7 Nutrients You Need More Of
When the US Department of Agriculture released its latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans recently, they identified a handful of vitamins and minerals Americans weren't getting enough of. All age and gender groups are now encouraged to increase intake of four of these "Nutrients of Concern" — potassium, calcium, vitamin D, and dietary fiber. Three other nutrients were found to be deficient in the diets of specific groups: nursing mothers, pregnant women, and women planning for pregnancy should increase their intake of iron and folate; people over age 50 should increase their intake of vitamin B12.
The best way to get sufficient nutrients is through a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Supplementation with multivitamins is also encouraged.
That's all well and good. But what are these seven nutrients, exactly? Why should we be taking care that we're taking enough?
Potassium, sodium, and calcium are the key ingredients of the electrolyte soup that bathes our cells, inside and out. The soup inside our cells has more potassium ions and the soup outside has more sodium ions. Between 20 and 40 percent of resting energy is expended moving potassium and sodium ions to maintain this balance. When people talk about "slow metabolism" or "fast metabolism" this is what they mean.
Although the mechanism is not well understood, potassium counteracts sodium's effect of increasing blood pressure. Increased intake may also reduce the risk of kidney stones and bone loss. The new dietary guidelines suggest that an adult consume 4700 milligrams of potassium per day, from a varied diet.
Some Good Sources of Potassium:
- 1 cup Raisins (1089mg)
- 1 cup Lima beans (956mg)
- 1 cup Spinach (838mg)
- 1 Baked potato (702mg)
- 8 oz Nonfat yogurt (579mg)
Everybody knows calcium is vital for strong bones and teeth. But calcium is also important for the constriction and relaxation of blood vessels, nerve signal transmission, and muscle contractions. Calcium is important for blood coagulation, too, which allows the blood to clot to stop bleeding. Because of its many uses, calcium level in the blood is carefully monitored and regulated. If calcium falls too low, reserves will be drawn from deposits in the bones, where 99 percent of the body's calcium is found. If calcium deficiency in the blood persists, whether as a result of low intake or poor absorption (such as that caused by vitamin D deficiency), loss of bone mass can occur.
Most Americans do not consume enough calcium. Deficiency is harmful whether young or old, but, during a critical stage of bone mass formation, just 25% of boys and 10% of girls ages 9-17 reach their daily recommendation of 1300 mg. The recommendation for adults is 1000 mg.
Some Good Sources of Calcium:
- 8 oz Fortified orange juice (500mg)
- 8 oz Nonfat yogurt (452mg)
- 8 oz Fortified soy milk (299mg)
- 8 oz Nonfat chocolate milk (290mg)
- 1 cup Spinach (244mg)
Vitamin D is important to bone health because it helps us absorb calcium. Poor calcium absorption triggers our bodies to begin drawing on the stores of calcium in the bones. In children, severe vitamin D deficiency prevents mineralization of calcium in growing bones — rickets — and in adults and the elderly it leads to gradual loss of bone minerals or softening of the bones. Vitamin D also boosts the immune system.
The new guidelines advise 15 micrograms of vitamin D daily. Our skin synthesizes vitamin D from sunlight, and sunlight remains the best source as few, non-fortified, foods are reliable sources.
Some Good Sources of Vitamin D:
- 3 oz Halibut (4.9mcg)
- 8 oz Fortified orange juice (3.5mcg)
- 8 oz Nonfat chocolate milk (2.8mcg)
- 8 oz Fortified soy milk (2.7mcg)
- 1 hard-boiled egg (1.1mcg)
The last of the four nutrients of concern for all Americans is dietary fiber, the non-digestible parts of the fruits, vegetables, and grains we consume. Fiber is important for laxation, of course, and it helps prolong the feeling of "fullness" after eating while damping blood sugar spikes. Fiber has been shown to reduce "bad" cholesterol and it may also reduce the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
The guidelines advise 25 grams of fiber each day for women and 38 grams for men. Many food products assumed by some consumers to have high fiber content —pizza crust, breads and other baked goods — aren't actually good sources of fiber because they are made with refined grains.
Some Good Sources of Fiber:
- 1 cup Lima beans (13.2g)
- 1 Apple (4.4g)
- 2 slices Whole grain bread (4g)
- 1 cup Oatmeal (4g)
- 1/2 cup Dried peaches (3.5g)
Iron is everywhere in our bodies, responsible for oxygen storage in the muscles and oxygen transport in the blood. Deep in our cells, iron contributes to the process that generates ATP, a fundamental energy storage and transfer enzyme. Iron is also an anti-oxidant, it helps our bodies adjust to low oxygen, and it's needed for DNA synthesis. In short, we need iron for respiration, metabolism, immune response, and growth.
The guidelines advise 8 milligrams of iron daily for men. Women who can become pregnant should consume 18 mg. Iron from animal sources, "heme iron" is more readily absorbed (bioavailability) than "nonheme iron" from plant sources. Pregnant women are encouraged to speak to their health care provider about iron supplements.
Some Good Sources of Iron:
- 1 cup Spinach (6.4mg)
- 1 cup Lima beans (4.5mg)
- 1 cup Oatmeal (2.1mg)
- 1/2 cup Dried peaches (1.69mg)
- 1 Baked potato (1.5mg)
Folate (or folic acid when taken as a supplement) is important to amino acid metabolism, but it is folate's role in DNA metabolism that earns it its notice here; folate is needed for cell division or reproduction. When we're folate deficient, rapidly dividing cells such as red blood cells produced in the bone marrow are unable to meet demand. In adults, severe deficiency leads to anemia-like symptoms. Sluggish cell division in fetuses, however, retards development and can lead to serious birth defects, notably neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Because of this, folic acid has been added to enriched grain products since 1998.
Adult men and women both are advised to consume 400 mcg of dietary folate daily. In addition, women who can become pregnant should supplement their intake with an additional 400 mcg of folic acid. Pregnant women should consume 600 mcg of folate daily, from all sources. Oranges and orange juice, beans and peas and leafy vegetables are all good sources.
Some Good Sources of Folate:
- 1 cup Spinach (262mcg)
- 1 cup Lima beans (156mcg)
- 8 oz Fortified orange juice (47mcg)
- 1 Baked potato (39mcg)
- 8 oz Nonfat yogurt (27mcg)
Vitamin B12, like the other B vitamins, is critical to fundamental metabolic processes. Without it, our bodies would not be able to metabolize proteins and fats for energy. Lack of B12 prevents the synthesis of another biochemical needed for folate absorption, which leads to folate deficiency. B12 deficiency produces several neurologic symptoms, including numbness and tingling of the limbs, memory loss, disorientation, and dementia.
The daily recommendation for adults is 2.4 micrograms. Adults 51 or older, however, should supplement by that same amount daily as older adults do not absorb food-bound B12 as readily. B12 is only naturally available from animal sources such as meat, fish, poultry and dairy.
Some Good Sources of B12:
- 8 oz Fortified soy milk (2.1mcg)
- 8 oz Nonfat yogurt (1.4mcg)
- 3 oz Halibut (1.1mcg)
- 8 oz Nonfat chocolate milk (0.8mcg)
- 1 Hard-boiled egg (0.6mcg)
Here's a sample daily diet that will meet these recommended goals:
|Food||Potassium (mg)||Calcium (mg)||Vitamin D (mcg)||Dietary Fiber (mg)||Folate (mcg)||Iron (mg)||Vitamin B12 (mcg)||Calories|
|1 med banana||422||6||0||3.1||24||0.31||0||105|
|8 oz Fortified orange juice||443||500||3.5||0.5||47||0.32||0||117|
|1/2 cup Dried peaches||413||12||0||3.5||0||1.69||0||99|
|8 oz Nonfat yogurt||579||452||0||0||27||0.2||1.38||127|
|8 oz Nonfat chocolate milk||422||290||2.8||1.2||12||0.68||0.8||158|
|1 med Baked potato||702||21||0||3||39||1.49||0||128|
|3 oz Halibut||490||8||4.9||0||12||0.17||1.08||94|
|1 cup Lima beans||956||32||0||13.2||156||4.5||0||216|
|1 cup Spinach||838||244||0||4.4||262||6.42||0||50|
|3 oz Pork loin||386||4||0.6||0||7||0.66||0.52||190|
|1/2 cup Plantains||358||2||0||1.8||20||0.45||0||89|
|1 Hard-boiled egg||63||25||1.1||0||22||0.59||0.56||78|
|8 oz Fortified soy milk||296||299||2.7||0.5||22||1.02||2.07||104|
|1 med Apple||195||11||0||4.4||5||0.22||0||95|
|1 cup Oatmeal||164||21||0||4||14||2.11||0||166|
|2 slices Whole grain bread||69||30||0||4||14||0.68||0||138|
|Goal||A:4700||A:1000||A:15||M:38 W:25||A:400 PW:600||M:8 W:18||A:2.4 51+:2.6|
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