4 ignored nutrients

food is your best source for these nutrients

Lately, nutrition experts are all about “don’t”.  Don’t eat sodium, don’t eat fat, don’t eat sugar, don’t eat too much.  It’s all negative, and makes food look like The Enemy.  It’s good to remember that food is the best, and sometimes only, source of key nutrients that aren’t on anyone’s radar screen at the moment.  And thanks to widespread inadequate intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, people aren’t eating much of them.

  1. Potassium: we need a pretty hefty intake of potassium each and every day.  It’s a key electrolyte, keeping body fluids in balance, and is an important part of blood pressure regulation.  Unfortunately, the extreme focus on reducing sodium intake usually ignores the important role of adequate potassium intake to normalize blood pressure.   The best sources: fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and beans.  Potassium and sodium should be in balance, but too often we consume far more sodium than necessary, and little potassium.  Worse, many people are taking prescription drugs that cause more potassium excretion.   Just take supplements?  No.  Potassium supplement pills are limited to 99 mg each, to prevent accidental overdosing.  Why not just eat a banana (400+ mg) or a baked potato (900+)?  Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, juices, nuts and beans will boost your potassium intake.
  2. Magnesium: are you taking calcium for your bones?  Are you paying attention to your magnesium intake?  Bones require magnesium, too.  In addition to bone health, magnesium is essential for numerous metabolic systems.  Foods high in magnesium include whole grains, green leafy vegetables, nuts and other vegetables.  A diet of highly processed foods, with few dark green vegetables, whole grains or nuts could easily be lacking in magnesium.  The daily requirement for adults ranges from 300-400 mg.  Supplements typically are limited to 250 mg, to avoid overdosing.  This is one case of a nutritional supplement truly functioning as a supplement, rather than as a replacement.  One magnesium tablet could enhance, rather than replace, your magnesium intake from food.  But better to increase high magnesium foods.
  3. Choline: choline is essential for nerve function, cell membrane integrity and cell signaling.  It’s not technically a vitamin, since our bodies can make small amounts, but we need to consume it for good health.  Good food sources include: eggs, liver, wheat germ, broccoli, brussel sprouts, some fish and beef.  With egg consumption dropping, due to misplaced cholesterol scares, where are we getting choline?  Wheat germ?  I don’t believe that’s a mainstream food.  Cheeseburgers maybe.  That would be a lot of cheeseburgers every day.
  4. vitamin K: you might think of vitamin K for blood clotting, and you’d be right.  But did you know vitamin K deficiency is related to low bone density and is implicated in calcification of blood vessels.  Unfortunately,  inadequate intake is not hard to imagine: a diet lacking in green leafy vegetables.  Another problem: people on anti-coagulant prescription drugs are told to avoid vitamin K-containing foods.  While that may help prevent blood clotting, it also means the potential benefits of vitamin K for bones and vascular calcium deposits are lost.  This is a very unfortunately collision of medicine vs nutrition, and nutrition loses.

The common themes with these 4 nutrients:

  • fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and beans are good sources of these forgotten nutrients.  Increasing intake of all these is a good idea, and also increases your intake of fiber, antioxidants and plenty of other vitamins and minerals.
  • a highly processed diet, lacking in whole foods, is likely to contain low amounts of these, and other, key nutrients.  So far, none of these are being pumped into manufactured fortified foods, the way fiber or calcium or cheap B-vitamins are.  Likely because they’re either too expensive to use, or can’t be used without changing the food’s properties.  So for the most part, our only sources are whole foods.
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