10 Essential Nutrients You May Be Missing in Your Diet

May 14, 2015

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When the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee released its scientific report this year, it identified key nutrients that are under-consumed by Americans.  Here are tips for making sure that you are including these essential nutrients in your daily diet!

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Vitamin A

Vitamin A is important to maintain healthy eyesight, support your immune system, and to promote tissue growth.  The best sources of vitamin A are orange colored vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin, or dark, leafy greens such as spinach and collard greens. Animal sources of vitamin A include egg yolk and fortified butter, margarine, and milk.

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Vitamin E

Vitamin E is an important antioxidant. It is found in vegetable oils, wheat germ, nuts, and seeds. By purchasing breads that are made from whole grains, you will be getting the vitamin E that is part of the wheat germ (white bread has been processed, which removes the germ of the wheat).

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Vitamin D

Vitamin D is crucial to help the body absorb calcium and phosphorus, which is key for bone health and maintenance. The easiest way to get vitamin D is from exposure to sunlight. The best dietary sources include fish oils and fortified milk and cereals.

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Vitamin C

Vitamin C plays a role in many of the body’s functions. It is an antioxidant, an important part of many enzymes, and plays an important part of many metabolic and immune functions. The best sources are citrus fruits, tomatoes, red and green peppers, berries, melons, broccoli, and potatoes.

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Folate

Folate is essential for cell growth and metabolism. It is widely distributed in foods, so it is fairly easy to get from your diet. Rich sources of folate include green, leafy vegetables, orange juice, liver, and dried beans. Many grain products in the United States are fortified with folic acid, so you can also get this essential nutrient from breakfast cereals and fortified bread, rice, and pasta.

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Calcium

Calcium’s largest role in our body is bone and tooth formation, since more than 99% of the body’s calcium is stored in our bones and teeth. But calcium also plays an important role in blood clotting and muscle and nerve action. Milk and milk products are the best sources of calcium. Consuming calcium-fortified products (such as juices, nut milks, and cereals) as well as leafy green vegetables are also good ways to get calcium.

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Magnesium

Magnesium is found in every cell in your body, and therefore plays a critical role in your body’s metabolism. Unprocessed foods such as nuts, cocoa, soybeans, seafood, whole grains, dried peas and beans, and green vegetables have the highest amounts of magnesium.  When foods are processed, more than 80 percent of the naturally-occurring magnesium is lost in the process.

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Fiber

Fiber has many benefits for our body, including its ability to increase stool bulk, bind to bile acids, and delay gastric emptying, which improves blood sugar control. A high-fiber diet has been linked to a reduced risk of many diseases, including heart disease and cancer. The best sources of fiber are whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, and nuts.

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Potassium

Potassium, along with sodium, helps to maintain the body’s water balance.  It also plays a large role in metabolic reactions, muscle action, insulin release, and blood pressure maintenance. Unprocessed, fresh foods such as oranges, bananas, broccoli, leafy greens, whole grains, and milk products are the best sources of potassium.

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Iron

Iron is the functional part of your body’s hemoglobin. It is necessary for blood sugar metabolism and antibody production. The best food sources are meat, eggs, leafy green vegetables, liver, and fortified cereal. It is best absorbed when eaten with a food containing vitamin C.

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The Bottom Line

A lack of these essential nutrients in our diet is most likely related to our intake of highly processed foods. Choosing fresh, healthy foods daily increases your chance of getting these nutrients back into your diet. If you need guidance on how to improve the overall quality of your diet, talk with your physician or a registered dietitian.