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Two Birds, One Stone: How to Up Your Intake of Nutrient-Dense Foods for Better Health

Concerned your diet may be lacking important nutrients that keep your body functioning at its prime? Consider adding some dynamic duos.

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The Dietary Guidelines for Americans shows that current low intake of nutrient-dense foods and beverages has resulted in underconsumption of calcium, potassium, dietary fiber and vitamin D. Deficiencies of these nutrients and food components has led them to be classified as nutrients of public health concern. Low intake can result in a host of physical ailments, including muscle cramps (calcium), heart palpitations (potassium), fatigue (fiber) and bone pain (vitamin D).

If that sounds downright alarming, don’t panic: There is an abundance of nutrient-dense foods that can help ensure you meet your daily nutrient needs. But first, let’s revisit why you need these essentials in the first place.

The basics: Nutrients your body needs

Calcium and vitamin D are known for their role in bone health, but both are also important for muscle contraction and nerve communication throughout the body. Vitamin D has also been shown to be pivotal in immune health.

Potassium, an electrolyte, is essential for muscle contraction and nerve transmission, but its big claim to fame is the crucial role it plays in keeping your heart and kidneys functioning at their prime.

Dietary fiber might not be classified as a vitamin or mineral, but it has a plethora of attributes that qualify it as an important nutrient-esque food component. A high-fiber diet not only has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease, but it also contributes to keeping you regular and may help reduce risk of type 2 diabetes. And since fiber helps keep
you full for longer, you may have less desire to munch mindlessly between meals.

How to know if you’re deficient in key nutrients

While one of the easiest ways to spot a deficiency in dietary fiber is having difficulty pooping (yep, we said it), signs and symptoms of deficiencies in calcium, vitamin D and potassium aren’t as easy to self-diagnose. For instance, feeling fatigued and weak may be a sign of a deficiency of all three of these nutrients. If you consistently feel run down and moody, this may be directly related to your vitamin D levels. Both calcium and potassium are electrolytes, so a deficiency may be suspected if you experience sudden muscle fatigue and spasms as well as abnormal heart rhythms. Dry skin may indicate a calcium deficiency, while low potassium levels may present as a never-ending desire to drink or needing to use the restroom more often.

The bottom line is that day-to-day stressors affect our bodies differently, so make sure to consult with your doctor about concerns and whether you need to supplement.

Work smarter, not harder

Ensure you’re meeting your dietary needs by adding these affordable, nutrient-rich foods to your meal plan. We think of these foods as killing two birds with one stone.

Chickpeas (100 grams)

Whatever pulse you fancy, open a can of beans and toss them on everything! Chickpeas pack nearly 8 grams of fiber and 291 milligrams of potassium per serving. Try our Curried Cauliflower Rice Bowls with Crispy Chickpeas for a healthy helping of hardworking nutrients.

UV-exposed mushrooms (100 grams)

White button mushrooms can log 1,050 IU of vitamin D, 305 milligrams of potassium, 3 milligrams of calcium and 1 gram of fiber. Mushrooms are the only non-fortified plant source of vitamin D, but since vitamin D from foods may not be as well absorbed, you may still need a supplement; speak to your doctor if you’re concerned.

Pistachios (28 grams)

Not only are these nuts a source of complete protein, but they can also pack 3 grams of dietary fiber and 286 milligrams of potassium, making them a great post-workout snack.

For more ideas on how to incorporate more nutrient-dense foods into your daily diet, keep reading: