Michael JosephNutrient deficiencies in the modern diet are a rising problem.
If you think you’re eating the perfect diet, you may want to reconsider that for a moment. On a purely statistical basis, the chances are that you have some critical nutrient deficiencies.
The data makes for scary reading:
· At least 98% of American adults are deficient in potassium1
· Approximately 68% of adults have a magnesium deficiency
· In the 2009-2012 NHANES study, only 10.8% of participants were consuming an adequate intake of choline2
· The prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency in the United States is 69.5%3
In short, the nutrient deficiencies in our modern diet are nothing short of a public health crisis. While these four nutrient deficiencies are only the tip of the iceberg, they are some of the most critical vitamins and minerals for our overall health. This article will investigate the cause of these deficiencies, the potential consequences, and what we can do about it.
Potassium: Important to Every Cell in our Body
Potassium plays a key role in every single cell in the human body; it’s a vital electrolyte that affects everything from our heart health to digestive function and even skeletal contraction. As an electrolyte, potassium works in combination — and in a delicate balance — with sodium to regulate blood pressure and the amount of fluid in our cells.
The problem is we’re just not consuming enough of it, and thanks to the abundance of processed food in our diet, our sodium intake is far too high. Public health has taken the route of focusing on salt restriction to rectify this problem, but this also has potential pitfalls of its own. For example, not only is excessive sodium a risk factor for heart disease but so is too little.4
This imbalanced ratio between potassium and sodium negatively impacts our whole biological system, with a rise in blood pressure standing out among the most critical.5 However, the good news is that we can quickly increase our potassium intake through eating a variety of healthy whole foods. Some of the most significant dietary sources of potassium include avocados, fish, meat, spinach and other leafy greens.
Magnesium: The Most Essential Mineral of All?
Many people in the nutrition world consider magnesium to be the most essential mineral, and it’s not difficult to see why. Magnesium exerts a powerful influence in the body, playing a part in over 300 enzyme systems and regulating blood pressure, protein synthesis, and blood glucose control just to name a few.
There is not one single culprit for our deficiency in magnesium; in my view, there are three primary reasons why our magnesium insufficiency is so high.
1) Magnesium depletion in soil due to over farming and the overuse of pesticides. For instance, glyphosate can inhibit magnesium absorption in plants .6
2) An excessive consumption of grains in the modern diet. All grains contain phytic acid, often referred to as an anti-nutrient because it can impair the absorption of many minerals. No matter how much magnesium we consume, it will never be enough if we are not adequately absorbing it.7
3) The lack of magnesium-rich foods in the modern diet. Ultra-processed foods now contribute a concerning 57.9% of all calories in the US diet.8 Processing strips these foods of most of their beneficial nutrients, and the lack of whole foods in our diet is a major problem.
Magnesium deficiency vastly increases the risk of several chronic diseases, including Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease.9 Again, we can increase our consumption of magnesium by focusing on nutrient-dense foods such as green vegetables and nuts.
Choline: The Impact of Shunning Our Traditional Foods?
Over the past several decades, our diets have changed beyond recognition. With the controversial war on fat and dietary cholesterol, many foods became considered dangerous if not strictly limited.
A few examples of these include egg yolks, organ meats, and shellfish. Despite being foods our ancestors (and grandparents) prized for their nutrient density, many people began to fear — and avoid —them due to their dietary cholesterol content.
One of the problems with this is that these foods are also the most significant dietary sources of choline — an essential nutrient that a large proportion of people are now deficient in.
Choline is a water-soluble vitamin that’s necessary for various processes in the body, including but not limited to methylation, fat metabolism, and liver detoxification. Perhaps the three best dietary sources of choline are beef liver, eggs, and salmon.
Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin
Vitamin D is different from most other vitamins, and it actually converts into a hormone in the body, known as calcitriol. As a result, it controls a broad range of biological processes and is essential for our overall health. Vitamin D plays a crucial role in controlling calcium levels in the blood, strengthening our skeletal system, and fighting disease.
There are two primary sources from which we can obtain vitamin D: the sun and diet. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, and we can find it in fatty animal foods such as eggs, liver, mackerel, salmon, and tuna. It’s not hard to see why we have developed a deficiency in vitamin D; as well as the move to a predominantly indoor lifestyle, we have seen a rapid decline in our intake of fatty animal foods.
Unfortunately, vitamin D deficiency has many perils, and research shows that as vitamin D levels drop, the risks for many chronic diseases increase. Markedly, several studies show that low blood levels of vitamin D are associated with increased risk for cardiovascular disease and several cancers.10,11
For these reasons, if you cannot spend enough time outside in the sun, then it may be worth supplementing with vitamin D3.
Michael Joseph is a Nutrition Educator with a passion for traditional foods. He regularly writes at http://nutritionadvance.com
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