10 nutrients you’re probably not eating enough of

As much as we all aim to eat plates full of fresh fruits and veggies every day, let’s be real…

There are a lot of days where that doesn’t happen. As a result, many of us are low in critical vitamins and minerals.

In fact, researchers from Tufts University just identified 10 vitamins, minerals and nutrients, most of us aren’t getting enough of in our diets. In some cases, you may want to take a supplement to get your levels of these nutrients up to snuff. In other cases, you may not. Either way, you’ll want to make sure you don’t ignore these critical nutrients…

How to get more of these top 10 under-consumed nutrients

Tufts researchers recently took a closer look at the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and determined that most Americans aren’t getting enough of the following vitamins, minerals, and nutrients in their diets:

1. Calcium

Calcium is critical to healthy bones. In fact, if you don’t get enough, it can lead to lower bone mass… which can cause breaks and fractures, especially as you get older. Based on its effect on bone health and the fact that so many Americans aren’t getting enough, calcium deficiency is categorized as a public health concern.

To get more calcium in your diet, you can eat more dairy, fish with soft bones and dark green vegetables. You can also buy calcium-fortified foods like tofu, dairy alternatives, and juices. Aim for between 1,000 to 1,200 mg of calcium per day. Calcium is one of the nutrients that you need to get primarily from food (unless you’re directed to supplement by your doctor), and here’s why…

Getting too much calcium from supplements can increase your risk of brain and heart trouble because the calcium isn’t absorbed properly and accumulates in these vital organs. In fact, research shows taking calcium supplements can increase the risk of heart disease and dementia if you’re a woman. If you do take a calcium supplement, combine it with  K2 and D3. These supplements help distribute calcium evenly throughout the body.

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2. Vitamin D

Like calcium, vitamin D is important for bone health. In fact, children who don’t get enough vitamin D can end up with a softening and weakening of the bones known as rickets, and adults who don’t get enough vitamin D can end up with a similar bone softening called osteomalacia. Besides bone problems, low vitamin D levels also increase your risk of certain types of cancer and autoimmune diseases.

Vitamin D deficiency is categorized as a public health concern in America, which means most of us need more than we’re getting. You can get more vitamin D by eating fatty fish or spending time in the sun. But you can only eat so much fish. And for those of us in northern climates, we can’t rely on the sun as a source of vitamin D for much of the year. That’s why I choose to take a vitamin D supplement.

Before you start taking a vitamin D supplement, check to see where your vitamin D levels fall through an at-home test or a trip to your doctor’s office. If your levels are low, Dr. Michael Cutler recommends taking 1,000 International Units (IU) of D3 daily or 5,000 IU of D3 twice weekly to boost and maintain healthy levels.

3. Potassium

Potassium is an important mineral and electrolyte. It supports muscle function, nerve function and keeps your body fluids in balance. Unfortunately, there’s a potassium shortage in American diets. And if you don’t get enough potassium, it can cause muscle weakness and fatigue. It can also increase your risk of high blood pressure and mess with blood sugar regulation. So how do you make sure your potassium levels are up to par?

Start by eating plenty of fruit (especially bananas). You can also get potassium from vegetables, like acorn squash and sweet potatoes, milk, yogurt, beans, and fish. Getting potassium from supplements, however, is tricky. You’re supposed to get somewhere between 3,500 and 4,700 mg of potassium per day. But due to the risks associated with accidentally taking too much potassium (like heart problems or cardiac arrest), the FDA limits the amount of potassium in supplements to a mere 100 mg. As you can imagine it, would take a lot of supplements to hit your potassium target for the day. That’s why food is probably a better source of this critical mineral.

4. Fiber

Fiber deficiency is another public health concern in the U.S. of A. because most of us aren’t eating nearly enough fiber-filled foods. Not getting enough fiber nutrients can lead to constipation and problems with blood sugar control. It can even increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease. You should eat at least 20 to 30 grams of fiber per day… and as much as 50 grams per day (just don’t eat more than 70 grams of fiber per day, otherwise you could end up gassy and bloated).

The best dietary sources of fiber are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. If you’ve tried to get enough of the nutrients through foods and you just can’t hit the mark consistently, there’s nothing wrong with trying a fiber supplement. There are plenty of options: inulin, methylcellulose, psyllium. Find a fiber supplement that works for you and add a scoop (or two) of fiber to your morning smoothie, juice or coffee.

5. Magnesium

Magnesium supports your health in many ways. It improves bone health, regulates blood sugar, balances blood pressure, plays a role in heart rhythm and supports nerve and muscle function. That may be why low magnesium levels are tied to a host of health risks, including osteoporosis, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. If you’re deficient in magnesium, you could experience minor symptoms like muscle cramps and loss of appetite, or you could experience major ones like seizures and irregular heart rhythm. Although, some people with magnesium deficiency may not have any symptoms.

You can get magnesium from foods like beans, nuts, whole grains, and leafy greens. The recommended daily dosage is between 310 and 420 mg for adults (although some say that’s too low). Magnesium is one mineral to consider a supplement for. Research shows magnesium levels in our food is declining due to industrial agriculture and food processing. If you decide to take a magnesium supplement, you don’t have to take it orally if you don’t want to. Magnesium can be absorbed through your skin, so a lot of people rely on transdermal magnesium creams or Epsom salt baths for this important mineral.

