Take a look around your kitchen. Is your fridge filled with piles of fresh fruits and veggies, along with some lean proteins and whole grains? Or is your pantry packed full of chips, cookies, and other over-processed carbs and simple sugars? If you answered yes to the latter, you’re not alone. The Department of Health and Human Services has found the average American diet is lacking in several powerful nutrients, all of which play key roles in your overall health. Ready to say goodbye to Chips Ahoy and Cheetos and wave hello to apples and oranges? Here are the 5 important nutrients you could be missing.
According to Greatist, the recommended daily potassium intake for adults is 4,700 milligrams, but only 56 percent of American adults are getting that much. The problem lies with sodium, which weasels its way into processed foods, replacing potassium in the process. If a good part of your diet is dedicated to processed meats, fast food, and pastries, you probably aren’t getting as much potassium as you should be.
Wondering what the big deal is? Potassium is crucial; your body needs it to keep your organs working properly. Web MD writes that it is necessary for your heart, kidneys, and other organs to work normally. Your body also needs potassium to help regulate water balance and keep your nervous system and muscles functioning the way they should be. On the less serious side of the spectrum, not consuming enough potassium can result in muscle cramps, constipation, and fatigue. On the extremely serious side, low potassium has been linked to a risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, cancer, digestive disorders, and infertility.
Luckily, there are plenty of foods that will quickly provide you with the potassium you need. Web MD recommends bananas, avocados, nuts (almonds and peanuts), citrus fruits, leafy, green vegetables, milk, and potatoes. Something to keep in mind: Some types of cooking, such as boiling, can destroy most of the potassium in food.
Livestrong writes that the recommended fiber intake is 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men. On average, Americans are only getting 15 grams of fiber each day. The problem? You guessed it: processed food. There is no dietary fiber to be found in processed grains, such as white flour.
But your body needs fiber to continue running like a well-oiled machine. Fiber helps protect against coronary heart disease and reduces the risk of diabetes, according to Real Simple. On a more basic level, it also helps promote digestion and prevents constipation. Soluble fiber, which is found in oats, beans, lentils, and some fruits, can reduce the risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes, and protects the arteries, per Greatist. Insoluble fiber, found in whole wheat, brown rice, legumes, and vegetables, can help treat digestive problems.
Ready to up your fiber intake? Load up on whole grains, nuts, oatmeal, lentils, apples, strawberries, seeds, oranges, carrots, beans, leafy greens, cucumbers, onions, and celery. Just 1/2 cup of black beans will get you 6.1 grams of fiber, while a medium pear provides a healthy 5.5 grams.
Americans should be consuming 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day. Surprisingly, many Americans are meeting that requirement, but it still doesn’t seem to be enough. Greatist writes that 75 percent of Americans are consuming the recommended intake, but because young adults, young women, and those over 51 require a higher dose of calcium, they’re still not getting enough — even if they’re reaching 1,000 milligrams a day. The lesson here? The more calcium you can get, the better.
Calcium is crucial for bone health. In addition, your heart, muscles, and nerves also need calcium to function properly, per Mayo Clinic. It has other perks, too, including assisting in nerve transmission and helping our blood clot properly. Children who don’t get enough calcium may not grow to their full potential, while adults may have low bone mass, a serious risk factor for osteoporosis and bone fractures.
To up your calcium intake, Real Simple recommends eating dairy products, fish with bones, and dark, leafy greens. Want to get a bit more creative? Greatist suggests making an omelet. Use 2 large eggs (56 milligrams), 1 slice of Monterey cheese (209 milligrams), and 1/4 cup kale (25 milligrams), and you’ll quickly be on your way to exceeding your calcium requirement for the day.
4. Vitamin D
Only 28 percent of Americans are getting the recommended daily amount of vitamin D, which is 18 micrograms a day, according to Greatist. One of the best ways to get vitamin D is through milk, which is fortified with up to 25 micrograms of vitamin D per ounce. However, since many Americans aren’t getting as much calcium as they need, it means they’re also falling behind on vitamin D. Additionally, as skin cancer becomes a health concern for many, people are loading up on sunscreen, which prevents your body from absorbing vitamin D from the sun’s rays.
Why should you care? “It affects cell death and proliferation, insulin production, and even the immune system,” Michael F. Holick, Ph.D., M.D., director of the vitamin D, skin, and bone research laboratory at the Boston University Medical Center, says to Women’s Health. Simply put, being deficient in vitamin D will cause your body to work far below its potential and has been linked to depression, heart disease, pregnancy problems, skin and other cancers, and multiple sclerosis. On the flip side, when you’re getting enough vitamin D, you feel really good; your energy levels are higher and your mood becomes noticeably better.
Like all of the foods on this list, you can easily eat your way out of a deficiency. Greatist suggests eating 3 ounces of light canned tuna in water (3.8 micrograms), 1 cup of fortified milk (2.9 micrograms), and 1 cup of fortified orange juice (3.4 micrograms.) Fish is a great way to boost your vitamin D levels. One 3-ounce serving of sockeye salmon provides you with a whopping 19.8 micrograms!
Last, but not least, is iron. Livestrong writes that men need 8 milligrams a day, women require 18 milligrams a day, and pregnant women require 27 milligrams a day. Women are more likely to suffer from an iron deficiency, because their bodies require more of the nutrient. Vegans and vegetarians can both be susceptible to an iron deficiency, since iron found in meat, poultry, and fish is absorbed two to three times more efficiently than iron from plants, per Greatist.
Iron is needed for our bodies to function on a very basic level. It carries oxygen from our lungs to the rest of our body, helps build muscles, and is a part of many enzymes, which helps with food digestion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An iron deficiency can cause severe fatigue (otherwise known as anemia), and can also affect your memory, the CDC writes. It has also been linked to muscle loss and can make it difficult for the body to regulate body temperature. For pregnant women, it can cause difficulties with the pregnancy and infants’ health.
To ensure you’re getting your recommended daily dose of iron, the CDC recommends eating a diet filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or nonfat milk and milk products, lean meats, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts. You can also eat foods that help your body absorb food better. “For example, you can eat a fruit or vegetable that is a good source of vitamin C with a food or meal that contains non-heme iron. Vitamin C helps your body absorb the non-heme iron foods you eat, especially when the food containing non-heme iron and the vitamin-C rich food are eaten at the same meal,” per the CDC.
Greatist’s suggestion? Try 10 clams (2.62 milligrams), ½ cup edamame (2.25 milligrams), ½ cup lentils (3.3 milligrams), 4 ounces beef sirloin steak (2.4 milligrams), and 1 cup cooked broccoli (1.5 milligrams).