5 Nutrients you're probably not getting enough of in your diet

Nov 16, 2015 at 8:00 a.m. ET

Nutrients — they're kind of like those Ryan Gosling "Hey Girl" memes, as in you just can't get enough.

But, unlike Ryan Gosling memes, you can't just scroll through Facebook passively waiting for nutrients to magically appear in your system. No, you have to actively seek them out or suffer the deficiency consequences.

1. High-quality macronutrients

What are macronutrients, you ask? They're the three building blocks of pretty much everything you put in your mouth: proteins, fats and carbohydrates.

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"But I think I'm eating plenty... at least the scale sure says I am. How could I be deficient?" Great question. They key phrase here is "high-quality." Not all proteins, fats and carbs are created equal. If you're filling your lunchbox with Cheetos, a Wonder Bread sandwich of processed peanut butter and jelly and a soda, you may be eating plenty of calories, but they're not being delivered in "high-quality" form.

If you fail to eat high-quality foods that are closely linked to nature (as in a plant that grows directly out of the ground or an animal that eats off a plant that grows directly out of the ground), your whole body will be thrown out of whack. Not only are proteins, fats and carbs essential for daily function and energy levels, nature-linked foods are how you get your micronutrients — vitamins and minerals that are essential for cellular function, metabolism and hormone regulation.

Rachael Shontz, weight management specialist and the voice behind Fit Cyster puts it this way, "As a society, we are over-fed and under-nourished." She offers the following suggestions for cleaning up your diet and assessing which foods should make the cut:

  • If you can't pronounce the ingredients in a food, don't eat it
  • If it's processed or packaged, read the ingredients carefully and proceed with caution (refer to rule one)
  • Shop the perimeter of the grocery store and stick to the meat, produce and dairy sections, avoiding the aisles where "problem foods" tend to hang out

And P.S., if you fix high-quality macronutrient deficiencies, you'll be more likely to correct some of the other deficiencies on this list.

More: Fruits and vegetables with the most nutrients per calorie

2. Water

Water — if you go without it for too long, you die. It's that essential. And while most of us aren't at risk of keeling over anytime soon (there's more than enough juice, soda and coffee running through our veins to keep us puttering along), that doesn't mean we're not deficient.

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According to a 2007 survey by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, 43 percent of Americans drink three or fewer cups of water a day, with only 22 percent drinking more than eight cups — the standard suggestion for daily consumption.

Granted, actual water requirements vary from person-to-person based on factors like age, sex, body composition and activity level, as well as overall food and beverage intake (everything you put in your mouth has some water in it). The problem is that even mild dehydration can lead to significant deficiencies, including low energy, slowed metabolism, a foggy brain and overeating. If water is the lube that keeps all your systems running smoothly, a lack of water can cause everything else to slow down and run amok.

Make sure you're getting enough water by packing a 1-liter reusable water bottle in your bag each day. Keep it on your desk and make a point to sip from it every hour. Your goal should be to make it through at least two full liters each day. It sounds like a lot, but once you start the habit, you'll be surprised how easy it is to stick with it.

3. Iron

If you're feeling unusually lethargic, you might be iron deficient. Iron is the nutrient responsible for carrying oxygen to your cells. And guess what? Without oxygen, your cells have a tough time working right. The scary thing is that iron is the most common nutrient deficiency in America.

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There are two primary reasons for iron deficiency: 1) a dietary insufficiency due to low intake levels or a decreased ability to absorb the nutrient, or 2) life events that increase the need for iron intake. For instance, periods of rapid growth, pregnancy and heavy periods can all contribute to a need for increased intake.

More: The food pairing that will help you absorb more nutrients

Women have a tendency to be more iron deficient than men, so it's especially important for women to pay attention to iron intake. "Women don't tend to eat the amount of iron-rich foods, such as red meat, as men do. Also, women menstruate — a week out of the month, women lose iron-rich tissue," states Shontz.

Before you run off and go chew on a railroad spike (that just doesn't sound fun at all), hold your roll. If you think you're iron deficient, head to your doctor for blood work. Once you get a straight answer, she'll be able to tell you what course of action to take — treatment may require a dietary change and/or an iron supplement.

In the meantime, make sure you're eating a well-balanced diet that includes high-quality (those words again!) sources of dietary iron, such as seafood, lean red meat, pumpkin seeds, spinach and beans.

4. Vitamin D

Vitamin D's a tricky (and incredibly important) little nutrient. Maralana Fulton, advanced sports and nutrition advisor and founder of Go Do Be explains, "Vitamin D reduces inflammation (which plays a role in heart disease), supports bone health, increases immunity and really helps with mood disorders." The catch? It can be tough to get enough of.

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While vitamin D is readily available in fatty fish and fortified foods, such as milk and yogurt, many people don't consume enough of said foods to take in the recommended 600 IU (international units) per day. That's why its other source — unprotected sun exposure — can play such a significant role in preventing deficiencies. The catch? The not-so-insignificant increased risk of skin cancer.

So what's someone like me — who has already had two skin cancers, doesn't like fish and doesn't consume much dairy — supposed to do? "Wear sunscreen, but aim to get at least 15 minutes of (unprotected) sun a day," suggests Fulton. This level of exposure is unlikely to be overly detrimental and will also help deliver the good-for-you benefits of enjoying the sun.

5. Fiber

The juice craze could be killing your fiber intake! Christiana Greene, a certified personal nutritionist who blogs at Spilling Coffee 'N Dropping Things puts it this way, "I love a fresh, cold-pressed juice, but sometimes we miss the fiber provided in whole fruits and veggies." Yep, that juice your sipping on is full of wonderful nutrients, but not so much on the fiber.

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Even before juice bars started popping up on every corner, Americans tended to be fiber deficient. Now, the same remains true... and for some, may be worse.

Fiber is an incredibly important nutrient that can help keep things moving through your digestive track, essentially keeping you "regular." And while there's not much to hate about a daily poop (don't play, you know it's true), fiber can also help with weight maintenance and protect you from chronic illnesses including diabetes and heart disease.

Most adults need between 28 and 34 grams of fiber per day, and while that sounds like a lot, it's actually pretty easy to attain if you're conscientious. Beans, whole grains, fruits and veggies are all excellent sources. Even if you're not a big veggie eater, there are ways to add more in. For one, switch out your cold-pressed juice for a smoothie, so the fiber won't be stripped away. You can also follow Greene's lead, "I take a natural supplement (Reliv) to be sure to get enough fiber, but in addition, I add kale or spinach to practically everything — eggs, smoothies, sandwiches and stir fry. My friends call me Popeye because of all the spinach I eat!"