You avoid fast food and eat right—most of the time, anyway. But even healthy eaters can run low on vital nutrients if they’re not reaching for a wide variety of the right kinds of foods.
Especially if you tend to eat the same things all the time—and who doesn’t?—the lack of one or two important vitamins or minerals can up your risk for heart disease, blood problems, fatigue and even depression.
Here are the 7 nutrients you should worry about, and food choices that defend against deficiencies:
A recent study in the journal Nutrition Research found 42% of Americans aren’t getting enough of the “sunshine vitamin.” That figure jumps to 82% among African Americans. Low D has been linked to higher rates of heart disease and cancer, as well as fatigue and mood disorders. While the easiest way to get your daily D is to step outside and expose your bare skin to 10 or 15 minutes of sunlight, supplements and fortified foods like milk, yogurt, eggs and OJ are all healthy vitamin D sources, says Alexandra Caspero, RD, a nutrition coach, consultant and writer/curator of Delish Knowledge.
Low B12 contributes to anemia, a blood condition that comes with symptoms like weakness and exhaustion. Too little of this vitamin may also up your risk for neuropsychiatric disorders like anxiety, finds research from the U.S. Army. Caspero says eggs, milk and yogurt are all good B12 sources. If you can’t handle dairy and you’re not a fan of omelets, she recommends taking a supplement.
This mineral may improve your blood pressure as much or more than limiting the salt in your diet, suggests a recent study from Boston University. Yes, bananas contain potassium. But only about 10% of your daily needs, Caspero says. While most plant foods also contain this mineral, potatoes, broccoli, butternut squash and white beans are solid sources.
Your muscles need this essential amino acid for proper recovery and function. Particularly among older adults—when muscle “wasting” and loss starts to become an issue—leucine is muy importante, concludes a recent study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. There’s tons of leucine in eggs, Caspero says. Most types of lean meat also pack plenty of leucine. If you’re vegan, getting enough leucine is tougher. But good sources include soy protein, seaweed and lima beans.
Some research suggests too-little iron is the most common diet deficiency in the U.S. If you’re low on it, your blood can’t effectively carry oxygen—an issue that hampers pretty much every system in your body. Lean beef is iron-rich. So are oysters, mussels and clams. While you can get iron from some plant foods, it’s a slightly different type that your body has trouble absorbing, Caspero says. Beans, tofu, potatoes and fortified breakfast cereals are some non-meat, non-mollusk sources.
This is where vegans have the upper hand; pretty much all vegetables are packed with fiber, Caspero says. Spinach, broccoli, artichokes and carrots are all excellent sources. Whole grains are also typically high in fiber. This healthy carbohydrate helps you feel full longer, promotes proper digestion, and may also improve your cholesterol levels. Skimp on it, and your gut won’t be in great shape.
FOLIC ACID (FOLATE)
Your body requires folic acid to make new red blood cells and DNA. Fatigue, gray hair and developmental problems are just a few of the issues that can result from consuming too little of this stuff, according to the National Institutes of Health. All dark leafy vegetables—such as spinach and kale—are packed with folate, Caspero says. Beans, broccoli and oranges are also good sources.