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11 Vitamins and Minerals Lacking In the Typical American Diet

Monica McCafferty, MS, CNS

Published in Nutrition

13 min read

September 5, 2022
A bowl of salad with chickpeas, tomatoes, cucumbers, greens, and dressing on the side
A bowl of salad with chickpeas, tomatoes, cucumbers, greens, and dressing on the side

Would you say you generally get your daily recommended vitamin and mineral intake? If you said yes, you might want to double check.

Studies have shown that as much as 31 percent of Americans are prone to be deficient in at least one vitamin. Other reports have found that nearly 90 percent of Americans do not meet the current suggested intake of vegetables, and up to 80 percent do not meet the current fruit intake suggestions.

So, which vitamins and minerals are lacking in the American diet? Why do they matter? And how can you make sure you’re getting enough of each one?

Here are 11 of the most common nutrients to make sure you’re including in your diet.

What is The Typical American Diet?

a few plates with tomatoes, bread, cheese, and a salad

The Dietary Guidelines For Americans emphasizes a diet rich in nutrient-dense foods. Nutrient-dense foods can include many diverse types of whole foods such as fruit, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and seeds and nuts.

In order to get plenty of different vitamins and minerals, the guidelines recommend varying your vegetables and proteins and making fruits and veggies at least half of each meal. They also suggest limiting processed foods, and foods high in added sodium and sugars.

Unfortunately, however, the typical Western-style diet is high in saturated and trans fat, sugary desserts, sodium, processed meat, high-fat dairy products, and refined grains. It is also often low in healthy fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, plant-based proteins, and fiber.

As a result, this dietary pattern is often associated with many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, liver disease, obesity, some types of cancer, and tooth decay. Research has shown that as much as 60 percent of American adults have one or more of these diet-related chronic diseases.

What is Nutrient Deficiency?

a man holding his head and looking down

Nutrients are substances that are required for your body to function and grow. Your body needs plenty of these essential macronutrients and micronutrients to function properly. Most essential nutrients come from food, meaning that diet is a huge contributor to nutrient deficiency.

Nutrient deficiency is when your body does not have an adequate supply of its essential nutrients. Because vitamins and minerals are essential for your body to function, having a vitamin or mineral deficiency increases your chance of developing chronic illnesses.

Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals that you need in smaller doses. These carry out several important tasks in the body, like keeping your immune system functioning, benefiting your nervous system, and helping you get energy from your food.

11 Common Vitamins and Minerals You Might Be Lacking

Here are 11 essential vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients that may be lacking in your diet.

1) Vitamin A

Vitamin A is an essential vitamin that is stored in your liver. It helps your body grow and manage healthy teeth, eyes, bones, and skin. It also helps regulate gene expression, supports the immune system, supports red blood cell production, and plays a crucial role in prenatal and postnatal development.

About 45 percent of Americans don’t get an adequate amount of Vitamin A. Around the world, about 127 million children and seven million pregnant women are vitamin A deficient. Deficiency in this vitamin can increase your risk of infection, blindness, and even death.

How to Add it to Your Diet

There are two types of vitamin A found in food. The first is preformed vitamin A, which is found in animal products like liver, fish, dairy, and eggs.

Preformed vitamin A is very well absorbed and converted to its active form (retinol). However, provitamin A carotenoids like beta-carotene are relatively less easily digested and absorbed.

The other type is called provitamin A carotenoids. You can get these from leafy green vegetables, orange and yellow vegetables, and tomatoes and tomato products.

Many factors can impact how well your body converts carotenoids to the active form of vitamin A, including the food matrix, how a food is prepared, and an individual's digestive capacity and genetic makeup.

2) Vitamin C

a basket ull of oranges

Vitamin C is an essential nutrient that is required for the production of collagen. Collagen is the main structural protein found in the skins, bones, tendons, and cartilage.

This protein is required for wounds to heal and keeps your immune system functioning. It also acts as an antioxidant in the body and helps protect you from free radicals, which can damage your cells and DNA.

Around 46 percent of Americans don’t get an adequate amount of vitamin C. People who smoke, don’t eat a varied diet, and people with certain medical conditions like cancer and kidney disease may be at higher risk for vitamin C deficiency.

How to Add it to Your Diet

Vitamin C comes from fruits and vegetables, especially citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits, kiwi fruit, strawberries, cantaloupe, and tomatoes. It’s also found in vegetables such as red and green peppers, broccoli, and spinach.

3) Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, which is crucial for strong bones and helps prevent diseases like osteoporosis. This vitamin is also essential for your muscles to move, your nerves to carry messages between your brain and body, and helps your immune system to fight off infection.

The main source of vitamin D for most people is sunlight. However, geography and seasons can impact vitamin D absorption, and in many places in the world, the UVB content of the sun's rays is not significant enough to stimulate vitamin D production.

Your body produces vitamin D when your skin is exposed to direct, outside sunlight. Smog, cloudy weather, aging processes, and dark skin can all affect the body’s ability to get enough vitamin D.

Vitamin D deficiency, which may affect as many as 95 percent of American adults, can cause conditions related to bone health, like osteoporosis and rickets, and is associated with an increased risk of cancer, hypertension, and autoimmune disease.

How to Add it to Your Diet

Fatty fish, including trout, salmon, tuna, and mackerel, and fish liver oil are good sources of vitamin D. Very few other foods contain vitamin D, but mushrooms, egg yolks, and cheese contain small amounts.

Almost all types of animal milk in the U.S. (and many plant-based milks) are fortified with vitamin D.

Spending time outdoors, however, is the best way to increase your vitamin D—just don’t forget your sunscreen!

4) Vitamin E

a bowl of greens on a plate

Vitamin E is an essential vitamin that acts as an antioxidant in the body, protecting cells from free radical damage. It also supports the immune system, keeps blood from clotting in your blood vessels, and helps cells interact with each other in your body.

Vitamin E deficiency is associated with certain diseases, including Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, and some genetic diseases. It can also lead to nerve and muscle damage, loss of body movement control, vision problems, and a weakened immune system.

How to Add it to Your Diet

Vegetable oils, including wheat germ, sunflower, and safflower oils, are great sources of vitamin E. Peanuts, hazelnuts, and almonds are also rich in vitamin E. Green vegetables, like spinach and broccoli, provide some vitamin E.


5) Calcium

Calcium is a mineral that is stored in your bones and teeth. It helps your body build and maintain healthy, strong bones.

Calcium also helps your muscles move, regulates constriction and relaxation of blood vessels, and helps your nerves carry messages between the brain and every other part of the body. It can even help control the secretion of hormones like insulin.

Many people in the U.S. do not get enough calcium, especially children and teens, postmenopausal women, and people who don’t eat or drink dairy products. Calcium deficiency is associated with bone problems, including osteoporosis, rickets, and osteomalacia, a disease that causes soft bones.

How to Add it to Your Diet

Dairy products, like cheese, yogurt, and milk, are the main dietary source of calcium for many people. If you follow a vegan diet or are lactose intolerant, you can supplement your calcium intake by eating vegetables like kale, broccoli, and Chinese cabbage.

Some fruit juices and plant-based milks are also fortified with calcium. Canned fish with bones such as sardines are also a natural source of calcium.

6) Iron

a plate with two large shrimps and lemon

Iron is a mineral that is stored in your muscles, liver, spleen, and bone marrow. Your body uses it to make hemoglobin, which carries oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body.

Iron also contributes to your body’s growth and development, and the production of hormones. This mineral also acts as an antioxidant as well as a beneficial pro-oxidant in the immune system.

Many Americans don't get enough iron. People with heavy periods, pregnant people, infants, frequent blood donors, and people with certain diseases, like cancer, gastrointestinal disorders, and heart failure, are all at higher risk of iron deficiency.

A lack of iron can cause iron deficiency anemia, a condition that affects hemoglobin in your body. This can cause gastrointestinal problems, weakness, fatigue or lack of energy, and problems with concentration and memory.

How to Add it to Your Diet

Iron is found in many foods, including lean meat, seafood, and poultry; legumes, like white beans, lentils, kidney beans, and peas; spinach; nuts and raisins. Additionally, some breakfast cereals and breads are fortified with iron.

7) Zinc

Zinc is a mineral that is found in your cells. It helps your immune system function, makes proteins and DNA, helps wounds heal, and is crucial for your sense of taste and smell. Zinc also helps the body grow and develop in the womb.

Zinc deficiency is associated with slow growth in infants and children and delayed sexual development during adolescence, and can cause hair loss, diarrhea, loss of appetite, problems with wound healing, and decreased ability to taste food.

Deficiency in this mineral is becoming more common in the United States. Elderly Americans may be most at risk for zinc deficiency.

How to Add it to Your Diet

Oysters are the best natural source of zinc. Red meat, poultry, seafood, beans, nuts, and whole grains also provide zinc.

8) Potassium

two plates with an assortment of nuts

Potassium is a mineral that the body needs for almost everything it does. It aids in kidney and heart function, muscle contraction, and nerve function.

This mineral also helps move nutrients into cells and move waste products out. It can also help reduce the adverse effects of sodium on the body, which benefits blood pressure.

Potassium deficiency may contribute to higher blood pressure, weaker bones, and an increased risk of kidney stones. The deficient intake of potassium in the American diet is on the rise, according to recent studies, leading to increased risk of hypokalemia, or low potassium levels in the blood.

How to Add it to Your Diet

Potassium is found in many fruits, including oranges, bananas, dried apricots, raisins, and prunes. Acorn squash, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, and broccoli are vegetables high in potassium. Legumes like lentils and kidney beans, nuts, milk, yogurt, and meat, poultry, and fish also contain potassium.

9) Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral that is crucial for many functions in your body, including muscle function, nerve function, managing blood sugar, regulating blood pressure, and making protein, bones, and DNA.

Magnesium deficiency, which may affect up to half of the U.S. population, is associated with loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and weakness. It can also affect your body’s ability to absorb vitamin D.

Elderly individuals and people with long-term alcoholism, type 2 diabetes, and gastrointestinal diseases, including Crohn’s disease and celiac disease, all have a higher risk of magnesium deficiency.

How to Add it to Your Diet

Magnesium is found in legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and leafy green vegetables. It is also found in milk and yogurt, and some fortified breakfast cereals.

10) Fiber

a dish full of seasoned broccoli and carrots

Fiber falls into the macronutrient category, as it’s a type of carbohydrate found mainly in plant foods. Your body can't absorb or digest it, and so it stays mostly intact as it passes through your digestive system and helps to bulk up your stool.

Fiber has a significant effect on your health, lowering your chance of developing hemorrhoids and colorectal cancer. A diet high in fiber can reduce the risk of heart disease, improve satiety after meals, and help maintain a healthy weight.

Unfortunately, only 5 percent of Americans include enough fiber in their diet. Fiber deficiency can increase your risk of certain cancers, obesity, immune function, and constipation.

How to Add it to Your Diet

Fiber comes from plant foods, like fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds and whole grains. Raspberries, pears, apples, and bananas are fruits high in fiber, while green peas, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and carrots are high fiber vegetables.

You can also find fiber in whole grains like barley, bran flakes, quinoa, oatmeal, popcorn, and chia seeds. Legumes like split peas, lentils, and black beans are also great sources of fiber.

11) Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of fat called polyunsaturated fatty acids. This micronutrient helps support healthy heart, blood vessel, lung, immune system, and endocrine system function.

Studies show that many U.S. adults are not meeting the recommended daily intake of omega-3. Omega-3 deficiency can cause fatigue, depression, poor memory, higher incidence of inflammation, and hormonal imbalances.

How to Add it to Your Diet

The best dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring. Though many people have been led to believe that seeds and nuts like flax, chia, and walnuts are good sources of omega-3, these only provide a precursor fatty acid called ALA.

ALA fatty acids must then be converted to the ‘active’ omega 3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, by the body. In the human body, this process is very inefficient, meaning that as little as two to 10 percent is actually converted.

Are Supplements a Good Option to Increase Your Intake of Nutrients?

If you eat a diet rich in nutrient-dense, colorful foods like vegetables, whole fruits, legumes, whole grains, and lean proteins, you may not need to use supplements. However, if you find yourself struggling to get your necessary nutrients from your diet, supplements may be a good option.

People who are pregnant, over the age of 50, following a diet that excludes food groups (like meat or dairy), or who have food allergies may benefit from vitamin and mineral supplements. Remember that aiming to get your recommended intake of essential nutrients through whole food sources is preferable to supplements.

Before taking supplements, talk to your doctor or nutritionist to see if they are right for you. They will help you determine what supplements you need, the correct dosage to take, and whether or not supplements will interact with any medications you currently take.

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Heather Davis, MS, RDN, LDN

Reviewed by: Heather Davis, MS, RDN, LDN

Heather is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN, LDN), subject matter expert, and technical writer, with a master's degree in nutrition science from Bastyr University. She has a specialty in neuroendocrinology and has been working in the field of nutrition—including nutrition research, education, medical writing, and clinical integrative and functional nutrition—for over 15 years.

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