Our diet has never been the model of all that is healthy. We love our red meat, sugary desserts, refined grains, and soda, but even with the USDA’s new and improved food pyramid, most Americans fall short of current dietary recommendations. A lack of essential nutrients in our diets can lead to nutritional deficiencies and other major health problems. In addition to eating healthier and exercising more often, we should also start including these seven nutrients back into our diets.
Fiber has become one of the most talked about nutrients over the past few years, but many consumers don’t know what makes this indigestible food source so special. Dietary fiber comes from the parts of plant foods that cannot be digested or absorbed by your body. This bulk passes relatively intact through your digestive system, aiding in many important healthy functions, such as preventing or relieving constipation and providing a sense of fullness. Fiber also helps lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels, which may play a key role in reducing your risk of diabetes and heart disease. Dietary fiber is most abundant in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and legumes, and may be taken as supplements.
If you’re not familiar with vitamin B12, it’s probably because we aren’t getting enough of this important nutrient in our diets. This water-soluble vitamin is vital to the formation of proper red blood cells, neurological function, and DNA synthesis. It also helps maintain normal functioning of the brain and nervous system. Vitamin B12 is naturally present in some foods, mostly from animals, but it is also commonly added to foods and is consumed as a dietary supplement.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, but yet most of us are not getting enough of this essential nutrient from our current diets. Although most Americans absorb calcium through milk, yogurt, and cheese, there are plenty of nondairy sources like broccoli, Chinese cabbage, and the superfood kale. Many grains, cereals, and juices have also been fortified with calcium.
Magnesium is one of the most important minerals in the body. It plays a vital role in energy production, enzyme activation, and protein production, as well as the contraction and relaxation of muscles and regulation of calcium levels. Although it’s rare to be deficient in magnesium, most Americans are not getting as much magnesium from their diet as they should be. Magnesium can be found in many foods, including green leafy vegetables, whole grains, and nuts.
Vitamin D is an essential vitamin that is not naturally present in many foods, which is one of the main reasons why so many Americans don’t get enough of it in their diets. This fat-soluble vitamin promotes calcium absorption in the gut and enables bone growth, bone mineralization, and bone remodeling. Vitamin D helps prevent bones from becoming thin and brittle and reduces your risk of developing osteoporosis. Vitamin D is commonly added to milk and orange juice and may be taken as a supplement as well.
Iodine is an essential nutrient presently found in the body. It serves many important functions, specifically in the normal metabolism of cells, thyroid function, and production of thyroid hormones. The main food source of iodine is table salt, but this trace mineral can also be found naturally in seafood, such as cod, sea bass, perch, and haddock. Kelp, dairy products, and plants growing in iodine-rich soils are also good sources of iodine. Although iodine deficiency occurs most often in places with iodine-poor soil, it is still important to make sure you are getting enough of this nutrient through a balanced diet containing a wide variety of foods.
Potassium is essential for the function of cells, tissues, and specific organs in the body. This mineral plays an important role in heart function, skeletal and smooth muscle contraction. Many foods are rich in potassium, including meats, some types of fish, fruits, vegetables, and dairy. But even though potassium is prevalent in many of our foods today, we still don’t get enough of the mineral into our diets.