Most Americans exceed the recommendations for added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium—while 75% of the population do not eat the recommended amounts of fruits, vegetables, dairy, or oils.
Due to these unhealthy eating patterns, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans found that many individuals do not consume the recommended intake of potassium, iron, dietary fiber, choline, magnesium, calcium, and vitamins A, D, E and C.
Below, you'll find a breakdown of the 10 vitamins and minerals you may be lacking and how they can help you function at your best.
Vitamin C helps protect cells against the effects of free radicals, which are produced when your body breaks down food or is exposed to cigarette smoke or air pollution. Free radicals may play a role in heart disease, cancer, and other diseases.
The body also needs vitamin C to help heal wounds. People who smoke or those with certain types of cancer or kidney disease may have trouble getting an adequate intake.
The best sources of vitamin C are:
- Citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruit
- Bell peppers, kiwi, broccoli, strawberries, baked potatoes, and tomatoes
- Foods and beverages fortified with vitamin C
Vitamin D is needed to maintain strong bones, by helping the body absorb calcium. It helps with muscle and nerve function and aids the immune system.
The body makes vitamin D when skin is directly exposed to the sun. But cloudy days, darker skin, or sunscreen can make this difficult. That's when foods and supplements can help.
Certain groups may not get enough vitamin D, including breastfed infants, seniors, people with Crohn’s disease or celiac disease, and people with dark skin.
The best sources of vitamin D are:
- Fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel
- Beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks
- Fortified milk, breakfast cereals, orange juice, yogurt, and soy beverages
Potassium aids in kidney and heart function, muscle contraction, and nerve transmission. Getting too little potassium may increase blood pressure, deplete calcium, and increase the risk of kidney stones.
People with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, or those who use laxatives or some diuretics, may have trouble getting enough potassium.
The best sources of potassium are:
- Fruits, such as dried apricots, prunes, raisins, orange juice, and bananas
- Vegetables, such as potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, and broccoli
- Lentils, kidney beans, soybeans, and nuts
- Milk and yogurt
- Meats, poultry, and fish
Dietary fiber may lower your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer.
Soluble fiber can help lower glucose levels as well as blood cholesterol. Insoluble fiber can prevent and relieve constipation. A lack of fiber can cause constipation and bloating.
The best sources of soluble fiber are:
- Oatmeal, nuts, beans, and lentils
- Fruit, such as apples and blueberries
The best sources of insoluble fiber are:
- Whole grain bread, brown rice, and legumes
- Vegetables, such as carrots, cucumbers, and tomatoes
Choline helps regulate memory, mood, and muscle control. While most American diets contain less than the recommended amount, people do not usually experience any symptoms. If levels of choline drop too low, it could cause muscle or liver damage.
People who may not get enough choline include pregnant women, endurance athletes, and postmenopausal women.
The best sources of choline are:
- Meat, eggs, poultry, fish, and dairy products
- Potatoes, brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower
- Some types of beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains
Magnesium works with calcium in muscle contraction, blood clotting, and regulation of blood pressure. It also helps build bones and teeth. Magnesium deficiency can lead to fatigue, nausea, and weakness.
Teenagers and seniors may not get enough magnesium, as well as people with Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and type 2 diabetes.
The best sources of magnesium include:
- Nuts, seeds, legumes, and green leafy vegetables
- Fortified breakfast cereals and other fortified foods
- Milk and yogurt
Calcium helps build and maintain bones and teeth. It also contributes to optimal nerve and muscle function. Insufficient calcium can lead to low bone density, or osteopenia, and increase the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures.
Many people don’t get the recommended amount, including women over 50, men over 70, vegans, people with lactose intolerance, girls aged nine to 18, and boys aged nine 13.
The best sources of calcium are:
- Milk, yogurt, and cheese
- Kale, broccoli, and Chinese cabbage
- Fish, such as canned sardines and salmon
- Fortified breakfast cereals, fruit juices, soy and rice beverages, and tofu
Vitamin A is important for vision, the immune system, and bone growth. It also keeps tissues and skin healthy.
Premature infants and people with cystic fibrosis are among those who may not get enough vitamin A.
The best sources of vitamin A are:
- Beef liver and other organ meats
- Some types of fish, such as salmon
- Green leafy vegetables and other green, orange, and yellow vegetables, such as broccoli, carrots, and squash
- Fruits, including cantaloupe, apricots, and mangos.
- Dairy products
- Fortified breakfast cereals
Vitamin E helps protect cells from free radicals. It also boosts the immune system and helps prevent blood clots.
Vitamin E deficiency, which can cause nerve and muscle damage and a weakened immune system, is almost always linked to Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and some genetic diseases.
The best sources of vitamin E are:
- Vegetable oils, including wheat germ, sunflower, and safflower oils, as well as corn and soybean oils
- Peanuts, hazelnuts, and almonds, as well as sunflower seeds
- Green vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli
- Fortified breakfast cereals, fruit juices, margarines, and spreads
Iron helps hemoglobin in red blood cells and myoglobin and muscles carry oxygen throughout the body. Low iron levels lead to iron deficiency anemia, which can cause weakness, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating.
Iron deficiency is not uncommon in the United States, especially among women with heavy periods, pregnant women, frequent blood donors, people with cancer, heart failure, or gastrointestinal disorders.
The best sources of iron are:
- Lean meat, seafood and poultry
- Fortified breakfast cereals and breads
- White beans, lentils, spinach, kidney beans and peas
- Nuts and some dried fruits, such as raisins
Do you need to take a vitamin supplement? Read this companion article to discover what vitamin supplements may be right for you.