Filling your plate with the right amount of nutrients is a look harder than it seems (side of broccoli, anyone?). Getting adequate amounts of fruits, vegetables, and vital minerals and vitamins is essential for mental and physical health and more productivity in the day. Yet, we might not consider nutrition when planning a meal, and so it's possible that we are missing out on less prevalent or less easily absorbable nutrients. "Only 33 percent of adults consume the recommended amounts of vegetables a day," says Alicia Ward, VP of Marketing at Beanitos, over email with Bustle. "Experts recommend consuming up to 3 cups (6 servings) of legumes a week, while Americans are only consuming 1 cup on average every week," she adds. Scary!
As a certified health coach, I help my clients learn how to plan meals better and be more aware of what's in their food, looking at how many nutrients fill a serving and how likely these nutrients are to be absorbed through combinations of other foods. For instance, fat-soluble vitamins, such as A, D, E and K, require healthy fat in order to be absorbed; thus, pairing spinach with avocado or red bell peppers with olive oil would be greater than consuming these foods individually. We also discuss labels and how serving sizes can boost nutritional levels across a variety of products. When approaching a meal, we think about filling half the plate with vegetables (or fruit for a snack or sweeter, protein-packed breakfast), along with lean protein and complex carbohydrates to complete the remaining half. Here are fifteen nutrients that you might be missing in your diet, along with the ways you can fix the deficiency.
1. Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3's are can reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. "They are not the same as Omega 6s, which are present in a lot more of our diet," says healthy lifestyle coach Liz Traines, over email with Bustle. "Two tbsp of flaxseeds per day is about 1 serving," she continues. "Omega 3 fatty acids, found in walnuts, flax, chia, canola oil and fatty fish, seem to help fight inflammation in the body and are associated with improved heart health," says Connie Diekman, M.Ed., RD, CSSD, former president of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, over email with Bustle. Consume these foods regularly, or learn how to find a trustworthy supplement.
Experts share the many benefits of magnesium, as the vital nutrient can boost mood, relax muscles, create energy, build bone density, and regulate neurotransmitters and protein synthesis, among other important duties. "Halibut, nuts, nut butter, spinach, oatmeal, and lentils," says holistic health coach and personal trainer Jen Bruno with J.B. Fitness and Nutrition, over email with Bustle, are terrific options.
Many Americans today find themselves anemic, meaning that they are missing iron in their diets. Anemia can be even more likely upon vegans and vegetarians, and so it's important to find meatless versions under those conditions as well. "Lean beef, broccoli, lentils, edamame, and clams," says Bruno, are rich in iron. "Replacing animal foods reduces saturated fat intake without compromising overall iron and protein intake," says Ward.
Experts say that potassium is great post-workout, restoring electrolytes and preventing muscle cramps. "Americans meet less than ½ of their dietary intake for potassium," says Ward. "Beans are superior source of potassium and when you experience weakness or tiredness," she continues, "Those that get enough potassium have healthy bones and well developed muscles, which can help with being active." Other options include "bananas, yogurt, lentils, spinach and cooked beets," says Bruno.
5. Vitamin K
Vitamin K can help prevent blood clotting and build stronger bones. By getting enough K, and pairing it with a healthy fat, such as avocado, nuts, olive oil or oily fish, you can lower risk of osteoporosis, heart disease and prolonged injuries. Vitamin K is essential in helping injuries to heal, due to its active role in blood circulation and bruising. Leafy greens, such as, "collard greens, mustard greens, kale and spinach," as well as, cruciferous vegetables, like "Brussels sprouts," according to Bruno, are all good options.
Choline has incredible benefits, such as boosting brain health and nerve and muscle function, among others. Rich sources include eggs and beans, says Bruno. Choline is found in the yolks of eggs, so be sure to consume for benefits. If you are eating a few eggs and have trouble with cholesterol, eat one yolk and have the rest egg whites, only. Pair with leafy greens, like spinach, for greater energy benefits.
