The 4 Nutrients Most of Us Are Lacking (and What to Eat to Fix That)
Good news: you can snack your way to a stronger, longer life. Here's how.
Despite how massive the wellness movement has become in the past year, we have some unfortunate news. As a result of eating habits that are low in fruits, 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 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs), “chronic diet-related diseases continue to rise and levels of physical activity remain low." Oof.
We'll counter this fact with some more 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 together identified four nutrients that are consumed by most individuals in amounts dangerously below the recommended intake levels. These under-consumed nutrients— potassium, calcium, dietary fiber and vitamin D—are considered nutrients of public health concern because low intakes are associated with chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Luckily, there are plenty of delicious foods that are packed with potassium, calcium, fiber, and vitamin D. The DGA’s overall advice on what to eat is this: “Consuming a healthy diet that includes a variety of whole fruits and vegetables, grains (at least half of which are whole grains), nonfat or low fat dairy (including milk, yogurt, cheese and/or fortified soy beverages), a variety of protein foods and oils.”
But for the sake of our own health (and sanity), we consulted Amanda Blechman, a registered dietitian at Danone North America, to break it down further. Here are the 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 >4 years of age:
- Potassium: 4700 mg
- Calcium: 1300 mg
- Fiber: 28 g
- Vitamin D: 20 mcg
Most yogurts contain three of the four nutrients of concern: calcium, vitamin D and potassium. Calcium is naturally found in dairy and most of the U.S. dairy supply also has vitamin D added since they work together in the body. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, but most foods don’t provide a meaningful amount of vitamin D, which is why most dairy in the U.S. is voluntarily fortified. Many yogurts also have 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 is a food that 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. Some yogurts now have fiber in them as well, like Oikos Triple Zero Greek Nonfat Yogurt, which packs in 6 grams of fiber per 5.3-ounce cup. 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 is most commonly touted for its omega-3 content, but it’s also an excellent source of vitamin D. An average 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 which can add more fiber to your meal.
Cooked lentils pack a whopping 8 grams of fiber per ½ cup—that’s almost 30% of the daily value! They also contain potassium, clocking in around 8% of your daily needs. Keep lentils on hand as an easy, affordable protein source that spans a ton of eating patterns, including vegetarian and vegan diets.
Sweet potatoes offer both fiber and protein, with about 4 grams of fiber and almost 10% of the daily value of potassium in a medium sweet potato. They’re so tasty and versatile; you can use them for both 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. A delicious snack hack is mixing vanilla Greek yogurt with a tablespoon of nut butter and cinnamon, then spooning it into half of a cooked sweet potato (or as a topping on slices of “sweet potato toast”).