Your body needs a variety of nutrients to function, heal, and maintain optimal health. Yet the average American diet, which is characteristically high in sodium, added sugar, refined grains, and saturated fat, falls considerably short in terms of nutrient-rich options like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
According to a recent report from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), almost 90% of American adults do not consume the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, which are among the best sources of vitamins and minerals.
Adequate intake of these micronutrients is essential to support your metabolism, cognitive function, cardiovascular health, bone health, and immune function, among other processes in your body.
In the long term, a diet lacking in these vital micronutrients can increase the risk of chronic diseases such as dementia, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, osteomalacia and cancer.
Two nutritionists in collaboration with Food Fire Friends outdoor cooking experts reveal the key micronutrients you may be missing and the best ways to get them:
Zinc plays an important role in neurotransmission, immune function, cell growth and division, and tissue repair.
“Most people don’t get enough zinc because our foods are over-processed,” says Ellie Busby, a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in genetics-based nutrition.
“If your hair is getting thinner or drier, you may need more zinc,” he notes. Other signs of a zinc deficiency include soft nails, dry skin and getting sick frequently, adds the nutritionist.
Some of the best natural sources of zinc to incorporate into your daily diet are quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice, and pumpkin seeds, says Busby.
#2 Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 is essential for regulating hormones, synthesizing proteins, supporting memory function, and strengthening the immune system.
Skin rashes, sore lips and tongue, mood swings and fatigue can all be signs of vitamin B6 deficiency, says Busby.
To increase your vitamin B6 intake, nutrition consultant Dr. Sarah Cooke suggests eating whole foods like avocado, red potatoes, chickpeas, ahi tuna, and walnuts.
#3 Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps regulate the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, which are essential for strong bones and teeth. It also plays an important role in boosting your immune system.
Common symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency include muscle weakness, lethargy, bone pain, brittle nails, and hair loss. Research suggests that low levels of the “sunshine vitamin” may also be linked to depression.
Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, and trout, fortified plant milks, and cod liver oil are excellent sources of vitamin D. Plus, you can also find special vitamin D-rich mushrooms in your grocery store today. local supermarket, says Busby.
#4 Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Nearly 60% of your brain is made of fat, most of it omega-3. In addition to promoting brain health, polyunsaturated fat also helps fight inflammation, lower triglycerides, reduce the risk of macular degeneration, and prevent plaque buildup inside the arteries.
Some of the telltale signs of omega-3 deficiency include heart problems, brain fog, skin inflammation, joint pain, mood swings, weakness, and dry eyes.
To ensure you get enough omega-3s, Dr. Cooke suggests regular consumption of walnuts, flaxseeds, and oily fish such as salmon.
It’s also important to note that omega-3, which is an anti-inflammatory, and omega-6, a pro-inflammatory, need to be in balance, adds Busby.
“So you can’t just eat omega-3-rich foods and hope for the best. You should also lower your omega-6 intake by reducing processed foods in your diet,” recommends Busby.
Your body needs iron to make hemoglobin and myoglobin, two proteins that are responsible for the transport and diffusion of oxygen in the body, respectively.
A diet low in iron can cause fatigue, palpitations, chest pain, headaches, hair loss, sallow skin, and shortness of breath, among other symptoms.
Iron is found in both animal-based foods (heme iron) and plant-based foods (non-heme iron). “Foods like red meat, eggs, and oysters contain heme iron, which is more easily absorbed than nonheme iron. Plant sources of iron include lentils, spinach, tofu, and cashews,” says Busby.
To increase nonheme iron absorption, Dr. Cooke recommends combining plant-based iron sources with foods rich in vitamin C, such as pairing a fresh green salad with a lemon or cranberry vinaigrette.
Also, avoid drinking tea with these foods as the tannins found in tea inhibit iron absorption, adds Dr. Cooke.
Calcium plays a crucial role in building and maintaining healthy bones, regulating heart rate, metabolism, memory formation, etc.
Common signs of calcium deficiency include muscle cramps, tingling in fingers and toes, irregular heartbeat, slow heartbeat, osteopenia, and osteoporosis.
Dairy products such as milk, cheese, and Greek yogurt are excellent natural sources of calcium. “Those who are lactose-free should eat plenty of seeds and dark green leafy vegetables, especially poppy, sesame, and chia seeds,” says Busby.
Your body requires magnesium to perform a variety of vital functions, from building protein, strengthening bones, and regulating your heartbeat to facilitating nerve transmission and supporting the immune system.
If your diet is low in magnesium, you may experience muscle spasms, tremors, nausea, irritability, weakness, hypertension, and arrhythmia.
Magnesium is one of the most recommended supplements by doctors around the world, as it’s nearly impossible to get enough magnesium from your diet, especially if you’re stressed, Busby explains.
With that said, foods like whole grains, wheat bran, almonds, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, and dark green leafy vegetables are optimal sources of magnesium that you can include in your diet along with supplements.