Missing Nutrients in Your Food
Even the most conscientious eaters may have dietary deficiencies.
"I think a lot of people don't get enough vitamin E," says Gidus. The reason can be ironic: they're trying too hard to eat healthy.
Vitamin E tends to appear in foods with high fat content, like nuts, seeds, and oils. So in a quest to eat low-fat and slim down, many people cut out the foods that are important sources of vitamin E. That's a mistake. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect your cells from damage.
So despite the fat, you should try to include some of these foods in your diet. While Kaiser stresses that a low-fat diet is still very important for good health, you need to distinguish between the so-called bad fats (saturated and trans fats) and the good ones (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) which are in these foods. Keep in mind that even the good fats are still high in calories, so you need to eat them moderately.
The form of vitamin E that is most beneficial is called alpha-tocopherol vitamin E (AT). Adults need about 15 milligrams of AT a day.
Some good sources of vitamin E are:
- Roasted sunflower seeds (1 ounce): 7.4 milligrams
- Almonds (1 ounce): 7.3 milligrams
- Peanut butter (2 tbsp): 2.5 milligrams
- Tomato sauce (1/2 cup): 2.5 milligrams
Other Important Nutrients
Specific groups of people may need more of these important nutrients as well.
Vitamin D plays a crucial role in allowing your body to use calcium. Since vitamin D is manufactured in your body when you're exposed to sunlight, people who don't get outside much -- or who have darker skin, or never go out without sunscreen -- are at risk. Vitamin D doesn't occur in high quantities in foods naturally. So you may need to rely on fortified foods and supplements -- or just get some more sun every day.
Folic acid is key for women during pregnancy, since it can reduce the risk of birth defects. Good sources are lentils, spinach, and broccoli. Pregnant women generally need to take 600 micrograms/day of folic acid supplements.
Iron is important for younger women and pregnant women especially, Kaiser says. Good sources are meats -- like beef, turkey, and chicken -- as well as spinach, kidney beans, soy beans, and many fortified foods.
Vitamin B12 is key in the formation of red blood cells. As people age, it's harder for them to absorb it from food. So all people over 50 should seek out foods fortified with B12 -- like many cereals -- or to take B12 supplements, says Kaiser. The recommended daily amount is 2.4 micrograms/day.