How Does Your Diet Stack Up?
Many of us are short on important nutrients, survey shows
According to the latest comprehensive government report, the American diet
just doesn't measure up. Despite good intentions, our food choices aren't
meeting our bodies' needs for four important nutrients: vitamin E, magnesium,
vitamin A, and vitamin C.
Many of us - especially older adults -- should be concerned about other
dietary components as well.
So what can we do about this? Below, we'll give you some great tips,
recipes, and hints to make sure your diet stacks up. But first, here's a little
background on the government findings.
About the Report
Each year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Surveys Research Group
surveys what Americans are eating, using a random sample of 9,000 people across
the country. Each participant completes a 24-hour dietary recall, which
includes foods and beverages but not dietary supplements. Then, there's a
follow-up phone interview. Most participants (80%) also undergo a physical
The results are then compiled for a two-year period. The latest findings
have been published in a document called What We Eat in America, National
Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001-2002: Usual Nutrient Intakes from
Food Compared to Dietary Reference Intake. (There's a delay in publishing
the conclusions because it takes so long to collect and analyze the volumes of
The report, often called simply NHANES, compares the survey results to the
Institute of Medicine's Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs), the most recent
recommendations for the nutrients we need for good health. The evaluation
includes 24 different nutrients and dietary components.
The Latest Findings
According to the latest report:
- Nearly 95% of people in the United States are not getting desirable intakes
of vitamin E from foods and beverages.
- More than half aren't getting enough magnesium.
- About 40% aren't getting enough vitamin A.
- Nearly one-third aren't getting desirable intakes of vitamin C from
the foods and beverages they consume.
- Vitamin B-6 and zinc are also below suggested intake
- Older adults are the population group at the greatest risk of failing to
meet nutritional requirements.
- Everyone should also be concerned about getting enough vitamin K,
calcium, phosphorus, and dietary fiber.
To make sure your diet has all the nutrients you need, a great place to
start is with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "My Pyramid" at
www.mypyramid.gov, along with the 2005 Dietary Guidelines.
Another great start: Breakfast on a bowl of high-fiber cereal with skim
milk, plus a glass of orange juice (this will help meet your needs for vitamin
C, calcium, potassium, and fiber).
Beyond that, go out of your way to eat tasty foods that are rich in all or
most of the four main nutrients the American diet is lacking. Below, you'll
find top food sources of each, along with some "super foods" that
contain more than one of them; 10 easy tips to improve your diet; and a couple
of recipes to try.