When it comes to eating right, it's easy to get distracted by complex eating plans. But you also need to ensure the bases are covered. You need—to quote mom—to get your vitamins.
Researchers found that many adults aren't getting adequate levels of Vitamins A, C and D, in a recent study at the University of Illinois. This doesn't mean you should start popping multivitamins and supplements as insurance (especially because recent studies indicate that they're largely ineffective)—in fact, it's best to get our nutrients from whole foods.
Here are some of the most common vitamins we don't get enough of, along with the foods that can replenish your natural stores. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these 19 Ways You're Ruining Your Body, Say Health Experts.
There's been a lot of talk about vitamin D deficiency recently, and it's worth repeating. Up to 70% of us aren't getting enough. The sunshine vitamin—so named because the sun produces D upon skin contact—is essential for healthy bones and teeth, and emerging evidence links it to a lower risk of some cancers. "The most common deficiency that I see in my practice is vitamin D," says Gina Consalvo, a registered dietitian who practices in Pennsylvania. "Our body does make some D when exposed to sunlight, but usually not enough to meet our body's needs," she adds.
How to get it: Consalvo recommends whole eggs, fish oil and fish such as herring, halibut, salmon, mackerel, or tuna. Fortified foods like milk, breakfast cereal and yogurt are also rich in D.
Essential for the production of red blood cells, nerves and DNA, B12 also plays a crucial role in the production of energy. It's found in whole food sources like meat, eggs and fortified milk. But plants don't make B12; if you're following a vegetarian or vegan diet, unless you're a lacto-ovo vegetarian, you might not be getting enough.
How to get it: Beef (always go for grass-fed), chicken, seafood, dairy products and eggs. According to the USDA, the foods with the highest levels of B12 are beef, clams and lamb.
Poor vitamin A—despite its place at the top of the alphabetical heap, it's underappreciated. But you definitely want to ensure you're stocked up: It's essential for proper immune system function, tissue growth and repair and bone strength.
How to get it: According to the USDA, foods in the top-10 highest sources of A are beef, veal, sweet potatoes and carrots. The CDC's Diet and Nutrition Report adds that fish-liver oils, liver, egg yolks, butter and cream are known for their higher content of vitamin A.
Up to 15% of us aren't getting adequate C, and that number's on the rise compared to previous decades, according to the CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. It may not prevent colds, but C is a powerful antioxidant and is essential for healthy skin tendons and blood vessels. In a University of Arizona study published in the journal Nutrition&Metabolism, researchers found that vitamin C levels impacted fat oxidation during exercise, and cited a survey that showed levels of C have a direct relationship to body fat and waist size. (But don't use that as an excuse to go C-crazy: megadoses aren't effective and may be toxic.)
How to get it: Oranges are considered the gold standard, but many more foods are richer in the vitamin: Red peppers have almost four times the C of an orange! Also good sources: Chiles, broccoli, brussels sprouts and strawberries. Vitamin C also makes your skin tighter and look younger.
Only 4.7% of Americans consume adequate potassium, University of Illinois researchers found. You best get to it as the mineral is crucial in maintaining healthy heart and kidney function. The nutrient also helps flatten your belly in two ways: you recover after a workout, and it helps the body flush out water and sodium, reducing belly bloat.
How to get it: Add bananas, avocados, nuts and leafy green vegetables to your grocery list. According to the USDA, the food highest in potassium is molasses, if that's your jam. And to get through life at your healthiest, Don't Take This Supplement, Which Can Raise Your Cancer Risk.