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6. Iron

Iron deficiency is common among Americans. But certain groups are more at risk for it than others, like women, children, vegetarians and people who give blood frequently. Not getting enough iron can really set your body back. That’s because iron helps create blood, transport oxygen, fight infections and produce energy. How do you know if you’re iron deficient?

Typically, people who aren’t getting enough of these nutrients experience symptoms like fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, and cold hands and feet. But the only way to know for sure is to have your iron levels tested. If your levels are low, your doctor will probably prescribe an iron supplement. Even if your levels aren’t low, it’s a good idea to take a supplement that includes iron… especially if you fall into one of the at-risk groups. You can also get iron from foods like beef, beef liver, chicken liver, shellfish, beans, and whole grains.

7. Vitamin A

Vitamin A is an antioxidant that’s essential to your immune function, your vision, your skin, your reproductive system and much more. You’re supposed to get 900 mcg of vitamin A per day if you’re a man and 700 mcg of vitamin A per day if you’re a woman. But according to Tufts researchers, Americans are missing that mark. That may be because most of us are eating far too little fruits and veggies. Vitamin A is abundant in orange and yellow fruits and veggies like carrots and mangoes. It’s also in milk, yogurt and fortified dairy alternatives.

Should you amp up your vitamin A intake with a supplement? That’s up to you. There is some evidence that excess antioxidants from vitamin A can contribute to cancer risk. But there’s also some research showing higher vitamin A intakes can reduce cancer. Either way, vitamin A can be toxic at excessive doses. So, if you do decide to take a vitamin A supplement, don’t overdo it. Better yet, take a high-quality, whole food multivitamin that’s sure to give you a reasonable dosage of vitamin A too.

8. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a standby for many of us during cold and flu season. But you need to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin C other times of the year too. Vitamin C boosts your immune function, supports skin health, helps you maintain healthy bones and teeth and supports wound healing.

If you don’t get enough vitamin C, you may notice yourself succumbing to bugs more often. Your cuts and scrapes probably won’t heal as quickly either. Luckily, eating more fruits and vegetables, like guavas, kiwis, strawberries, oranges, cantaloupes, grapefruits and tomatoes, should help. A whole-food, fermented multivitamin is a good insurance policy for getting enough C nutrients if you don’t think your diet is cutting it. You may also want to add extra C to your routine during cold and flu season. I like to do that with an Amla berry powder supplement. I just add a scoop or two to my water or OJ.

9. Vitamin E

Vitamin E has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It also supports your immune system. Unfortunately, most Americans aren’t getting enough of it in their diets. You’re supposed to get about 15 g of vitamin E per day from a variety of foods, including, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, nut butters, seed butters, and vegetable oils.

If you don’t think you can commit to getting more vitamin E from your diet, supplements are an option. But beware of synthetic vitamin E supplements (AKA alpha-tocopherol). They’ve been tied to an increased risk of cancer and other diseases in certain studies. The natural form of vitamin E seems to be safer. If you’re shopping for a vitamin E supplement, look for one that contains “mixed tocopherols.” These are natural forms of vitamin E like beta- and delta-tocopherol.

10. Choline

Choline is an essential nutrient that helps keep your liver, brain, nervous system, muscles and metabolism healthy. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t getting enough it… especially those of us who are vegetarian or vegan. There are some vegetarian sources of choline, like nuts, beans, and broccoli. But the biggest sources of the nutrients are animal products like meat, poultry, seafood and fish, eggs and milk.

You’re supposed to get between 425 and 550 mg of choline nutrients per day depending on your sex and pregnancy status. Not getting enough choline can have serious consequences, like liver disease, muscle damage, and developmental issues in unborn babies. If you’re a vegetarian or pregnant, taking a supplement that contains choline is probably a good idea. Just don’t take too much. Too much choline can cause dangerous drops in blood pressure, sweating, nausea, and other uncomfortable symptoms.

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Sources:

  1. For a balanced diet and good health, pay particular attention to these essential vitamins and minerals — MedicalXpress
  2. Rickets — Mayo Clinic
  3. Osteomalacia — Mayo Clinic
  4. Vitamin D and your health: Breaking old rules, raising new hopes — Harvard Health Publishing
  5. Should I take a potassium supplement? — Harvard Health Publishing
  6. How Much Potassium Do You Need Per Day? — Healthline
  7. What’s the Best Fiber Supplement? — Healthline
  8. Fiber — Harvard T.H. Chan. School of Public Health
  9. Magnesium Dosage: How Much Should You Take per Day? — Healthline
  10. Iron deficiency anemia — Mayo Clinic
  11. What Is Choline? An Essential Nutrient With Many Benefits — Healthline
  12. Vitamin A: Benefits, Deficiency, Toxicity and More — Healthline
  13. Easy does it with vitamin E — Harvard Health Publishing
  14. Vitamin E — National Institutes of Health
  15. How to get the “right” vitamin E — Easy Health Options
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.