It’s fairly easy to think about how much of each macronutrient—protein, carbohydrates, and fats—you get in your daily diet.
But how often do you consider how much of each critical micronutrient—fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals—you’re really getting?
The answer: probably not enough.
Research has shown that the average Westerner is deficient in a lot of micronutrients, some to the point of serious concern.
A lack of micronutrients can be a cause behind a lot of medical conditions and health problems—many of which can be easily reversed simply by increasing your intake of the necessary vitamins and minerals.
In this blog post, we want to highlight the micronutrients you are most likely deficient in, explain why that’s potentially a problem, and offer some simple advice on how you can combat this deficiency with the proper foods and supplements.
Oregon State University released a very comprehensive paper on “Micronutrient Inadequacies in the US Population” , and according to their extensive research, the average American is deficient in or consumes inadequate amount of the following micronutrients:
Vitamin D is critical for your genetic function. Nearly every cell in the human body has Vitamin D receptors, and Vitamin D travels through your bloodstream and “switches your cells on and off”. It also helps your body absorb calcium, which makes it absolutely necessary for healthy bone function.
Vitamin D is synthesized in your body as a result of exposure to sunlight. This isn’t a problem for many Westerners who live in sunny climates—such as Texas, Florida, Arizona, or California. But for those who live in areas with months of rainfall or limited sunlight—such as the Northern United States or Canada—a lack of sunlight can lead to Vitamin D deficiencies.
Vitamin D supplements are recommended for those who live in these regions with limited sunlight.
Vitamin E is a truly powerful antioxidant. It’s necessary for your immune function, protects your body against bacteria and viruses, and also keeps cholesterol from sticking to the walls of your blood vessels. It plays a role in clotting, blood vessel dilation, and the formation of red blood cells. It’s also necessary for your body to absorb and use Vitamin K (which, as you’ll see below, is very important).
Sadly, it’s one of the most common nutrient deficiencies—according to the OSU paper, 88.5% of Americans don’t meet the DV for Vitamin E.
The good news is that there are lots of foods rich in Vitamin E, including avocadoes, coconut oil, coconut milk, almonds, peanuts, peanut butter, red bell peppers, and sunflower seeds.
Magnesium plays a lot of very important roles in our bodies: it’s a cofactor in more than 300 enzyme systems, regulates an immense range of biochemical reactions, aids in protein synthesis, is necessary for nerve function, regulates your blood pressure, controls blood glucose, is needed for the production of energy, and so, so much more.
It’s safe to say that magnesium is one of the most important minerals you can give your body—and yet, 52.2% of the American population doesn’t meet their daily requirements.
Magnesium-rich foods to add to your diet include dark chocolate, avocadoes, bananas, leafy greens, legumes, seeds, whole grains, and tofu.
Calcium, as you well know, is critical for the formation of new bone tissue, and helps to repair existing microfractures or damage to your bones. It also plays a role in healthy teeth, as well as your muscle and nerve function. It’s necessary for absorbing Vitamin D, and because of this, it may be crucial for protecting you against high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer .
It’s estimated that 44.1% of Americans don’t get enough calcium in their diet.
Dairy products are the best source of calcium (as well as dietary Vitamin D, given that many dairy products are enriched), but you can also get calcium from winter squash, almonds, edamame, tofu, and fortified plant-based milks.
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Vitamin A is crucial for the health of your eyes. It prevents the cells from breaking down and helps to maintain a healthy cellular turnover rate to keep producing new, healthy cells. It’s also necessary for your immune function, plays a role in your reproductive health, and maintains the function of your lungs, heart, and other important organs.
Vitamin A deficiencies are common—up to 43% of the American population isn’t getting enough Vitamin A—but it’s easily combatted by eating more orange-colored foods, including carrots, pumpkin, oranges, orange bell peppers, sweet potatoes, and mangoes. The antioxidant carotene that gives these foods their color is what your body turns into Vitamin A.
Vitamin C gets a lot of attention for its role in your immune health and fighting off disease, but it’s needed for so much more—including protecting your cells against free radicals, the production of collagen to keep your skin healthy, the absorption of iron, healing wounds, the production of neurotransmitters in your brain, even protecting your DNA.
Suffice it to say, Vitamin C is one of the most important micronutrients you can give your body.
There are a lot of foods rich in Vitamin C, but the best include citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwi fruits, Goji berries, bell peppers, tomatoes, and cruciferous veggies.
Potassium is one of the two minerals that play a role in the fluid balance in your body. It’s also critical for regulating glycogen (your body’s primary energy source) in both your liver and muscles, as well as maintaining a normal cardiac rhythm and keeping your cardiac muscles contracting and relaxing properly. Another of its very important functions is getting rid of the cellular “waste” that could accumulate and accelerate cellular deterioration.
What’s scary is that according to the OSU paper, 100% of the U.S. population has a lower-than-recommended potassium intake. That means everyone is at risk of health problems stemming from potassium deficiencies.
Thankfully, potassium is a very common mineral, one you can find in bananas, potatoes, beans, lentils, winter squash, broccoli, beet greens, and avocadoes. It’s easy to raise your potassium intake just by eating healthier.
Choline is one of the most important minerals for a healthy brain. It plays a role in muscle control, mood, memory, nervous system function, pain response, and cognition. It’s also necessary for the production of the protective membranes that surround every cell in the human body, as well as the regulation of liver function and your circadian rhythm that controls sleep.
Good sources of choline can be found in plant-based foods such as shitake mushrooms, peanuts, beans, potatoes, sunflower seeds, and cruciferous veggies.
Vitamin K’s most important role is in helping your blood to coagulate, or form clots. It provides your body with the nutrients needed to produce blood-clotting proteins, including prothrombin. It’s also needed for healthy bones, because it’s necessary for producing the osteocalcin that regulates the production of bone tissue.
As you saw above, Vitamin E deficiencies may be a cause for Vitamin K deficiencies, given how necessary Vitamin E is for Vitamin K absorption.
However, if you’re already adding more Vitamin E to your diet, you can increase Vitamin K intake drastically by eating more kale, spinach, turnip and collard greens, Brussels sprouts, soy beans, natto (fermented soybean), cabbage, and lettuce.
As you saw above, micronutrients play a critical role in every aspect of our health—from our ability to see to our cognitive function to our resilience against disease to our cardiovascular and skeletomuscular health.
Research has shown that a startling number of Americans and Canadians are deficient in many of the vitamins and minerals we listed above, which may be the reason for so many health concerns that are more common in North America than the rest of the world.
It’s worth making an effort to increase our intake of all micronutrients in order to give our bodies the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants it needs to maintain healthy function.
Changing up your diet to add more of the plant-based, micronutrient-rich foods we listed above will do wonders to improve your overall health and extend your lifespan.
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