If your diet lacks enough fruits, veggies and whole grains, you might also be lacking some vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Every few years, the US Department of Agriculture releases data that reveals the state of the American diet. A recent report highlighted what most of us in the nutrition world already knew: many of us are eating too much, and yet getting too little of some important nutrients. While nutrient shortages occur across all ages and for both genders, a closer look at the data indicates that we might be wise to put more focus on a few key nutrients that are likely lacking in men’s diets.
According to the data, men simply aren’t getting enough servings of fruits, veggies and whole grains. Only about 20% of adult men meet the recommended intake for fruits and vegetables—a combined total of about 4 ½ cups a day. And nearly all adult men fall short when it comes to whole grain intake.
When you consider that these foods provide an abundance of vitamins, minerals and fiber, it’s easy to see why not getting enough of them may result in a nutritional deficiency.
Fiber. The recommended fiber intake for adult men is 38 grams a day, but most men get only about half that amount. You know it’s important for regularity, but fiber serves other purposes, too. Fiber helps to keep you regular, it fills you up, and certain fibers encourage the growth of ‘good’ bacteria in your digestive tract. But getting enough fiber can be tough. Many of the grains in the typical US diet are refined, which means most of the fiber is stripped away. And there is often a lack high-fiber fruits and veggies in men’s diets.
The fix: Eat fruits and veggies for snacks, and add them to as many foods as you can—smoothies, sandwiches, salads, soups, stews, omelets, etc. Make an effort, as the US Dietary Guidelines suggest, to “make half your grains whole.” Rather than refined grains, choose whole grain products such as brown rice, quinoa, oats, barley and 100% whole grain breads, cereals, crackers, rice and pasta.
Magnesium. Magnesium isn’t a mineral we think about much, but it contributes to literally hundreds of bodily functions. Magnesium helps your cells to produce energy. And most of the magnesium in your body is found in your bones, so it also helps keep your skeleton healthy. Magnesium is abundant in plant foods like in leafy veggies, nuts, beans and whole grains. But our reliance on refined foods has stripped much of the magnesium out of our diet.
The fix: Try a handful of nuts or roasted soybeans for a snack. Toss some beans into a leafy green salad, or work more whole grains into your diet. Opt for whole grain versions of bread, cereal, crackers and pasta. And switch from white rice to brown, regular pasta to whole grain.
Vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones and teeth, due to its role in assisting with the absorption of two key minerals—calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D is also needed for proper muscle function and supports the activity of the immune system. But only about a third of American men meet the recommended intake of 600IUs. One reason is that vitamin D is found naturally in just a few foods: fatty fish, egg yolks and liver. Dairy products are often fortified with vitamin D, but many men don’t consume sufficient amounts to meet needs. Your body can manufacture vitamin D: it’s made under the skin when it’s exposed to sufficient sunlight.
The fix: Incorporate more vitamin D-fortified dairy products (milk, yogurt, cottage cheese) into your day. Eat a couple of fish meals a week, spend a bit more time outdoors and consider a vitamin D supplement.
Potassium. Potassium is such an important mineral. It supports the function of nerves and muscles, helps regulate blood pressure and also helps us get energy from our food. All muscles require potassium in order to properly contract. But the foods with the most potassium—fruits, veggies, beans and dairy products—don’t make it to the plate as often as they should.
The fix: Include a potassium-rich fruit or veggie at every meal, particularly rich sources include tomatoes, bananas, beans, melons, avocados, citrus and strawberries. A serving or two of dairy can do double-duty. Not only is dairy a good source of potassium, but it can help you meet your needs for vitamin D, too.