The X Factor: Filling in the Missing Nutrients in Your Diet

Did you know that most Americans have an X Factor in their diets? That missing X Factor comes from eating a diet that is lacking in certain necessary nutrients. This makes sense for those eating the SAD, Standard American Diet, that is full of processed foods with refined sugars, flours and fats. But even if we think we are eating healthy, according to Katherine Tucker, RD, PhD at Northeastern University in Boston, our bodies don’t absorb nutrients as well as we age. Tara Gidus, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association adds that many of us pay so much attention to what we shouldn’t eat that we know is not healthy for us that we miss putting attention on what we should eat to get all the micronutrients we need. As nutrition experts such as Alan Gaby, MD, and others put it, we live in a society that is rich in calories and heavy on macronutrients such as protein, fat, and carbs that cause weight gain, but lacking in vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. This type of eating results in an overweight, malnourished population with health conditions ranging from migraines, anxiety and fatigue to more serious conditions like heart disease. Being aware of the nutrients that may be missing from your diet is the first step to filling in the X Factor and eating a completely nutritious and healthy diet. Here are the basic nutrients that experts agree are the most likely to be missing from our diets and why they are critical.

Calcium – Calcium not only builds strong bones, but is necessary for heart rhythm and muscle functioning. If you don’t get enough calcium through diet, according to Kathleen Zelman, RD, WebMD’s director of nutrition, the body will take it out of our bones leaving them more brittle. You can get the calcium you need from 3 servings of dairy a day as milk sugar helps in its absorption and dairy products have protein which is also needed for strong bones. But if you have trouble digesting milk products or have milk allergies, there are other foods that can help you get the calcium you need like salmon, kale, broccoli, spinach, and foods fortified with calcium such as cereals and juices.

Vitamin D – Vitamin D helps your body to absorb the calcium it needs as well as keeping your bone density levels good. More recently experts are finding vitamin D may help you from getting certain chronic diseases like type 1 diabetes, cancers, heart disease, depression, chronic fatigue, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. According to The National Academy of Sciences most people need between 400 and 600 IU of vitamin D daily. The most common way we produce vitamin D is from exposure to sunlight, but there are also some foods that have vitamin D like salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, and eggs. There are also foods that are fortified with vitamin D that can help add to your intake, but according to Julie L. Starkel, MS, MBA, RDN these mostly have vitamin D2 which must have sunlight exposure in order to be activated.

Potassium – Potassium is needed to keep blood pressure levels stable, contribute to strong bones, cell functioning, prevent kidney stones, maintain the balance of fluid and for nerves and muscles to function properly. Adults need 4700 mg a day and according to nutrition expert Lucia L. Kaiser, PhD from the University of California, Davis, this is most deficient in people whose diets are lacking in fruits and vegetables. Good food sources for potassium include bananas, sweet potatoes, tomato paste, yogurt, prunes, plums, potatoes, and tuna.

Fiber – Fiber helps keep your digestive system running well and helps to protect you from heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancers. It also helps you feel full without a lot of calories so it helps keep your weight down. The optimal amount of fiber to include in your diet varies by sex and age spanning 21 grams daily for women older than 50 to 25 grams for younger women and 30 grams daily for men over 50 to 38 grams for younger men. Good foods for fiber include bran cereal, black beans, sweet potatoes, pears, nuts, and most other fruits and vegetables.

Magnesium – Magnesium is needed for bone strength, immune system support, heart, muscle, and nerve functioning, and to reduce inflammation in the body, and for cellular energy. Our bodies lose magnesium when under chronic stress and from taking some types of medications. Women can get the 310 to 320 mg. of magnesium they need daily and men the 400 to 420 mg. they need from many vegetables especially leafy green ones, Brazil nuts, almonds, bran cereal, whole grains, beans, seeds, and halibut.

Vitamin A – Vitamin A is necessary to support healthy vision, immune system support and for growing tissues. Vitamin A comes in two types, retinol and carotenoids and many American diets are especially deficient in the carotenoids. That means eating sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, winter squash and foods such as cereals that are fortified with Vitamin A.

Vitamin C – Vitamin C helps keep your immune system strong, protects cells from damage, aids in producing collagen, and helps build strong bones and cartilage. Good food sources for this important antioxidant include red peppers, oranges, strawberries, cantaloupe, and broccoli.

Vitamin E – Vitamin E helps protect against cellular damage, supports red blood cells in taking oxygen throughout the body, supports immune system health, and fight off cancers, bacteria and viruses. Many people don’t get the Vitamin E they need because many of the foods that contain this vital vitamin are also high in fat calories. While many are high in fats, they are the healthy fats that our bodies need. The trick is not to avoid these foods, but to eat them in moderation. AT or alpha-tocopherol vitamin E is the form that most adults need around 15 mg. daily and can be found in seeds such as sunflower and flax, oils like olive oil and flax oil, peanut butter, almonds, tomato sauce, avocados, whole grains, and leafy green veggies.

Iron – Iron is necessary for red blood cells to take oxygen from the lungs to all the body’s cells, to maintain energy, and prevent anemia. A deficiency can also affect mental abilities such as memory, attention and being able to learn new things. Women optimally need 18 mg. daily of iron and men need 8 mg. daily. Good foods for iron include beef, poultry, spinach, kidney beans, and lentils. Julie L. Starkel, MS, MBA, RDN advises that if you get your iron from plant sources, you can absorb it better by also eating them with vitamin C foods. 

Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Omega-3 fatty acids are an unsaturated fat needed for brain health, heart health and vision health and can help reduce risks of rheumatoid arthritis, macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s, depression, and inflammation. One study done at Harvard in 2013 reported that high levels of EPA and DHA omega-3 increased life longevity by 27% and reduced the risk of death from heart failure by 35%. One of the reasons for a deficiency in omega-3 is that most Americans eat too many foods high in omega-6 fatty acids found in abundance in processed foods with unhealthy fats and those keep the omega-3’s from being effective. Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel are some of the best sources for omega-3 and experts advise eating fish two to three times weekly. You can also find omega-3 in grass-fed meat, chia seeds, hemp seeds, eggs, walnuts, flaxseed, canola oil, soybeans, and olive oil. Another great alternative is to get omega-3 the way fish do, from algae. Even better get a combination of wholefood supplements in convenient packets with two forms of AFA bluegreen algae, probiotics and digestive enzymes to help you squeeze all the nutrients you can out of the food you eat.

Wholefoods are definitely the best way to get the nutrition you need for a healthy body, but when you can’t get all the nutrients you need from foods, you can get help from wholefood supplements. Algae based supplements are a good choice for a wide range of nutrition including the micronutrients so often missing from our diets. In addition, this stem cell support algae supplement gives you the antioxidant protection so important for fighting off free radical damage that attacks body cells and this immune support algae supplement that combines microalgae with a variety of mushrooms shown to boost immunity can help you fill in some gaps. Supplements certainly don’t take the place of eating a well-balanced diet, but with all the challenges we have between busy schedules and nutrient deficient food sources, this type of wholefood supplements can help you erase the X Factor from your meals.

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