Nutrition Problems Despite Abundant Resources
It’s hard to believe that anyone could be deficient in nutrients in the Western world, with such a high percentage of the population either overweight or obese, but it does happen. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion’s study of healthy eating for 1999-2000 showed that only 10% of the population had a healthy diet.
A healthy diet is defined by the USDA based on how many servings of fruits, vegetables, and meat are consumed, as well as how much cholesterol and sodium are consumed and how varied a person’s diet is. The study showed that 16% of the population had poor nutrition, and 74% had diets that needed improvement. Of the top 10 causes of death, four are linked to poor diet: heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes.
Part of the problem is in production, because soils are not as dense in nutrients as they were 100 years ago, and the extensive processing that many foods undergo cut their nutritional content even more. Add these factors to less healthy eating habits for the majority of the population, and it’s easy to see how people can have nutritional deficiencies even when they consume more than enough calories. Here are just a few of the more common nutritional deficiencies found in the US, along with ways to address them.
The average American diet only contains 40-50% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for calcium. Lack of calcium over time can lead to brittle bones, unhealthy teeth, depression, and heart palpitations. Calcium is found in leafy greens like spinach and turnip greens, milk, yogurt, and cheese.
Nearly 9 of 10 Americans don’t get enough chromium in their diets. Deficiencies of chromium can cause fatigue, glucose intolerance, and fatigue. Consuming more Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, onions, whole grains, and potatoes can add much-needed chromium to the diet.
Three of four Americans do not get enough copper in their diets. Lack of this mineral can result in anemia, depression, overactive thyroid, fragile bones, and depression. To get more copper in the diet, people should consume turnip greens, raw cashews, spinach, asparagus, and blackstrap molasses.
Essential Fatty Acids
Deficiencies in essential fatty acids (EFAs) are very common in Western diets, and these deficiencies can result in dry hair and skin, immune system weakness, acne, gall stones, and liver problems. The best foods for ensuring adequate consumption of EFAs are wild-caught salmon, walnuts, and flax seeds.
Iron deficiency is the most common mineral deficiency in the US. It can result in anemia, depression, headaches, and dizziness. Iron-rich foods include shitake mushrooms, green beans, chard, and spinach.
Up to 85% of Americans don’t get enough magnesium, and the average diet only contains 50 to 60% of the RDA. Deficiencies can result in insomnia, restlessness, hyperactivity, and heart problems. Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, black beans, and navy beans are good sources of magnesium.
Most of the common nutrition problems in the average Western diet can be addressed by adding leafy green vegetables, nuts, and whole grains to the diet, and by ensuring that diets are varied to take advantage of the goodness of a wide range of foods.