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    Americans may eat too many calories, but we're still falling short on essential nutrients. That may seem like a paradox. It's not.

    “Americans consume far too many empty calories -- foods high in sugar or fat and not much else,” says Kathy McManus, PhD, head of nutrition at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. “And we're still not getting people to eat enough nutrient-rich foods, like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and nuts.”

    In 2010, the updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans singled out 10 nutrients that Americans may be missing. Four are so low in many people's diets that deficiency poses a real public health risk. They include calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and fiber. Levels of six other key nutrients are “tenuous,” according to the guidelines, including vitamins A, C, E and K, along with choline and magnesium.

    Here's why these 10 nutrients are so important -- and how to ensure you're getting enough.


    Most of us know that calcium is essential for healthy bones. New evidence suggests that calcium also protects the heart and arteries. It appears to lower the risk of breast cancer and may guard against other forms of cancer, too. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans concluded that many children and most adults fall short on this essential mineral.

    How much to shoot for: Women 19 to 50 should get 1,000 milligrams of dietary calcium per day. After age 50, the recommendation climbs to 1,200 milligrams. Adult men should get 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day and 1,200 milligrams a day after age 70.

    Where to find it: Milk and milk products such as yogurt, calcium-enriched tofu, calcium-fortified orange juice, fortified cereals, low-fat cheeses such as ricotta.

    Bonus nutrients: Milk, yogurt, and low-fat cheeses are great sources of protein as well as essential nutrients such as potassium.

    Simple changes you can make: Have a bowl of fortified cereal with milk for breakfast. Help yourself to yogurt for a snack or quick lunch.

    Vitamin D

    The sunshine vitamin, D is produced by the skin when we're exposed to sunlight. Since many of us work inside, we may not get enough sun exposure to generate adequate vitamin D. Although recent research suggests that vitamin D may be important for a range of functions, the best evidence points to its essential role in building and maintaining strong bones.

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