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By: Kim Dillon, Registered Dietitian
A healthy, balanced diet provides more than just fuel for the body. Vitamins and minerals are vital for development and disease prevention. However, based on nationwide food consumption surveys by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), most Americans fall short in our consumption of essential micronutrients, particularly potassium, vitamin D, calcium and iron.
Vitamin D intake levels are now listed on the new nutrition facts label. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin D based on minimal sun exposure for male and females ages 18-70 is 600 IU, or 15 mcg. Deficiencies are common and depend on age, skin color, sun exposure and underlying medical conditions.
Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D, but salmon, tuna and mackerel are good sources. Foods fortified with vitamin D include milk, breakfast cereals, orange juice, yogurt and plant-based milk alternatives such as soy or almond. Consider having your vitamin D level checked each year as part of an annual checkup.
Potassium levels are also new to the nutrition facts label. Adequate intake (AI) for potassium ranges from 2,300 to 3,400 mg for adults, however the recommended intake is 4,700 mg, except those with a kidney impairment. This inadequate intake of potassium is not surprising considering that the CDC reports only 1 in 10 Americans eats enough fruits and vegetables. The American Heart Association recommends adults eat eight or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day – their website depicts what’s considered a serving.
Dairy, beans/legumes, whole wheat bread and pasta, tuna, cod, trout, rockfish, nuts, and brown rice are good sources of potassium. A diet high in potassium can help lower blood pressure, lessen the effects of sodium and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. It is best to consume potassium through food versus taking a supplement as that will also provide you with additional vitamins, minerals and fiber. Your doctor can provide better direction for your unique potassium requirements as certain diuretics require potassium supplementation.
The RDA for iron is 8 mg for adult males, 18 mg for adult females and 27 mg for women who are pregnant. Iron is needed to produce hemoglobin, which transports oxygen and carbon dioxide. Symptoms of an iron deficiency include fatigue, weakness, dizziness, pale skin, headaches and inflamed tongue. Women who are pregnant or have heavy menstrual periods, young children and adolescent girls are at high risk for a deficiency.
The best sources of iron include lean beef, poultry, eggs and fortified cereals. Other sources, though harder for your body to absorb, include dried fruits, legumes, whole grains and spinach/collards. Iron is best paired with a vitamin C source such as green or red bell peppers, citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes or potatoes for maximum absorption.
The recommended daily intake (RDI) of calcium is 1,000 mg per day for most adults, though women over 50 and everyone over 70 should get 1,200 mg per day. Main sources of calcium are milk, yogurt and cheese. Non-dairy sources include spinach, kale and unfortified grains.
Vitamin D is needed for calcium absorption. Calcium helps to build and protect bones and plays a role in blood clotting as well as muscle contraction, including keeping your heart beating. If you follow a vegan diet, are lactose intolerant, are on long-term steroids or have an inflammatory bowel disease such as celiac, talk to your doctor about whether you may need a calcium supplement.
To help prevent deficiencies of any kind, the American Heart Association recommends aiming for a diet that emphasizes intake of vegetables, fruits and whole grains and includes low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, legumes, nuts and seeds. Limit intake of sodium, sweets, sweetened beverages and red meat.
Did you enjoy this article? Check out our new Healthy Eats series for healthy recipe inspiration from local chefs.