9 Nutrients That Most Men Don’t Get Enough Of

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

The expression “you are what you eat” may seem trite, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Vitamins are essential for good nutrition and overall health. In an ideal world with enough planning and thought, you can take in all the necessary nutrients in your food. But the fact of the matter is that it’s difficult. In fact, it’s “wishful thinking,” as Chicago-based dietitian David Grotto, RD, the author of 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life and a former spokesman for the American Dietetic Association, told WebMD. When you’re hungry — or even worse hungry and tired — it’s easy to stick with what you know and love. And while you may have set yourself up with a fairly healthy routine, the mere fact your diet has become routine is problematic because you may not be getting all the nutrients you need. Just adding iceberg lettuce to your sandwich or remembering to eat a banana post-workout is healthy, but it doesn’t exactly mean you’re eating smart.

Most men are not getting enough vitamins and nutrients in their daily diets. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, men between the ages of 31 and 50 need to eat 350% more dark green vegetables and 150% more fruit per day in order to meet federal dietary guidelines. Men actually have dietary deficiencies in all categories, except — unsurprisingly — meat and beans.

Other studies have suggested that taking a supplement, rather than attempting to incorporate a natural vitamin source into your diet, is a poor choice. And while scientists have a lot left to learn, it seems probable that a vitamin’s benefits may depend on its interactions with the actual food of which they are a part of, meaning the food as a whole may be more than a sum of its parts. “How do you replicate [a strawberry] in a supplement?” Howard Sesso, ScD, MPH, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School told WebMD. “You have to put it all together in order for it to be reflective, but that is difficult. To take something and replicate it perfectly – that is the challenge.”

Here are nine nutrients that you may not being getting enough of, plus easy sources to bring these essential vitamins back into your diet.

 1. Magnesium

Source: iStock

Where does it come from? Men’s Health described magnesium as one of the most important minerals many people aren’t paying attention to. In fact, around half the population is deficient in it, and this deficiency comes from the fact that American diets are dependent on refined foods, which process out the mineral. Even when your diet is healthy, magnesium can still be hard to obtain. The leafy green vegetables in which it is found have lower levels when grown with chemical fertilizers.

Why do you need it? Magnesium is key for keeping your heart healthy and your sleep restful. It helps lower stress and makes muscles strong. Without enough of this mineral, you may suffer from insomnia, anxiety, and high blood pressure. It helps to regulate melatonin (a compound that helps you sleep), cortisol (too much of which causes anxiety), and blood pressure.

“So many patients and doctors are unaware that a deficiency in a simple mineral can lead to so many problems,” Dr. Dennis Goodman, Clinical Associate Professor of Cardiology at NYU and Director of Integrative Medicine at New York Medical Associates, told Men’s Journal. “Some of these, like muscle cramps, are nuisances, but others are major – we’re talking diabetes, obesity, heart attacks, and strokes.”

2. Vitamin D

Source: iStock

Where does it come from? vitamin D comes with the cutesy nickname of the sunshine vitamin because the human body manufactures it after being exposed to the sun’s rays. This nutrient is not common in food, but you can find vitamin D in fatty fish like swordfish, salmon, and tuna, plus eggs and fortified milk.

Why do you need it? The main function of vitamin D is to promote calcium absorption in the gut. It also “maintains adequate serum calcium and phosphate concentrations to enable normal mineralization of bone,” according to the National Institutes of Health. In other words, the nutrient keeps bones strong. Deficiencies in this vitamin lead to obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart attack, stroke, and muscle weakness, and a research paper presented in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition termed vitamin D deficiency a “pandemic.”

3. Vitamin B12

Where does it come from? Unlike some of the other entries on this list, men will not find it difficult to get enough of this vitamin as long as they are not vegetarian or vegan; cheeseburgers, clams, and certain breakfast cereals all have B12. It is also abundant in eggs and cheese, but interestingly enough, B12 is not found in many vegetables.

Why do you need it? This nutrient is essential for red blood cell formation, neurological function, and DNA synthesis. B12 is necessary for normal nerve activity, and like all of the B-complex group of vitamins, it helps with energy and metabolism. A deficiency can lead to anemia, or a lack of healthy, oxygen-providing red blood cells, as well as fatigue and shortness of breath.

