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

Taking supplements is usually not the answer.  Instead, improve your food choices. Food supplies the proper mix of nutrients that work synergistically to promote health. Dependence on vitamin/mineral supplements increases the chance of getting too much of a particular nutrient which can end up being harmful.  Some people may need to take a nutritional supplement but that decision should be made with their doctor.

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

  1. Fiber

You’ve heard it before – eat more fiber.  Fiber is found only in plant-based foods and includes the parts of plant foods your body can’t digest or absorb.  Fiber helps to prevent or relieve constipation, helps control weight by making you feel full, can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, fights inflammation, and can boost your immune system.

Each day consume the recommended 25 to 30 grams of fiber by including whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables to your diet.

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.

  1. 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.  Insufficient magnesium intake 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.

  1. Calcium

Calcium is the most abundant mineral found in the human body.  It promotes and maintains bone health by lowering your risk of the brittle bone disease, 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.

  1. 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.  Your health suffers if vitamin B 12 is lacking.  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.

Aging can lead to a development of a B 12 deficiency 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 obtained from our food choices.  Vitamin B 12 is only found in foods of animal origin so 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.

  1. Potassium

Less than 2 percent of Americans get the recommended 4700 ng per day.  Too little potassium can cause abnormal heart rhythms, weak muscles, and a minor rise in blood pressure.  Potassium helps our muscles to contract, regulates our fluid and mineral balance, 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.

Rich food sources of potassium are 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.

Categories: DietHealth

Cheryl Mussatto

Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City, an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, Ks where she teaches Basic Nutrition, and is a blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi and nutroutine.com, an online market place connecting nutrition experts with customers worldwide. She can be contacted here.

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