Good news: You can snack your way to a stronger, longer life. Here's how.
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Despite recent interest in wellness, we have some unfortunate news: As a result of eating habits that are low in fruit, veggies, and dairy (and high in saturated fat, sodium, and sugar), the average American diet is more unbalanced than ever. According to the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion's 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs), "...diet-related chronic disease rates have risen to pervasive levels and continue to be a major public health concern." Oof.

Let's counter that with some uplifting news: We can dramatically lower our risk of chronic illness with a few small lifestyle changes. Mainly, by picking better foods to eat every day. The USDA and Department of Health and Human Services identified four nutrients typically consumed in amounts dangerously below recommended levels. They consider these under-consumed nutrients—potassium, calcium, dietary fiber, and vitamin D—of public health concern because their low intake are associated with chronic disease, such as cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Luckily, there are plenty of delicious foods packed with potassium, calcium, fiber, and vitamin D. The DGA's overall advice on what to eat is this: "...relatively higher intake of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, lean meats and poultry, seafood, nuts, and unsaturated vegetable oils, and relatively lower consumption of red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened foods and beverages, and refined grains."

To break it down further, we consulted Amanda Blechman, registered dietitian at Danone North America, a consumer packaged food and beverage company based in Broomfield, Colorado. Here are suggested daily values of the nutrients most of us are most lacking, followed by four foods that serve as excellent sources of them.

Suggested Daily Values for Adults and Children over 9 years of age (with slight variations for age and gender):

  • Potassium: 2600 mg
  • Calcium: 1000 mg
  • Fiber: 25 g
  • Vitamin D: 600 IU

Yogurt

Most yogurt contains three nutrients of concern: calcium, vitamin D, and potassium. Calcium is naturally found in dairy, and most of the U.S. dairy supply is also supplemented with vitamin D because they work together in the body. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, but most foods don't provide a meaningful amount, which is why most dairy in the U.S. is voluntarily fortified. Most yogurt also has potassium (an average 6-ounce serving of lowfat, fruit-flavored yogurt provides about 6% of the daily value for potassium) and, though they typically do not contain fiber, yogurt pairs well with fiber-rich foods (like fresh fruit and whole grains).

One of the best (and easiest) healthy breakfast combos is Greek yogurt with fresh berries and high-fiber bran cereal. If you have a dairy intolerance or are looking to include less in your diet, don't fret—many plant-based options are also fortified with calcium and vitamin D, like Silk Almond or Soy Dairy-free Yogurt Alternatives.

Salmon

Whiles most commonly touted for its omega-3 content, salmon is an excellent source of vitamin D. A 3-ounce serving of cooked salmon also offers about 8% of the daily value for potassium. Salmon is a delicious, high-quality protein source that can be added to salads or paired with cooked veggies to add more fiber to your meal.

Cooked Lentils

Cooked lentils pack a whopping 8 grams of fiber per ½ cup—almost 30% of the daily value. They also contain potassium, accounting for around 8% of your daily needs. Keep lentils on hand as an easy, affordable protein source that accommodates many eating patterns, exemplified by our vegetarian and vegan-friendly Lemony lentil soup.

Sweet Potato

Sweet potatoes offer fiber and protein. A medium one offers about 4 grams of fiber and almost 10% of the daily value of potassium. They're so tasty and versatile; great in sweet and savory dishes. There's lots of nutrition in the skin, so don't forget to scrub your sweet potatoes well and leave the skin on when you eat them. For a delicious snack hack: Mix vanilla Greek yogurt with a tablespoon of nut butter and cinnamon, and then spoon it onto half of a cooked sweet potato (or as a topping on slices of "sweet potato toast").