It’s common for us to wonder if we’re getting all the essential nutrients, we need through what we eat. For most of us, we get stuck in ruts and eat the same thing over and over to get all our essential nutrients until we find a new menu item we like. We take a multivitamin and hope that it covers all our needs of essential nutrients. But a supplement doesn’t always cut it. It can be low quality or not the amount we actually need. A healthy diet is vital for maintaining good intake of essential nutrients and thus, maintaining good health and preventing nutritional deficiencies. But even if you think you’re eating a healthy diet, there may be certain nutrients that you’re missing out on. The list below covers the most essential nutrients, and how to get them through food.
Essential Nutrient: Vitamin D
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that plays a crucial role in maintaining bone health. It helps the body absorb calcium, which is necessary for building and maintaining strong bones. Vitamin D also helps regulate the immune system and has been linked to a reduced risk of certain diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and some types of cancer.
While vitamin D is found naturally in a few foods, such as fatty fish and egg yolks, most people get their vitamin D from sun exposure. However, many people don’t get enough sun exposure to produce sufficient amounts of vitamin D. This is especially true for those who live in northern latitudes or spend most of their time indoors.
If you’re not getting enough vitamin D from sun exposure or your diet, you may be at risk of a vitamin D deficiency. Symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency include fatigue, muscle weakness, and bone pain.
To ensure you’re getting enough vitamin D, you can take a vitamin D supplement or eat more vitamin D-rich foods.
Food Sources of Essential Nutrient – vitamin D include:
- Fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel
- Egg yolks
- Milk and Milk products
- Fortified cereals
Essential Nutrient: Magnesium
Magnesium is a mineral that is essential for many bodily functions, including regulating muscle and nerve function, maintaining healthy bones, and supporting the immune system. Magnesium is also involved in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body, including energy production and protein synthesis.
Despite its importance, many people don’t get enough magnesium in their diet. This is because magnesium is often lacking in the modern Western diet, which tends to be high in processed foods and low in whole, nutrient-dense foods. Magnesium is also one of the first minerals we lose when we strength train. As it’s very important for muscle and nerve function, it’s extremely important for athletes or people that strength train consistently to ensure they’re supplementing magnesium.
Symptoms of a magnesium deficiency include muscle cramps, tremors, and fatigue. The best way to get enough magnesium would of course be through your diet. But supplementation is sometimes required if your diet doesn’t consistent of the items below.
Some foods that are high in magnesium include:
- Leafy green vegetables, such as spinach and kale
- Nuts, such as almonds and cashews
- Seeds, such as pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds
- Whole grains, such as wheat, quinoa, barley
- Legumes, such as black beans and lentils
Essential Nutrient: Iron
Iron is an essential mineral that is necessary for the production of hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Iron is also important for the immune system and cognitive function.
Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in the world, affecting over 25% of the global population. Symptoms of an iron deficiency include fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath.
While iron is found naturally in many foods, it can be difficult to get enough from diet alone, especially for vegetarians and vegans. Iron from plant-based sources is less readily absorbed by the body than iron from animal sources. If you are vegan or vegetarian, consider a supplement to ensure you are getting enough iron.
Some foods that are high in iron include:
- Red meat, poultry, and fish
- Leafy green vegetables, such as spinach and kale
- Legumes, such as lentils and beans
- Fortified cereals and breads
- Dried fruit, such as raisins and apricots
Essential Nutrient: Calcium
Calcium is a mineral that is essential for building and maintaining strong bones and teeth. It also plays a role in nerve function, muscle function, and blood clotting.
Many people don’t get enough calcium in their diet. By incorporating more calcium-rich foods into your diet, you can ensure that you’re getting enough calcium to support your bone health and overall health. But as stated above- you have to be getting enough vitamin D so that your body can absorb calcium.
Some foods that are high in calcium include:
- Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese. Choose low-fat or non-fat options to reduce saturated fat intake.
- Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale, and collard greens.
- Some foods such as tofu, soy milk, and orange juice are fortified with calcium.
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, sesame seeds, and chia seeds are all good sources of calcium.
- Canned fish such as salmon and sardines with bones are also excellent sources of calcium.
Essential Nutrient: Omega-3s
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for a number of reasons. Firstly, they play a crucial role in maintaining brain health and cognitive function, particularly during fetal development and infancy. Omega-3s are important structural components of brain cell membranes, and they also help to support communication between brain cells.
In addition to their role in brain health, omega-3s have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, which can help to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. They also help to support healthy skin, hair, and nails, and may even improve mood and mental health.
Some foods that are high in Omega-3s include:
- Fatty fish
- Brussels sprouts, seaweed, algae, spinach, and broccoli
- Chia seeds, flaxseeds and hemp seeds
- An omega-3 supplement is a great option if you know you’re not going to be eating a variety of fish, nuts or seeds.
To sum it all up, instead of worrying about individual nutrients and if you’re getting enough, you should focus on a varied diet instead. A healthy diet should consist of a variety of fish, vegetables, meat, nuts, seeds, fruit and some dairy at least 80% of the time. You can go out and have fun with friends or family of course- a flexible diet is key to consistency. But for the majority of the time, put an emphasis on whole foods and you will cover the basis of nutrients you need to be healthy.
If you want more guidance on nutrition and what you need to do to manage your health, email Jalpa to set up a consultation!
Jalpa is a registered dietitian and nutritionist with a Master’s degree in Health & Nutrition from Brooklyn College, CUNY in New York. She also holds a Certificate of Training in Adult Weight Management through the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, CDR.