Healthy eating is like an insurance policy for your body, but it's no guarantee. Don't skip these essential, yet oft-overlooked, vitamins and minerals
A balanced diet is one of the biggest components of a healthier you. However, embracing healthy eating doesn't necessarily make you immune to nutritional shortcomings. Some deficiencies are easy to detect because doctors often order blood tests for them—others are sneakier. Are you missing these five good-for-you nutrients because of a healthy diet?
This common deficiency, which affects 42 percent of the U.S. population, is one downside to our obsession with sun safety. That's right: Sun exposure triggers vitamin D production within your body. And anyone who stays in the shade can run the risk of D-ficiency. That's a problem because vitamin D helps maintain healthy bones and may play a role in cancer prevention, among many other processes, says Marisa Moore, R.D., an Atlanta-based food and nutrition consultant. (It's no question vitamin D is vital to your health. Check out the 5 Weird Health Risks of Low Vitamin D Levels.)
You may need to work more D into your diet, but it's a challenge because there aren't a lot of foods rich in it. Milk is fortified with it, so that's one of the easiest sources. Some cereals and yogurts are also D-fortified, so check the label. For other natural options to help you hit your goal of 600 IU per day: sliced, grilled portabella mushrooms (634 IU per cup), 3 ounces cooked salmon (444 IU), 1 cooked halibut filet (196 IU), 1 cooked tilapia filet (130 IU), 1 large hardboiled egg (44 IU), according to the U.S. Departments of Agriculture's (USDA) nutrient database.
Iron deficiency, also known as anemia, strikes about 13 percent of women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows. Women who cut back on iron-rich meats, such as beef, up their risk, says Erin Spitzberg, R.D., and founder of Living It! Nutrition. That means your healthy eating plan can backfire. Non-meat sources of iron are more difficult for your body to absorb, while certain phytates (antioxidants) in grains and tannins (polyphenols) in teas can actually inhibit iron absorption. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and other gastro problems can also contribute to a deficiency because iron absorption occurs in the GI tract, says Spitzberg. How can you spot an iron problem? Low iron can make you feel sluggish, tired, and depressed, while impairing physical and work performance, reports a study review in the Journal of Women's Health. Women aged 19 to 50 need 18 milligrams (mg) per day—and more if pregnant.
Consider these sources, and make sure you're also consuming enough vitamin C—75 mg per day—it enhances iron absorption: roasted turkey breast (8.4 mg), a dozen oysters (7.8 mg), 1 cup cooked spinach (6.4 mg), 1 cup baked beans (5 mg), 1 3-ounce beef skirt steak (4.5 mg).
Most people truly deficient in this mineral are taking diuretics, which can make you pee out potassium, says Spitzberg. However, lots of healthy women still fall short of the recommended intake. "It takes a lot of fruits and vegetables to meet the potassium recommendations (4700 mg/day), and we know that the majority of adults don't meet the recommended 2 1/2 cup minimum each day," says Moore. That's a problem because among other things, potassium helps to regulate blood pressure. In one study published in BMJ, people who consumed the most potassium had a 24 percent reduced risk of strokes.
Bananas (about 400 mg each) and potatoes (about 1600 mg per spud) are good sources. Continue to boost your intake with: roasted turkey breast (2563 mg), 1 cup cooked Swiss chard (963 mg), 1 cup cooked yams (911 mg), 1 broiled pork chop (776 mg), 1 cup lentils (731 mg). (Another high potassium source? Celery! Check out 12 Creative Celery Recipes from Famous Chefs.)
This mineral plays a key role in plenty of cellular processes. But it's tricky to detect mild to moderate zinc deficiencies, because there's no good test for them, says David Eide, Ph.D., a professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Most people in the U.S. have plenty of zinc in their diets, but a diet that is also rich in grains can inhibit zinc absorption because of compounds in the grains that bind zinc and prevent its uptake in the intestine."
One 2012 study from UC-Davis suggests that about 7.5 percent of people in high-income countries such as the United States are zinc deficient. Symptoms of a severe deficiency can include hair loss, skin rashes, diarrhea, increased infections, and a lost of taste sensation, says Eide. A zinc shortfall can also be a downer: In one study, women with the lowest zinc intakes were 76 percent more likely to have depressive symptoms than those with the highest intakes. One theory: Zinc may boost levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a brain chemical that can boost mood.
A few zinc-rich options to help you hit the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of 8 mg per day: a dozen oysters (66 g), 1 beef ribeye filet (14 g), 1 roasted turkey breast (13 g), 1 roasted petite sirloin steak (6 g), 19 pecan halves (1.3 g).
About half the U.S. population doesn't consume enough magnesium, according to CDC data. That's a problem considering magnesium plays a critical role in many processes, says Moore. "Because of its role in glucose metabolism, diets rich in magnesium are associated with a significantly lower risk of diabetes." Magnesium is also associated with increased bone mineral density and heart health. In a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, every 50 mg increase in magnesium intake was linked to 22 percent lower coronary artery calcium, a measure of heart disease risk. That may be because magnesium interferes with plaque formation and calcification.
You need 310 mg of magnesium up to age 30 and 320 mg after that, and more if you're pregnant, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Consider these sources: 1 cup cooked spinach (157 mg), 1 cup canned Great Northern beans (134 mg), 1 cup cooked teff (126 mg), 6 Brazil nuts (107 mg), 22 almonds (78 mg). Try turning your nuts into something more fun, like these 10 Unbelievably Delicious Nut Butters You Can Make.