If you’re looking for easy ways to improve your health, some dietary mathematics may be in order. According to the new Dietary Guidelines, Americans are overfed and undernourished, says Elizabeth Ward, RD, co-author of Super Nutrition After 50 and Live Longer & Better. The easiest way to combat this problem is to subtract processed foods and add nutrient-dense fare, which provides health-boosting vitamins and minerals for the least amount of calories, says Ward. The Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture recommend focusing on five key nutrients, which most Americans are deficient in. Here’s a breakdown of what you need, why and how you can easily up your intake.
Daily Needs: 4,700 mg
Why: Potassium reduces your risk of bone loss and can lower blood pressure by counteracting the adverse effects of sodium.
Nutrient-Dense Sources: baked potatoes; prune juice; white beans; plain, nonfat yogurt; bananas and skim milk
Daily Needs: 25 g
Why: Fiber helps provide a feeling of fullness, which can aid weight loss, and is important in promoting healthy digestion. Dietary fiber that occurs naturally in foods can also help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
Nutrient-Dense Sources:beans, bran cereals, lentils, chickpeas, artichokes, pears and raspberries
Daily Needs: 1,000 mg; 1,200 mg if you’re over 50 years old
Why: Calcium helps maintain optimal bone health, reducing your risk of osteoporosis and fractures. It’s also vital to nerve transmission, constriction and dilation of blood vessels, and muscle contraction.
Nutrient-Dense Sources: fortified cereals and orange juice; plain, nonfat yogurt; cheese, especially Romano, Swiss and ricotta; and tofu prepared with calcium sulfate
Daily Needs: 600 IU (15 mcg)
Why: Vitamin D helps reduce your risk of fractures and osteomalacia, the softening of bones. Some evidence also suggests it may play a role in preventing cancer, hypertension, depression, diabetes and more.
Nutrient-Dense Sources:sockeye salmon, canned tuna, orange juice, milk and eggs
Daily Needs: 2.4 mcg
Why:Vitamin B12 helps build DNA and red blood cells, as well as protects the nerve fibers that help maintain the nervous system. Deficiency can lead to anemia, fatigue, depression and dementia.
Nutrient-Dense Sources:Most Americans consume enough vitamin B12, however a substantial proportion of individuals ages 50 years and older may have a reduced ability to absorb naturally occurring form. Because the crystalline form is well absorbed, the guidelines recommend that individuals ages 50 years and older eat foods fortified with vitamin B12, such as fortified cereals, along with foods that are naturally rich in the vitamin, such as beef, clams and salmon.