What You Do and Don’t Get In Your Daily Diet

Eating Isn’t Always About Health

Modern life creates dietary silos. Between your kids, spouse, job, and hedonistic pursuits what you eat is a function of what’s convenient and affordable. Nutrition and freshness are considerations, but they’re part of a greater whole. You don’t eat food just to maximize your health. You also eat to feel good, fulfill social obligations, relieve stress, and alleviate boredom, among other things.

Whether or not that’s good or bad will be left alone at the moment. If you’re curious enough to read this blog then you’re probably aware of the major themes of the american diet: lots of tasty food that’s convenient and cheap, but loaded with salt, fat, calories, preservatives and other nasty things that can wreak havoc on your health. You can almost hear the sound of  our asses getting collectively bigger.
Whatever. It is what it is.
Dietary funnels are hard to break out of (I’m kind of stuck in one right now, see here), but as a secondary line of defense it’s good to know what your funnel will and won’t do for your health. By knowing what you’re not getting, you can at least take small actions like changing what you order on a menu or packing something else in your lunch.

What You Don’t Get In Your Diet

Surprisingly little is known about the specifics of the nutrients we do and don’t receive in our day-to-day routine. We’ve got hordes of studies saying “lack of X is correlated with Y disease” and so on, but large scale epidemiological information about our nutritional bottom lines is scarce.

A new paper published in the Journal of Nutrition attempts to resolve that dilemma. Using survey data, it tried to paint broad strokes about what vitamins and minerals Americans do and don’t receive, and whether it came from natural or supplementary sources.
The chart above depicts the percentage of American adults that don’t receive the recommended daily allowances of particular nutrients:
So when it comes to vitamins, we’re good with Vitamin B and Folate, but not doing so hot with vitamins A, C, D, and E.
With minerals, Magnesium and Calcium seem to be lacking. In general, the results point to a diet that’s heavy on meat and light on plants. Most of the things we’re getting plenty of are found in abundance in a good steak.

Nutrients From Food vs. Nutrients From Supplements

It’s worthwhile to note that with some nutrients, the majority of our intake is through supplementation. (Like Folate……the huge difference between the black and gray bar means we get hardly any at all from our diet, but a lot through supplementation). Supplementation is okay, and better than nothing. Natural food zealots will insist nutrients only count if they’re pulled out of the dirt, but if you’ve got kids to take care of and exams to study for, you need to do what you can. We can’t all be hippies.
However, there usually are significant differences in absorbance and nutritional value between fresh produce and vitamins and other stuff like that. So for items like Folate and Thiamin, it’s probably best to be mindful of getting them in your diet, even if you’re receiving them from other sources.
So, here are some foods that are good sources of nutrients most of us are not getting:
Vitamin A:
Carrots, sweet potato, squash, red peppers, greens, animal liver
Vitamin C:
Greens, broccoli, citrus fruits, strawberries, peppers (especially green peppers)
Vitamin D:
sunlight (it’s true), fish (especially salmon, herring and mackerel…..most forms are okay), fish oils, fortified milk
Vitamin E:
Peppers, nuts, spinach, sweet potato, broccoli, avocado, pumpkin, sunflower seeds and oil
Fortified milk, dairy products, brazil nuts and almonds, greens (but absorbance is often low, inflating their value), herring
greens, bananas, apricots, avocados, nuts, soy

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