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Missing Nutrients in Your Food

Even the most conscientious eaters may have dietary deficiencies.
By
WebMD Feature

When it comes to eating healthy, some of us focus on the negative.

"A lot of people concerned about good nutrition are just watching for what they can't eat -- whether it's fat, or sugar, or whatever," says Tara Gidus, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

But that attitude can blind us to all of those foods that we really should be eating more of. It also leads to missing nutrients in our food -- and dietary deficiencies -- for even the most conscientious eaters.

According to the most recent U.S. Dietary Guidelines, there are seven important nutrients in food that most Americans aren't getting in sufficient amounts:

  • Calcium
  • Potassium
  • Fiber
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E

Before you line your bathroom cabinet with supplements to fill the gaps, there's a simpler and healthier way. A few modest changes to your diet may give you all the nutrients you need.

Calcium

Back in elementary school, the basics were probably drummed into you: calcium is good for bones and teeth and it's in milk. But that might be about all you know.

Calcium does a lot more than keep your bones strong. It helps maintain your heart rhythm, muscle function, and more.

How much do you need? That depends on your age.

  • Adults up through age 50: 1,000 milligrams/day
  • Adults over age 50: 1,200 milligrams/day

However, if you have a higher risk of osteoporosis, check with your doctor, who might recommend a high dose of 1,500 milligrams.

Dairy is one of the easiest ways to get this nutrient in food. Calcium is especially well-absorbed when you take it with lactose, the sugar in milk and some milk products. But if you don't like milk -- or can't tolerate it -- don't assume that you'll have to rely on supplements. There are different ways to get this nutrient in food. Some good dairy and nondairy sources of calcium are:

  • Nonfat plain yogurt (8 ounces): 452 milligrams
  • Swiss cheese (1.5 ounces): 336 milligrams
  • Skim milk (8 ounces): 306 milligrams
  • Salmon (3 ounces): 181 milligrams
  • Cooked spinach (1 cup): 146 milligrams

Calcium is also in all sorts of fortified foods, like breakfast cereals, orange juice, and soy milk.

Potassium

"People don't know much about potassium," says Gidus. "They don't know how important it is, especially for maintaining healthy blood pressure." It's also key in maintaining fluid balance and the function of your nerves and muscles.

Adults should get 4,700 milligrams of potassium a day. "Potassium theoretically should be easy to get enough of, since it's in a lot of foods," says Lucia L. Kaiser, PhD, community nutrition specialist in the department of nutrition at the University of California, Davis. "But many people still don't, because they don't eat enough fruits and vegetables."

Bananas are a familiar source, Gidus says. But there are other ways to get this nutrient in food:

  • Baked sweet potato: 694 milligrams
  • Tomato paste (1/4 cup): 664 milligrams
  • Non-fat plain yogurt (8 ounces): 579 milligrams
  • Yellowfin tuna (3 ounces): 484 milligrams

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