Most of us could do better when it comes to getting all of our nutrients, no matter how well we eat. There are a few key nutrients that many of us are missing. I’ve found the five most common and a few foods that you can make sure you are eating to keep yourself as healthy as can be. With each nutrient, we cover we’ll add a recipe that will hopefully inspire you and will give you the nutrient boost you need to help you more easily incorporate these natural sources into your diet.
So, what are they? Calcium, Vitamin D, Magnesium, B12, and Iron. They affect virtually every system in your body, so keep reading to see just what you are likely missing out on.
You probably know that you need calcium. And lots of it. It is a key building block for bone strength and getting enough helps ward off osteoporosis. A deficiency can cause fatigue, muscle cramps, abnormal heart rhythms, and a poor appetite. You can get calcium from dairy and dark, leafy greens like kale.
I’m partial to this recipe for kale, ricotta, and mushroom toast because it has both dairy and kale. Plus, it’s fast so you can make it just whenever! The recipe doesn’t give quantities of each ingredient so based on my experience for two slices of toast you would need:
- 2 mushrooms (depends on preference), porcini is my favorite but white are a great option too
- 1 clove of garlic
- 2 tbsp of olive oil
- 1 cup of torn kale
- 1 Fresno chili, optional
- enough ricotta (low or fat-free) to spread on the bread as you would with peanut butter
- any type of bread really, my favorite is ciabatta!
This vitamin is critical for your body’s ability to process calcium and is a key nutrient for bone health. The symptoms of a Vitamin D deficiency are vague – fatigue and muscle weakness – and you might not notice unless you are severely deficient. You can up your Vitamin D intake with fortified dairy products and fatty fish such as salmon and tuna a couple times a week. The easiest way to get some is from absorbing some sunshine whenever you can.
The Mayo Clinic’s RDA (recommended daily amount) for adults under the age of 70 is 600 IUs, for those who are 70 and older the number jumps to 800 UIs. In just 100 grams of smoked chinook salmon there is well over 600 UIs of vitamin D! I like to put mine on toast, spread some avocado on it and pile the salmon on top. It’s possibly the easiest lunch or midnight snack ever. And sometimes I skip the avocado. And the toast. And occasionally the fork too.
This one is so important, we dedicated an entire post to it. Magnesium is a nutrient most people don’t think to worry about, but it helps with everything from bone health to nerve health to mental health. Check out your prescriptions because some may cause a magnesium deficiency. You can find it in foods such as beans, nuts, lentils, dark leafy greens and avocados.
Roasted almonds are one of the richest sources of magnesium (and potassium, and protein, and unsaturated fats, and fiber, and…) and you don’t have to do much to improve on their taste. But if you’re feeling creative or want to mix it up, Alton Brown has a great recipe for spicy ginger almonds. You’ll need:
- 1 tbsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 1 dried arbol chile, stemmed and chopped into small pieces
- 1 tsp dark sesame oil
- 1 lb almonds, raw
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Vitamin B12 helps make neurotransmitters in the brain. A B12 deficiency is common in vegans and those who have had weight loss surgery and symptoms include numbness in the legs, hands, or feet; problems with walking and balance; anemia; fatigue; weakness; a swollen, inflamed tongue; memory loss; paranoia; and hallucinations. Pretty serious stuff. If you are deficient, make sure you are eating enough chicken, fish, milk, and yogurt. If you’re vegan, be sure to choose proteins and breakfast cereals that are fortified with the vitamin.
Vegan pesto is a great way to get extra B12, especially for our vegan fans. Even better, this recipe comes from the Minimalist Baker so you know it won’t take much time, effort, or skill to put together. You’ll need:
- 2 cups packed (144 g) fresh basil (large stems removed)
- 3 Tbsp (25 g) pine nuts or walnuts (if nut-free, try sunflower seeds!)
- 3 large cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 Tbsp (30 ml) lemon juice
- 3-4 Tbsp (9-12 g) nutritional yeast
- 1/4 tsp sea salt, plus more to taste
- 2-3 Tbsp (30-45 ml) extra virgin olive oil
- 3-6 Tbsp (45 – 70 ml) water (plus more as needed)
Iron is what helps our bodies make red blood cells and being deficient can cause some pretty significant problems because of the resulting anemia. It can cause fatigue, pale skin and dull, thin hair. Make beef, oysters, beans (such as chickpeas and kidney beans), lentils and spinach regular features in your diet.
My new favorite snack is actually roasted, spiced chickpeas. My biggest junk food weakness is salty and crunchy snacks, this fulfills those cravings without all the self-loathing that comes with later. This is a recipe I’ve adapted from Joudie Kalla’s “Palestine on a Plate” cookbook, I’ve simplified and tweaked the recipe so it’s more on-the-fly friendly and gentler on the stomach. You’ll need:
- 1 15.5 oz can of chickpeas
- 1 tsp of chili pepper
- 1 tsp of paprika, smoked is prefered
- 1 tsp of za’atar (found in many Arabic food stores and the international aisles of some grocery stores)
- 1 tsp of ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp of sea salt
- 1 tbsp of olive oil
Preheat your oven to 425 F. Drain the chickpeas in a colander and give them a good rinse with water. Let dry for a few minutes. In the meantime, combine all of the spices and the salt in a small bowl. Add the olive oil and mix to form a paste. If you prefer for the chickpeas to be crunchy, turn the colander over to a (paper) towel and blot the chickpeas of all access water. If you prefer for the chickpeas to be soft, go ahead and skip this step. Transfer the chickpeas to the bowl of spices and toss to coat.
Dump the spiced chickpeas on a prepared baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Make sure the chickpeas are all one layer. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, turning the chickpeas after the first 15 minutes. Wait for them to cool (if you can manage) to allow them to harden further. Can be stored 2-3 days in an airtight container.
Adding these nutrients to your supplement routine or making sure you’re adding in all those good foods from above will keep you ready to go!
Learn More About Nutrient Deficiencies & Health
- Vitamin D, Calcium, and Protein: A Bone-Healthy Diet
- Signs You’re Not Getting Enough Vitamin B12 – and How to Fix It
- Atomic #12 – Magnesium and Your Health
Mary Fran Wiley is a well known gluten-free and positive living blogger from Chicago where she writes Curiouser and Curiouser, maintains the Chronic Positivity Project, and has been featured in Allergic Living Magazine, Care2.com and Today.com.