If you eat the Standard American Diet (SAD) heavy in meat, dairy, and processed foods, chances are you're getting plenty of calories, fat, carbs, and protein, but you are likely missing important nutrients that are vital in helping your body function at its optimal level. Whether you're dragging through the day, feeling constantly tired and hungry, or you're suffering from more than your fair share of viruses, you may be missing out on key nutrients such as zinc, vitamin D, iron, B vitamins, and Omega-3 fatty acids that are found in many vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and legumes and help your body feel energized and equipped to fight off infection.

These five vital nutrients, along with calcium, magnesium, and other important minerals found in leafy greens, fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and other plant-based foods, not only promise to keep you healthy and supercharge your immune system, but they can boost metabolism, ramp up your overall energy levels and keep your body humming along, able to fight the oxidative stress that causes aging on a cellular level. Want to reach your healthiest version of yourself? Eat foods that are rich in these nutrients. You put high-test gas in your car, right? Why would you put the equivalent diesel fuel in your body? That's what packaged processed food is, after all.

What to Eat to Get Your 5 Vital Nutrients Every Day

Here's the way to fuel up to allow your body to do its job of staying healthy, energized, and equipped to fight off diseases including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, chronic fatigue, viruses, and more.

So what should you eat to get these five key nutrients most of us are lacking? The answer is simple: A variety of plant-based foods, and avoid processed junk food with added sugar and highly processed ingredients that have been stripped of all or most of their nutrients.

Fewer than one in 10 people get their recommended amount of five fruits and vegetables a day. It's not as hard as you think: If you have berries on your morning oatmeal, a half of a banana or edamame as a snack, a salad or veggie wrap at lunch and include beans and corn or potatoes or lentils, or any other of the many high-protein legumes at dinner, you made it!

5 Essential Nutrients You Probably Aren't Getting, and How to Correct That

Here are five vital nutrients that are missing from the average American’s diet and they can lead to a lack of energy, fatigue, and even metabolism problems that can make it harder to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, since what do we do when we are tired? We eat.

Rather than solve the problem by eating more foods, which often lack the required nutrients to fill in the gaps your body needs, the key is to reach for the right foods, those that are high in nutrients such as antioxidants and vitamins. This means stocking up on vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, legumes and beans, and avoiding the packaged junk.

Here's the list of nutrients you may be lacking, and the best foods to eat to get the important vitamins and minerals your body needs to function optimally, and allow you to be as focused and productive or active and energized as you like.

1. Zinc

“If your hair is thinning or dry, you might need more zinc," says Nutritionist Ellie Busby, a Registered Nutritionist. "Most people do not get enough zinc, due to our food being over-processed, which strips the goodness out, and zinc suffers the most. Other signs of a zinc deficiency are soft nails, dry skin, and getting ill a lot, she adds.

Zinc is an essential trace mineral – or micro-mineral – and though we don't need a lot of it, zinc is required as a co-factor for more than 100 important enzymes in the body and is important for immune function. It's recommended that men eat 11 mg of zinc per day, while women need 8 mg.

Foods that are rich in zinc to integrate into everyday diets are

  • Whole wheat bread
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Whole grains like quinoa
  • Buckwheat
  • Brown rice
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Beans and peas
  • Soy Products

Read More: Should You Take Zinc for Immunity? What an RD Wants You to Know | The Beet

2. Vitamin B6

You may have heard a lot about vitamin B12 but you also need to make sure you are getting the full array of "B" vitamins, which include: thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, B6, and B12, or folate.

“Vitamin B6 is one of the most common micronutrient deficiencies in the average American diet," says Dr. Sarah Cooke, a nutrition expert based in the UK.

You may be deficient if you have frequent skin rashes, sore lips and tongue, mood changes, and tiredness according to Dr. Cooke. "Vitamin B6 is important to protect and strengthen the immune system and maintain an optimal amount of amino acids in the blood," she explains.

Optimal sources of vitamin B6 include:

  • Avocado
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Bananas
  • Papayas
  • Oranges
  • Russet potatoes
  • Chickpeas
  • Nuts
  • Fortified cereals
  • Cantaloupe

3. Vitamin D

Otherwise known as the sunshine vitamin, most people are actually deficient in vitamin D to some extent. strengthening bones, elevating your mood, and bolstering the immune system

“We cannot get much vitamin D from our diet. In fact, we make most of it from sunlight. The problem? We are not in the sun enough. So, our body turns to our food to get what it needs.” explains Nutritionist Ellie Busby.

