& Alan Titchenal Saturday, January 24, 2009
Key nutrients lag despite ample diet
Got nutrients? Your body wants to know. Meeting the body's need for nutrients is Step 1 in nutrition. But the obvious is often disregarded, even by those making dietary recommendations.
If even one nutrient is in short supply, it will eventually lead to serious health problems. Most people think they know what foods are best to eat. Few, however, understand how to balance their diet in a way that provides enough of all the essential nutrients.
Even common health-promotion messages ignore the importance of getting all nutrients in adequate amounts. The messages tend to focus on cutting the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer and osteoporosis.
Because most Americans have a low intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans, the general recommendation is to "eat more" of these foods. But, those who take this counsel to the extreme can overlook Step 1 and end up with a diet too low in some essential nutrients.
Question: Are some Americans failing to meet their nutrient needs?
Answer: Despite our ample food supply, many Americans are not meeting their nutrient needs. Many don't consume enough of various vitamins and minerals. The Centers for Disease Control reports that even iron deficiency is growing increasingly common in the United States. This type of malnutrition is primarily caused by improper food choices.
Q: Why does low intake of an essential nutrient cause health problems?
A: There are 45 to 50 chemicals in food that are known as essential nutrients. In summary, these nutrients must be present in cells in adequate amounts to maintain basic functions such as cell growth, repair and reproduction.
Q: What can people do to assure that they are consuming adequate nutrients?
A: 1) Maintain or lose weight by increasing physical activity. Cutting calories also cuts nutrients. A diet too low in calories makes it difficult to meet all nutrient needs from food.
2) Eat a large variety of wholesome foods balanced among all food groups. Missing even one food group can cut short your supply of one or more essential nutrients. Those key food groups are grains, vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, poultry and beans, and milk products or other high-calcium foods.
3) If your diet is limited in quantity or variety, consider a multivitamin/mineral or other appropriate supplement, but don't overdo it.
4) Every day, read the "Got Nutrients?" health and nutrition tip on Page 2 of the Hawaii section of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
Joannie Dobbs, PhD, CNS and Alan Titchenal, PhD, CNS
are nutritionists in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences,
College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, UH-Manoa.
Dr. Dobbs also works with the University Health Service
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Human Nutrition, Food & Animal Sciences · University of Hawai`i at Mānoa
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