7. Vitamin C
We might think it's easy to get vitamin C in the diet; yet, many people aren't reaching for fruits and vegetables as much as they believe. Think about lunchtime and snacks: are you grabbing fruit and veggies, or more breaded items, sweets and meats? "Red peppers, cauliflower, citrus fruits, peaches, kiwi, broccoli, and cantaloupe," advises Bruno, are extremely high in vitamin C and make for delicious snacks, additions to salads and sandwiches, and breakfasts.
"Yogurt, tofu and low-fat white cheeses, such as ricotta," are good sources, says Bruno. I love almond milk, Greek yogurt and cruciferous vegetables, personally, and I am always watching my calcium intake, as osteoporosis is prevalent in my family. Calcium is required for building bone density and preventing osteoporosis, so if you are low, take a supplement, as advised by a physician.
"Fiber rich foods take longer to digest and can help you extend your energy boost from the complex carbs," advises Ward. Fiber helps regulate digestion and water balance, and it can keep you satiated and active during the day. "Whole grains, beans, nuts, lentils, vegetables, skins of apples and potatoes," says Bruno, are good examples. Look for foods "high in fiber and water content, and that have a low glycemic index to prevent insulin from spiking and causing hunger," says Ward.
According to experts, phosphorus helps your body detox, balance hormones and boost energy, and it is required to move and contract muscles. Phosphate is a salt found inside the body, and it helps synthesize proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Most phosphorus is stored in bones, making it great for building bone strength and health. Rich sources include sunflower seeds, white beans, turkey breast, tuna, almonds and grass-fed beef.
Selenium is required for keeping your thyroid healthy, and most people are not consuming enough of it, leading to conditions such as Hashimoto's disease and hypothyroidism. The body cannot handle too much intake, but needs the right balance. Great sources include Brazil nuts (don't have more than about three a day, though!), fish, like tuna, wheat germ and sunflower seeds.
This antioxidant, found in "red" hued foods, such as watermelon, tomatoes, and pink grapefruit, is great for eye, skin, heart and bone health. In addition to these benefits of lycopene, it can also lower risk of several cancers and promote male fertility. "Watermelon is brimming with the lycopene, which is an antioxidant that can help protect cells from damage," says Toby Amidor, MS, RD, with WTRMLN WTR, over email with Bustle. "It carries the amino acid L-Citrulline, which attributes to improved circulation and reduces muscle-soreness if consumed before and after a workout.
Experts share that copper enables metabolic processes and protects the thyroid. In addition to these benefits, it can also aid in reducing symptoms of arthritis and in helping the body to utilize iron in a more efficient manner. Low copper content can lead to anemia, due to lack of iron absorption. Great sources include wheat bran, avocados, almonds, garlic, beets and oysters, among others.
14. B Vitamins
B Vitamins are essential for proper metabolic functioning and energy levels, and a deficiency of B12 in particular can be common among non-meat eaters, as B12 is most readily absorbed through animal sources, as opposed to meatless options. Thus, a supplement might be beneficial, in this case. Rich sources include leafy greens, such as kale and spinach, animal protein, soy milk, fortified cereals and beans.
15. Vitamin D
It's challenging to get enough vitamin D in our diets. The greatest source is fresh sunlight, but this can be hard in darker, cooler climates and for those who suffer or have suffered from skin cancers and must limit sun exposure. Vitamin D maximizes absorption of calcium and magnesium, leading to stronger bones. Great sources include oily fish, such as salmon or mackerel, liver, egg yolks, and cheese. A supplement might be beneficial, as well!
While eating a healthy diet filled with lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and whole grains is the best thing you can do to guarantee proper nutrition, it's important to look for some of these less obvious nutrients and also the portion sizes to make sure you are filling your daily value requirements. Check labels, try different foods and make sure to fuel yourself for a happier and healthier day!
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