7 Nutrients Your Diet May Be Missing

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, RD, LD, MPH on November 10, 2022
5 min read

Chances are, you need more of seven nutrients discussed here. Many adults don't get enough of them.

You can fix that problem by following these simple steps for each nutrient.

Why It’s Good for You: Your bones need it. So do your heart and other muscles. 

How Much You Need: You need more calcium as you age, according to the Institute of Medicine, the group of experts that sets nutrient quotas. Here's what you need every day:

  • Ages 19 to 50: 1,000 milligrams
  • Ages 51 and up: 1,200 mg

How to Get More of It: Three servings of low-fat dairy foods each day, as part of a balanced diet, provide you with the calcium you need. If you have a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance, you can get calcium from calcium-fortified products, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, and seeds. You can also get calcium from fortified foods and dietary supplements.

Some examples of foods that provide around 300 milligrams of calcium per serving include:

  • 8 ounces nonfat milk or nonfat plain yogurt
  • 8 ounces calcium-fortified orange juice
  • 1 1/2 ounces hard cheese
  • 8 ounces calcium-fortified soy milk, almond milk, or another milk alternative

Why It’s Good for You: Fiber is good for avoiding constipation, lowering cholesterol, and managing blood sugar levels. It's filling, and it's found in foods that are low in calories, so it helps you manage your weight. Fiber can also help lower your LDL, or bad cholesterol, which could lower your risk of heart disease.

How Much You Need:

  • Men ages 19 to 50: 38 grams; ages 51 years and older: 30 grams
  • Women ages 19 to 50: 25 grams; ages 51 years and older: 21 grams

How to Get More of It:

  • Include fruits and vegetables and high-fiber whole grains at every meal and beans several times a week.
  • Snack on whole-grain crackers, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds (including natural-style nut butters) or popcorn (a whole grain) instead of cookies, candy, or chips.
  • Choose whole-grain breads and cereals, whole wheat pasta, and other whole grains, such as quinoa, millet, barley, cracked wheat, and wild rice.
  • Look for breads with more than 3 grams of fiber per slice. Go for cereals with 5 or more grams of dietary fiber per serving.
  • Start a meal with a bean soup, such as lentil or black bean.
  • Add canned, rinsed chickpeas, kidney beans or black beans to salads, soups, eggs, and pasta dishes.
  • Although food sources of fiber are best, fiber supplements can help you get the daily amount of fiber you need. Examples include psyllium, methylcellulose, wheat dextrin, and calcium polycarbophil. If you take a fiber supplement, increase the amount you take slowly. This can help prevent gas and cramping. It’s also important to drink enough liquids when you increase your fiber intake.


Why It’s Good for You: You need vitamin A for your vision, genes, immune system, and many other things.

How Much You Need: Vitamin A comes in two forms: as retinol (which is ready for the body to use) and carotenoids, the raw materials the body converts to vitamin A.

How to Get More of It: Make your diet colorful. Top picks include:

  • Carrots
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Pumpkin
  • Spinach
  • Cantaloupe
  • Sweet red pepper
  • Broccoli
  • Tomato


Why It’s Good for You: Potassium is present in every cell of your body. It plays a key role in maintaining muscles, nerves, and fluid balance. Potassium also promotes strong bones, and you need it for energy production. 

How Much You Need: Men and women age 19 and older need 4,700 milligrams of potassium every day.

If you have high blood pressure, check with your doctor or pharmacist about the medications you take to control it. Some drugs, including certain diuretics, make you lose potassium, so you need to compensate for the loss.

How to Get More of It: These potassium-packed foods will help you meet your daily quota:

  • 1 cup canned kidney beans: 607 milligrams
  • 2 cups raw spinach: 839 mg
  • Medium sweet potato, cooked: 694 mg
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt: 240 mg
  • 1 cup orange juice: 496 mg
  • 1 cup cooked broccoli: 457 mg
  • 1 cup cantaloupe: 431 mg
  • 1 medium banana: 422 mg


Why It’s Good for You: If there's a chance you'll become pregnant or are pregnant, this is particularly important. Folic acid is the synthetic form of the B vitamin folate. Once you conceive, folic acid and folate, the natural form, help protect your baby against neural tube defects (and possibly cleft lip or palate) during the first 30 days.

How Much You Need: Getting the recommended 400 micrograms of folic acid every day from supplements is a must for women who may become pregnant. (Many prenatal vitamins have as much as 800mcg.) Folate is important throughout pregnancy, too. It's involved in cell production and guards against a certain type of anemia. Pregnant women need 600 mcg.

How to Get More of It: In addition to taking a folic acid supplement, women who could become pregnant should eat folate-rich foods including:

  • Breakfast cereals: 1 ounce equals 100-400 micrograms of folic acid
  • Enriched spaghetti: 1 cup cooked equals 80 mcg folic acid
  • Enriched bread: 2 slices equals 86 mcg folic acid
  • Lentils: 1 cup cooked equals 358 mcg folate
  • Spinach: 1 cup cooked equals 139 mcg folate
  • Broccoli: 1 cup cooked equals 168 mcg folate
  • Orange juice: 3/4 cup equals 35 mcg folate

Why It’s Good for You: Iron is responsible for transporting oxygen to cells and tissues throughout the body. It's important for women to get enough iron before and during pregnancy. Pregnancy is a drag on your iron supply and may cause iron-deficiency anemiain a new mom.

How Much You Need: Men need 8 milligrams per day of iron. Women need 18 milligrams per day from ages 19 to 50 (27 grams if they're pregnant) and 8 milligrams from age 51 on (because they are no longer losing iron through menstruation).

How to Get More of It: Animal sources of iron include:

  • 3 ounces cooked beef: 3 milligrams
  • 3 ounces cooked dark-meat turkey: 2 mg
  • 3 ounces cooked light-meat turkey: 1 mg
  • 3 ounces cooked chicken thigh: 1.1 mg
  • 3 ounces cooked chicken breast: 0.9 mg
  • 1 large hardboiled egg: 0.9 mg

Plant-based iron sources include:

  • 1 cup fortified instant oatmeal: 10 milligrams
  • 1 cup cooked soybeans: 8 mg
  • 1 cup boiled kidney beans: 4 mg
  • 1 cup edamame, cooked from frozen: 3.5 mg

Spinach, raisins, and beans are also good sources of iron. So are whole-grain cereals that have been enriched with iron. Keep in mind that the iron absorption rate from plant sources is lower than with animal sources of iron.

Why It’s Good for You: Your body must have vitamin D to absorb calcium and promote bone growth. Too little vitamin D results in soft bones in children (rickets) and fragile, misshapen bones in adults (osteomalacia). You also need vitamin D for other important body functions. Some experts recommend getting vitamin D from your diet instead of relying on the sun.

How Much You Need: Current recommendations call for adults ages 19-70 to get 600 international units of vitamin D per day, and 800 IU per day starting at age 71.

How to Get More of It: Natural sources of vitamin D include fish and egg yolk. Vitamin D-fortified foods include milk, yogurt, some orange juice products, and some breakfast cereals. You may need a mixture of both food and supplements to get the vitamin D your body requires.