassium, dietary fiber and vitamin D. Additionally, the Second Nutrition Report from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) shows that most people had vitamin B6, iron, vitamin C, and vitamin B12 deficiency. It has been found that around 10% of Americans have nutritional deficiencies.

How to Fill the Nutrient Gap 1. Calcium Calcium is important for bone and teeth health. It also helps with maintaining a healthy heart and muscle function. Adults up to age 50 need 1,000 mg of calcium per day while those over 50 need about 1,200 mg a day. Adults with a higher osteoporosis risk may need 1,500 mg a day. To get more calcium, one of the best ways to get it is through milk, but some people cannot tolerate it. Here are other calcium sources aside from milk:

Yogurt Sardines and Canned Salmon Almonds Beans and Lentils Spinach Kale Rhubarb Calcium-fortified cereals or bread

2. Potassium Potassium is a mineral and electrolyte that keeps your nerves and muscles functioning properly. It also helps regulate your heartbeat and blood pressure. It is recommended to consume at least 3,500 to 4,700 mg of potassium per day. To get more potassium in your diet, consume more of these foods:

Bananas Leafy greens Grapes and blackberries Root vegetables like potatoes Citrus fruits Pumpkins Cucumbers Zucchini Tuna Cod Trout Halibut

3. Dietary Fiber Dietary fiber is a plant-based carbohydrate that the body can’t digest. It helps regulate bowel movements, control blood sugar level, lower cholesterol level, and maintain a healthy weight. Men 50 years old or younger need 38 grams of fiber a day while those 51 years old or older need 30 grams a day. For women 50 years old or younger, they need at least 25 grams of fiber a day and those 51 years old or older need at least 21 grams. To get more fiber in your diet, add more of these food options:

Fruits Vegetables Beans and legumes Oats and other whole grains

4. Vitamin D Vitamin D is a vitamin that the body can produce with sun exposure. Vitamin D, along with calcium, helps keep the bone strong. Vitamin D also supports immune, heart, and muscle function. Adults 19 to 70 years old need 15 mcg of vitamin D per day. To get more vitamin D in your diet, eat more of these foods:

Fatty fish Cod liver oil Beef liver Egg yolk Cheese Vitamin D-fortified foods

5. Vitamin B6 Vitamin B6 is important for making hemoglobin, maintaining healthy nerve function, and producing antibodies. It’s also needed to help break down proteins and keep blood sugar level within the normal range. Adults 19 to 50 years old need 1.3 mg of vitamin B6 per day. To get more vitamin B6 in your diet, eat more of these foods:

Milk Eggs Pork Poultry like chicken and turkey Beef liver and other organ meats Salmon Tuna Carrots Soya beans Bananas Peanuts Oats

6. Iron Iron is a mineral that carries oxygen in the blood throughout the body. It is important for blood production, cognitive function, and immune function. Adult men need 8 mg of iron per day while adult women need about 18 mg per day. To get more iron, here are healthy foods that are high in this mineral:

Spinach Shellfish Red meat Legumes Beans and lentils Tofu Cashew Quinoa Turkey Pumpkin seeds

7. Vitamin C Vitamin C is an antioxidant that is essential for the growth and repair of body tissues. It also ensures proper functioning of the immune system and iron absorption. It helps with the production of collagen and the maintenance of bones and teeth. Adults need around 65 to 90 mg of vitamin C per day. To get more vitamin C in your diet, eat more of these vitamin C-rich foods:

Citrus fruits Broccoli Red pepper Kiwi Strawberries Tomatoes Cauliflower Papaya Brussel sprouts

8. Vitamin B12 Vitamin B12 is essential for the proper functioning of the central nervous system. It is also needed to produce red blood cells and to maintain nerve tissue health. Adults need 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 per day. Eat more of these foods to get more vitamin B12 in your diet:

Animal liver and kidneys Beef Sardines Tuna Clams Poultry Eggs Milk

To avoid nutrient deficiencies, follow a healthy diet plan with nutrient-dense food and beverage options from all food groups. A healthy American diet should include fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, protein foods, and vegetable oils. Also, remember to stay within the recommended calorie limits while avoiding saturated fat, sodium, alcoholic beverages, and added sugars.

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