People may think they get enough essential nutrients, but the reality is that most individuals are not eating enough of the right foods to get the daily recommended intake of several vitamins and minerals. Consequences of nutrient deficits may include osteoporosis, high cholesterol, anemia and kidney issues.
Although some supplements may help, it's always best to get nutrients from natural sources. Before heading to the pharmacy or medicine aisle at a big-box store, make a grocery list of foods that can help increase vitamin and mineral intake. If you aren't sure what you lack, consult your physician or a qualified nutritionist.
1. Vitamin D
Vitamin D works with calcium to keep bones strong, but not everything high in calcium is high in vitamin D. Exposure to the sun provides some vitamin D via the skin, but too much sun isn't good. Increase vitamin D intake by eating fatty fish such as trout or salmon. For the highest vitamin D concentration, try cod liver oil.
2. Vitamin B12
Those who are vegetarian or vegan are at the highest risk for vitamin B12 deficiency as the vitamin primarily is found in animal products. Vitamin B12 is important in the production of blood, and nerve and brain functions. If you can't eat meat to increase your B12, try clams, oysters or nori seaweed. Whole milk and eggs contain small amounts of the mineral.
Calcium is not just good for bone health. It also helps with maintaining strong teeth as well as assisting muscle, heart and nerve functioning. Calcium deficiencies can lead to osteoporosis as people age, so it is important to get plenty of the mineral as a child and young adult and to maintain calcium levels. Most people know dairy products contain calcium, but fish with bones in them, such as sardines, are even higher than dairy in terms of calcium content.
More than one-quarter of the world's population lacks enough iron. This mineral is essential to forming red blood cells and transporting oxygen. There are two types of iron: heme and nonheme. Heme is the type of iron that exists in meat. Nonheme is in both meat and vegetable sources. Your body absorbs heme iron much easier than nonheme. To boost your iron intake, eat red meat or shellfish such as oysters. Vegetarians should turn to beans as a source of nonheme iron and fortified instant oatmeal.
Magnesium is a mineral that helps with teeth and bone formation, and it is involved in hundreds of enzyme reactions. Whole grains such as oats provide the best source of this mineral. If you don't want a bowl of oatmeal, almonds are a good source – but you'll have to eat about 90 of them to equal the magnesium in 6 ounces of oats.
About 40 percent of people around the world are in danger of not having enough iodine. Iodine is a mineral necessary for proper thyroid functioning and producing thyroid hormones. Those hormones affect bone health, body growth and brain development. To increase the amount of iodine in your body, eat dairy, fish or dried seaweed.
7. Vitamin A
Vitamin A benefits bones, skin and teeth in addition to producing eye pigments. There are two types of vitamin A: pro-vitamin A and preformed vitamin A. Pro-vitamin comes from fruits and vegetables, whereas preformed comes in animal products such as meat and dairy. Although carrots are excellent sources of vitamin A, sweet potatoes are even better.
Potassium assists with bone strength, healthy muscles and nerves, and energy production. Raw spinach has a high potassium content, but you'll need to eat about two cups to get the benefit. Sweet potatoes, bananas and orange juice also contain potassium.
9. Folic acid
For pregnant women, folic acid is essential. In the first month, it can reduce the risk of neural tube defects, and throughout the pregnancy, folic acid assists in cell production. Natural sources of folic acid include lentils, broccoli, and enriched pasta, bread and cereal.
Fiber does lovely things for a body's digestive tract, including keeping bowel movements regular. Fiber also can help lower cholesterol and keep blood sugar stable. Whole grains contain a lot of fiber as do beans. Fruits with good amounts of fiber include passion fruit, kiwis, mangoes and guavas.