By Rosie Schwartz, RD, FDC
How does your diet measure up? Are you falling short on key nutrients – those that can help you to keep you feeling good on a daily basis while defending against lifestyle-related diseases at the same time? Recent research, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, looked at the foods Canadians were consuming through the Canadian Community Health Survey, an evaluation based on information from Health Canada and Statistics Canada of almost 12,000 Canadian adults across the country.
According to the survey, many Canadian adults may not be meeting the recommended intakes for a number of essential nutrients including iron, zinc, the B-vitamins B12, B6 and thiamin, magnesium and potassium. At the same time, the majority are exceeding sodium recommendations.
For more on iron, zinc and sodium, read my companion article Are You Getting Enough of These Nutrients?
But first, read on to learn about other key nutrients you might need to pay more attention to and where you can find them.
Besides maintaining strong bones and teeth, calcium is needed throughout the body for normal muscle and nerve functioning and even how your blood flows. Yet did you know that more than 60% of women and 40% of men over the age of 19 years consume too little calcium?
Here are some sources for you to consider:
- Dairy products such as milk, yoghurt, and cheese are top-notch sources of calcium. For those who opt for plant-based versions, like soy and oat beverages instead, it’s important to read the labels to ensure they’re fortified with calcium. As for tofu, look for those made with calcium.
- Canned salmon and sardines with bones are also rich in calcium.
- Dark leafy green vegetables, like broccoli and kale, contain calcium but are not as well absorbed, so it’s key to eat larger amounts.
More than 80% of Canadian adults don’t meet the requirements for fibre. In fact, most adults only consume about half of what they should be getting each day. While fibre, the indigestible component of carbohydrate foods, used to be known mainly for promoting bowel regularity, its increasing role in defending against various chronic diseases is now being recognized. Fibre is linked to a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, diabetes and certain cancers (such as colon cancer) along with weight management benefits.
Fibre is also valuable in promoting and stimulating the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut. That collection of bacteria, known as your microbiome, not only affects your risk of a number of diseases but is also vital for healthy immune system functioning.
There are several different types of fibre, but they’re mainly categorized as soluble and insoluble, with most foods containing a mix. Here are some super sources of fibre but take note that, in order to avoid gastrointestinal upsets, it’s important to increase your fibre intake slowly and include more fluids at the same time.
Here’s another mineral that’s in short supply on our menus. The survey showed that 66% of women and 58% of men over the age of 19 years have an inadequate intake. And considering that it’s crucial for both healthy blood sugar and blood pressure regulation, it’s essential to boost our intakes.
Go for options like:
- Pulses, whole grains, nuts and seeds and dark leafy green vegetables
- Milk, yoghurt, and other milk products
- Fortified breakfast cereals
Canadian adults right across the country don’t meet the recommended intake for this mineral. While it doesn’t get nearly enough attention, potassium is critical for maintaining healthy blood pressure readings and decreasing the risk of having a stroke. The balance of potassium and sodium, which we eat in excess, together have a major impact on managing blood pressure readings. Too little potassium can also boost the odds of developing kidney stones. But chances are if you’re asked about what foods contain potassium, your answer might be bananas.
There are plenty more potassium-rich foods, though, to choose from. By eating your quota of fruits and vegetables, you’re likely to meet your potassium needs. One easy way is to fill half your plate at meals with them. Here are some choices that will contribute to your totals:
- Fruits: berries, melons, citrus and avocado (plus bananas)
- Vegetables: dark leafy greens, potatoes with their skin, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and mushrooms
- Pulses: kidney beans, lentils and soybeans
- Meat, poultry and fish
- Dairy products: milk and yoghurt
This vitamin is also known as the sunshine vitamin because it’s produced by the body when bare skin is exposed to sunlight of a certain ultraviolet strength. But since we live in the Great White North where adequate strengths of sunlight are not available for much of the year, almost all Canadian adults are short on vitamin D; in fact 98% of women and 94% of men. This nutrient is vital for a range of critical roles including calcium absorption. It’s also a key player in proper immune system functioning, something that’s especially important these days.
Vitamin D is found naturally in fatty fish, like salmon and trout and in smaller amounts in egg yolks and beef liver. All milk is fortified with vitamin D as well as some plant-based alternatives. Some breakfast cereals may also be fortified. But meeting vitamin D requirements through food and sun exposure can be a tough task, so vitamin D supplements are recommended to bridge that gap. It’s best to check with your health professional to determine the best dosage for you.