“The best natural food source of vitamin D is fish oil. You might find high-vitamin D mushrooms in your local supermarket nowadays," she adds. Or look for fortified soy milk.

Other plant-based sources of vitamin D are:

  • Mushrooms
  • Fortified cereals
  • Fortified orange juice
  • Fortified almond milk
  • Fortified rice milk

4. Omega-3

An essential fatty acid known to help lower cholesterol and the risk of heart disease, omega-3 fights inflammation in the body and helps circulation, which leads to more energy, lower blood pressure, and brighter skin. Since the body can't produce these fatty acids on its own, these essential fats must come from the food you eat.

Omega-3 or fish oil is the second most common supplement taken on a daily basis after multivitamins among those who take supplements in the US. But if you don't want to take fish oil for any reason, there are other ways to get your Omega-3 needs met, including whole foods that are high in Omega-3.

Here are plant-based foods to eat for Omega-3

  • Chia Seeds
  • Flaxseeds
  • Walnuts
  • Soy Beans

“Most people do not eat enough nuts and seeds and eat too many processed foods, says Dr.Cooke. "One is high in omega-3 (anti-inflammatory, good for you), and the other is high in omega-6 (pro-inflammatory, bad for you). One risk of not getting enough omega 3 is that the brain will age faster, and this will increase the risk of dementia when getting older."

What most people do not realize is that omega-3 and omega-6 need to be in balance, she explains. "We cannot just eat foods high in omega-3 and hope for the best. We need to also reduce our omega-6 intake by avoiding processed foods in our diet and start consuming more nuts and seeds.”

5. Iron

“Iron is found in both animal foods and plant foods," explains Dr. Cooke. "Foods such as red meat, eggs, and oysters contain heme iron, which is more easily absorbed than non-heme iron. Plant sources of iron include lentils, spinach, tofu, and cashew nuts.

To increase the absorption of non-heme iron from plant foods, it is best to combine these foods with vitamin C foods, such as by adding lemon juice to a spinach salad, or by adding a serving of strawberries or oranges to your morning cereal, or as a snack. Another way to facilitate non-heme iron to be absorbed by our bodies is by avoiding drinking tea with these foods (since the tannins found in tea inhibit iron absorption).” Dr. Cooke adds.

Two-thirds of middle-aged people have what's called functional iron deficiency a recent study found. The following are the recommended dietary amounts of iron per day for adults:

  • 8 milligrams (mg) for men
  • 18 mg for women
  • 27 mg in pregnancy
  • 9 mg while breastfeeding

Plant-Based Iron Sources

  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Beans
  • Seeds such as chia, linseed, pumpkin, and hemp
  • Dried apricots, figs, and raisins
  • Tofu
  • Cashew nuts
  • Quinoa
  • Kale
  • Fortified cereals

Read More: Get Enough Iron to Help Prevent Heart Disease, New Study Says | The Beet

Calcium and magnesium are also commonly missing micronutrients in the average person’s diet.

“Despite people consuming large quantities of milk and dairy products, 70 percent of us are lactose intolerant as an adult," Busby explains. "For those who are lactose-free, it is crucial to eat lots of plant foods with calcium, such as fortified plant milk, dark green leafy vegetables, and seeds (especially poppy, sesame, and chia seeds).”

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body –  and it’s key for good health, including bone health. In fact, 99 percent of the calcium in your body is stored in the bones and teeth.

But calcium is also a critical mineral to help your body get and maintain overall healthy cell functioning: Calcium enables blood to clot, serves a pivotal role in muscle contraction, supports regular heart rhythm, keeps nerves working as they should, and helps the cells regulate metabolism.

Read More: Your Guide to Getting Enough Calcium on a Vegan Diet | The Beet

“Magnesium is one of the most recommended supplements from doctors all over the world," Busby adds. "Because it is almost impossible to get enough magnesium from our diets - especially if we are stressed."

In fact, the body consumes magnesium stores to build stress hormones. Whole grains, nuts, dark chocolate, and dark green leafy vegetable are all optimal sources of magnesium.”

Bottom Line: Your Body Needs These 5 Essential Nutrients to Be Healthy

“It is incredible to see how many different nutrients the human body needs to stay healthy," says a spokesperson for FoodFireFriends. Eat a varied plant-based diet rich in fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes to get all your nutrients daily.

For more expert advice, visit The Beet's Health & Nutrition articles. 

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