Weekly Wellness: The mystery of the missing nutrients (part one)

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COLUMBIA - Sugar? Check. Fat? Check. Processed foods? Double-check. It seems like we're doing a great job of getting the "bad" stuff in our diet but we may be lacking in some serious good stuff and we son't even know it. This month of April, we will be focusing every week on an important nutrient that is possibly missing from your daily diet.

Our standard American diet has changed a lot over the years. Our portion sizes have increased, the term "home-cooked" is generally found printed across the ready-to-make packages of food-like-products that are highly processed, full of salt and sugar and completely lacking in nutritional value. Add to this the fact that we are consuming even higher levels of over-processed simple carbohydrates and refined sugars. It's no wonder we are experiencing a huge increase in diet-related chronic diseases, obesity and death.

We know what we're supposed to do: Eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, etc. and less "boxed on the shelf" foods. But WHY is this so important? Because the highly-processed foods are (generally) stripped of many of the nutrients that we need and used to get from the less-processed foods. These natural (also referred to as unrefined) foods are nutrient-dense. This simply means that they are full of beneficial nutrients and minerals and contain no added sugars, starches, or sodium.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the average American diet lacks the appropriate intake of potassium, dietary fiber, calcium, vitamin D and iron. Now that we know it's an issue, we can take steps to fix it in our own daily nutrition.

This month we're going to discuss each missing nutrient on the list to understand why we need it, how much of it we need and how to get it back into our diet. We're going to start with...POTASSIUM.

Why we need it: Potassium keeps your heart beating. True story. Increasing potassium consumption has been linked to lowering blood pressure, reducing the risk of osteoporosis, and decreasing the risk of diabetes and heart disease. The body needs potassium to help regulate water balance and to keep the nervous system and our muscles functioning properly. Not consuming enough potassium can lead to muscle cramps, constipation, and fatigue.

How much we need: The recommended intake of potassium for adults is 4,700mg per day, but currently only 56 percent of American adults reach this goal.

How to get it: One small baked potato with skin (738mg), one medium-sized banana (422mg), one cup cooked spinach (740mg), or 1/2 cup cooked beets (259mg).

List of top 10 foods highest in potassium:

  1. White beans
  2. Dark leafy greens (spinach)
  3. Baked potatoes (with skin)
  4. Dried apricots
  5. Baked acorn squash
  6. Yogurt (plain, skim/non-fat)
  7. Fish (salmon)
  8. Avocados
  9. Mushrooms (white)
  10. Bananas

Your goal for this week is to try to find and incorporate more sources of potassium into your daily diet! Good luck!