What we say to ourselves about food, eating, and exercise has a huge impact on our habits and choices. Most of us tend to focus on the unhealthy things we need to cut out of our diet when we are seeking better health and weight loss. What if you shifted your thinking to focusing more on the healthier foods you should be getting more of.
The more nutrient-dense, antioxidant, vitamin & mineral rich foods we can include the better for health promotion, disease prevention, weight management, and longevity. Did you know that you can actually eat MORE food, while getting less calories, when you include more nutrient-dense foods in your diet.
If a food is “nutrient-dense” or nutrient-rich” it means that it has lots of nutrients packed into it per calorie. The term “nutrient-dense” also means that a particular food has not been diluted by the addition of added solid fats or sugars. A nutrient-rich shopping list would include plenty of foods straight from nature, including fruits, vegetables, beans and peas (legumes), nuts, seeds, lower-fat dairy, eggs, and seafood.
Sadly, our population as a whole is coming up short when it comes to these nutrient-rich foods and the good-for-us nutrients they contain. So much so that they have been dubbed “shortfall nutrients” by nutrition scientists focused on improving our health. These are the four “shortfall nutrients”, why they are important, how much we need, and how we can get more.
Why we need it: 1 out of every 3 adults has high blood pressure (hypertension) and another 1 out of every 3 has prehypertension – levels that are not within healthy range, but not yet in high blood pressure range. Potassium promotes healthy blood pressure levels, by countering the harmful effects of too much sodium, and may protect the heart and bones.
How Much do We Need: 4,700 mg for people age 14 and up. (Only 3% of Americans get this amount)
How To Get More: Boost your intake of fruits, vegetables, and beans. Bananas, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, citrus, avocado, kiwi, and melon are all rich sources of potassium.
Why We Need It: Helps prevent constipation, lower risk of colon cancer, helps maintain a healthy weight, and lowers risk of diabetes and heart disease.
How Much Do we Need: Women need about 20-25 grams per day and men should shoot for around 35 grams per day. (Only 5% of us meet our daily recommended target)
How To Get More: Eat a fruit or vegetable with each meal or snack. Replace refined, heavily processed white grains with whole grains, including 100% whole wheat bread, whole grain cereal, whole wheat pasta, and brown rice. Beans are also a great source of fiber and can be used for half the meat in casseroles, soups, or pasta dishes.
Why We Need It: Works with calcium to promote bone health. Recent evidence shows that vitamin D may function in reducing risk of diabetes, heart attacks, rheumatoid arthritis, and breast, colon, prostate, ovarian, and esophageal cancer.
How Much Do We Need: 600 IU per day for most and 800 IU for those 70 and older. (Less than 5% of us get enough)
How To Get More: Boost your intake of milk (dairy or soy) that is fortified with vitamin D. Omega-3 rich fish, such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, rainbow trout, and tuna are also good sources.
Why We Need It: It is essential for bone health – especially in adolescents with rapidly growing bones – and appears to lower risk of colon cancer.
How Much Do We Need: 1,000-1,200 mg per day depending on your age and whether you are male or female. (Less than 50% of Americans meet this recommended amount.) More is not better when it comes to calcium. Too much calcium, beyond 2,000 mg per day, may damage kidneys and blood vessels. Aim to get at least half your calcium from food sources and take a calcium supplement to meet the rest if needed.
How To Get More: Drink milk or calcium-fortified non-dairy milk and yogurt two or three times per day. Other non-dairy sources include dark green leafy vegetables, like kale bok choy, and broccoli.
Overall, getting a combination of these nutrients within a healthy eating plan can help promote healthy blood pressure and protect you from heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Not sure if you are getting enough of one or another of these health-promoting nutrients? Start with just one and start to pay attention to food labels or use the website calorieking.com to look up foods that don’t have a food label to figure out their nutrient content.