You’ve heard the old adage, “You are what you eat!”.
The truth is, you might also be a product of what you don’t eat.
According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, there are key nutrients of concern and considered to be “shortfall” nutrients for many Americans which include calcium, vitamin D, fiber and potassium. Iron is also considered a shortfall nutrient for adolescent females and adult females who are premenopausal due to the increased risk of iron-deficiency in these groups.
In an effort to help you all learn how you can get more of these nutrients into your diet, I have offered some more information below. Read on to learn how to avoid being the typical American and pack more calcium, vitamin D, fiber and potassium into your diet.
When we think of calcium, the first food source we think about is dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt. The dairy industry has done a fantastic job of advertising and training the American mind to reach for a glass of milk if they want to avoid becoming calcium deficient and prevent osteoporosis. Milk, although a good source of calcium, has actually received some negative attention regarding it’s ability to prevent osteoporosis especially in children and young adults (1). This shift in evidence steers us to looking for calcium in less assuming places. It’s a good thing calcium is found a broad number of fruits and vegetables, which we probably need more of anyways.
Calcium is commonly found in a ton of plant foods to include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, carrots, cauliflower, collards, kale, sweet potatoes, beans/legumes, whole grain corn tortillas, rice milk, dried figs, oranges, and raisins.
In fact, it’s pretty easy to get enough calcium in the diet without consuming a drop of milk or cheese. Check out the meal plan below to see how easy it is to do:
This vitamin is already getting a lot of attention in the media, and your doctor may have already addressed it with you. Vitamin D is essential for bone health and may have numerous other benefits in the body related to immune defenses and fighting depression.
Vitamin D is difficult to get through the diet alone, but it can be found in fatty fish like salmon, trout, mackeral and tuna, some mushrooms, fortified milk, egg yolks, organic beef liver, and cod liver oil (2).
A better way to get vitamin D is through sunshine. Recommendations vary, but usually 10-20 minutes of sun between 10-2 pm without sunscreen does the trick for most individuals. If you live at higher altitudes, or are older or dark skinned, you may need a bit more. It’s important to talk to your doctor about how much sun exposure is safe for you. Taking a high quality vitamin D3 supplement is another option and is often recommended.
The average American consumes only 14 grams of the 30 grams recommended by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) (3). Many doctors recommend >30 grams/day for peak health. The best sources of fiber come from fruits, vegetables of all kinds, legumes and whole grains. Fiber is vital to maintaining healthy digestive function, helping lower blood cholesterol, regulating blood sugar, and aiding in satiety (fullness).
When reading product labels, look for foods that are either a “good” source of fiber (2.5 grams/fiber/serving) or an “excellent” source of fiber (5 grams/fiber/serving). If you aim to get at least 10 grams of fiber at breakfast, lunch, and dinner you will be well on your way to getting enough. Check out the USDA Food Database to learn how much fiber is in the foods you regularly consume, or read more at the World’s Healthiest Foods website.
Sample meals might include:
- 1 cup cooked quinoa (9 g), 1 cup blueberries (4 g), 2 Tbsp walnuts (1 g), butter, salt and spices
- 4 oz baked salmon, 2 cups leafy greens (10 g), 1/2 cup brown rice (5.5 g)
- Three Bean Chili (10-12g/serving), large orange (4.5 g)
If you try to eat more of the foods listed in the above sections, chances are you are going to get enough potassium along the way. Potassium is commonly found in fruits and vegetables like bananas, oranges, grapefruit, pineapple, apples, tomatoes, apricots, avocados, squash, potatoes (especially with the skin), spinach, sweet potatoes, beans, whole grains, milk, fish, meat and less commonly known, blackstrap molasses (4). Up to 10-50% of potassium is lost in water when foods are boiled (unless you consume the broth). In contrast only 3-6% is lost with steaming so it may be a better choice for cooking.
Potassium is critical for fluid/electrolyte balance, blood pressure regulation, and muscle contraction. Deficiency can lead to fatigue, weakness, muscle cramps, and hypertension to name a few. Since the potassium content of fruits and vegetables decline by 6-14% between 1940-2000, likely due to changes in farming methods (5), it’s important that you load up on the foods that contain potassium.
After reviewing this post, it’s obvious to me that two food groups are of particular importance… Can you name them? Yup, fruits and vegetables. Finding ways to increase your fruits and vegetable intake is one of the few uncontested recommendations of nutrition professionals across the world. Steaming your veggies is definitely advantageous over boiling and getting some sunshine on a regular basis probably would not hurt either.
Anyone up for a beach side picnic? I’ll bring the fruit salad!
In Health and Vitality,