There are all kinds of diets out there—including regional diets. You’ve probably heard of the Mediterranean Diet, for example, which mimics the diet of people living in Greece, Italy and Spain. Worldly diets like the Mediterranean Diet are popular because of the wellness and longevity benefits they’re associated with. Unfortunately, the “Western Diet” doesn’t share these same benefits.
The Western Diet isn’t really a diet—it refers to American eating habits… and they’re not good. Typically, the Western Diet is high in red meat, processed and packaged foods, and fried foods. It’s also low in leafy greens, unprocessed white meats and whole grains. As a result, many American eaters end up depriving their bodies of a few much-needed vitamins and minerals.
If you’re following a conventional ‘Western Diet’ and trying to break free of poor eating habits, here are five vitamins and minerals you’re likely not getting enough of.
There are both heme and non-heme types of iron out there—one found in animal foods, one found in plant foods. Both are vital for the body because they aid in oxygenation of blood cells. Iron deficiency can lead to all sorts of issues—everything from anemia to lightheadedness and lack of energy. Lack of iron has also been linked to reduced brain function and nervous system health!
To get more iron (heme and non-heme) takes better eating habits. Farm-raised, free range red meat is the best way to get heme iron and beans are the single best source of non-heme iron. If you’re vegetarian/vegan or want a simpler way of getting both, iron supplements will do the trick. Shoot for 8mg per day if you’re a man; 15mg per day for women. Don’t exceed 20mg of iron daily—you could encounter stomach pain or nausea.
An estimated 50% of all Americans are magnesium deficient! If you’re prone to muscle cramps, fatigue, headaches or high blood pressure, it could be a sign you need more magnesium. Individuals with osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome or heart disease will also experience lower levels of magnesium by virtue of their condition.
To get it, start chowing down on leafy greens, nuts and seeds. Again, supplementation is a simple way to get your body the magnesium it needs on a daily basis as you shift to better eating habits. Men need about 400mg per day; women benefit from 300mg daily. It’s hard to take too much magnesium (the body processes it well), but any more than the recommended amounts won’t do anything for your body.
3. Vitamin D
While most people associate Vitamin D with sunlight, there are other ways to get it—including through food and supplementation. If you’re ready to adapt your diet, fatty fish are the best thing to add for Vitamin D intake. Otherwise, supplementation is simple—just take a 1000 IU capsule each day with breakfast.
What does Vitamin D deficiency look like? General weakness and feeling of lethargy are the two biggest indicators. If you find yourself always with a head cold or other mild illness, this might also be a sign of Vitamin D deficiency. It’s a concern in kids especially, who are usually pickier eaters than adults and who have trouble getting Vitamin D from their diet.
We typically hear about calcium deficiency when it comes to women with osteoporosis, but in fact, many, many people are calcium deficient and don’t realize it. Aside from strong bones, calcium fortifies teeth and serves as a signaling molecule for heart, nerve and brain functions. While women are more prone to being deficient in calcium, men also need to make sure they’re getting a healthy daily dose. Again, this is also extremely important for children, whose bones and other vital systems are still developing.
While you might reach for a glass of milk first, calcium is actually prevalent in other, healthier foods. Boned fish are a great source of calcium, as well as citrus like oranges or grapefruits. While it’s hard to argue with the calcium content of milk and cheese, it’s important to eat these foods sparingly. You should get about 1000mg of calcium per day, which makes taking a 1000mg supplement (or two 500mg capsules) an easy way to treat your body to essential calcium.
5. Vitamin B12
Lots of people have trouble keeping track of the many vitamins they’re supposed to get each day—especially Vitamin B12, which your body can’t produce on its own and needs to get from food or supplementation. To make matters more difficult, Vitamin B12 is only found in animal foods, which means significant vegetarians and vegans are deficient. Often, supplementation is the best option for Vitamin B12. The good news is, you don’t need a lot: about 2.4mcg per day will do the trick. If you take more, that’s fine too—the body processes out unused Vitamin B12.
Give your body the good stuff!
The biggest problem with vitamin and nutrient deficiencies is that the symptoms take a long time to manifest and can be inconsistent. You might never know that you’re lacking these important substances until a doctor orders bloodwork and tells you.
The best thing to do is pay attention to your diet and your body. Start eating more of the foods mentioned above or introduce supplements to your diet to make sure you’re getting the essential vitamins and minerals your body is lacking.