4. Niacin (B-3)

Oysters with lemon and dill

Source: iStock

Where does it come from? Niacin is also very important for men’s health, but it’s found in foods that are easily forgotten: whole wheat, almonds, and seeds. If your diet regularly includes protein-rich foods, and whole wheat in particular, that should be adequate. However, if you don’t regularly eat whole grains and almonds, you should consider a supplement. Don’t over-do it though, as excess B-3 can lead to flushed skin and even liver damage.

Why do you need it? The most important function of vitamin B-3 is its ability to lower blood cholesterol levels, and lower cholesterol means a lower risk of suffering from a stroke, heart attack, or another cardiovascular disease. According to WebMD, niacin also has been studied for the treatment of other diseases, and while more research still needs to be done, there is evidence that it might lower the risk Alzheimer’s disease, cataracts, osteoarthritis, and type 1 diabetes.

5. Iodine

Where does it come from? This nutrient is a trace element, naturally present in some foods, added to others, and available as a dietary supplement. Iodine can be found in sea vegetables like kelp and Wakame, cranberries, yogurt, navy beans, strawberries, cheese, and potatoes. Kelp has the highest amount of iodine of any food on the planet, boasting 4 times the daily minimum requirement, according to the Global Healing Center. Iodized salt is not a very good option, as it does not really have very much of the nutrient per serving and it merely adds more sodium to your diet.

Why do you need it? Iodine is required by the body’s thyroid gland to produce the hormones T3 and T4, which help you efficiently burn calories, according to Men’s Health. Iodine may also play a role in immune response.

6. Zinc

Oysters with lemon and dill

Source: iStock

Where does it come from? Veal, crab, and oysters are all sources of zinc. Four ounces of lean beef provide half the daily requirement of 11 grams needed by the adult man, while a single oyster provides the entire amount. Turkey, fortified cereals, whole grains, and beans also have this nutrient. Most Americans, with the exception of vegetarians, have no trouble ingesting enough zinc. However, if you have had gastrointestinal surgery or a digestive disorder, you may need to up your zinc in take. Alcohol also impairs the amont of zinc a body absorbs and increases the amount lost through urine.

Why do you need it? Zinc helps the immune system fight off bacteria and viruses. It is essential in making proteins and DNA. Zinc is also related to fertility, potency, sex drive, and long-term sexual health, and the mineral is critical to sperm production, according to Men’s Health.

7. Vitamin E

Where does it come from? You must be careful not to take too much vitamin E — a fat-soluble antioxidant that will stay in your system. Still, it is an important part of good nutrition and should be consumed through whatever foods possible. It can be found in sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, swiss chard, avocados, peanuts, other greens (like turnips), beets, mustard, and asparagus.

Why do you need it? Vitamin E is actually a blanket term for eight different naturally occurring nutrients. But each is an essential antioxidant, and scientific research suggests they protect against heart disease and cancer. More specifically, these nutrients guard against the damaging effects of free radicals, molecules that have an unshared electron and might contribute to the development of cancer and cardiovascular disease. It is also used as a topical treatment for aging and sunburn.

8. Vitamin K

broccoli

Source: iStock

Where does it come from?  Like vitamin D, vitamin K has been getting a lot of press for both its benefits and its absence in our diets. Vitamin K may not be as elusive as vitamin D, but the foods that carry this essential nutrient are not exactly popular: broccoli and other leafy green vegetables, fermented cheese, and soy. The good news is that pumpkin has it too.

Why do you need it? Vitamin K boosts vascular health by preventing calcium build-up along blood vessel walls. It serves as a coenzyme — or a necessary ingredient for a protein’s biological activity — for an enzyme that’s needed for blood clotting and in bone metabolism.

9. Chromium

Where does it come from? Chromium is a mineral that humans require in trace amounts. Meats and whole-grain foods serve as a relatively good source of this nutrient, as does broccoli, grape juice, potatoes, garlic, basil, orange, red wine, and green beans.

Why do you need it? This may seem like a surprising entry for this list; after all, what it actually does and how much is needed for optimal health are not well defined. But it is known to enhance the working of insulin, the hormone critical to the metabolism and storage of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins by the body.

Follow Meghan on Twitter @MFoley_WSCS

More From Health & Fitness Cheat Sheet: