You think you probably eat pretty well. But, how do you know? What if your diet is low in a nutrient or two? What if that is affecting your health and you don't even know it? How can you tell what nutrients you need? Elizabeth Somer, registered dietitian and author of Eat Your Way to Happiness joined us to give us the test that will let us know how well we are doing diet-wise and what you need to change.
1. You need at least 8 servings of colorful fruits and vegetables in your daily diet to ensure optimal intake of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. This is probably THE most important diet habit you can adopt.
A. Of those, at least 2 should be dark green leafies. If you don't eat spinach or kale or chard that often, your diet is likely low in folate, a B vitamin important in preventing birth defects and lowering heart disease risk, and the compounds lutein and zeaxanthin, now recognized to protect the eyes from cataracts and macular degeneration (the 2 leading causes of vision loss as we age). Lutein and zeaxanthin also may play a protective role against memory loss and dementia. If you decide to take a supplement, choose a respected brand to make sure what is listed on the label is actually in the pill.
B. Of those, at least 1 should be a citrus fruit. Along with red bell peppers and papaya, citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruit, and tangerines, are loaded with vitamin C, a potent antioxidant that revs the immune system, protecting you against infection and disease. Vitamin C also helps maintain youthful skin.
C. Of those, at least 1 should be berries. The research is strong that compounds in berries, called polyphenols and anthocyanins, boost brain power and even tweak our genes to help our cells protect themselves 24/7. You can't get those compounds in a supplement, they must come from the diet. So berry up! Oh and by the way, 3 blueberries in a muffin is NOT a serving! A serving of any fruit or vegetable is 1 cup raw, 1 /2 cup cooked, or one fruit, such as a carrot.
2. You need at least 3 servings a day of nonfat or low-fat milk, soymilk, or yogurt to ensure optimal intake of calcium, and for some of your vitamin D. If you don't get this from food, you are setting yourself up for osteoporosis down the road. Calcium and vitamin D also are important in preventing colon cancer. Honestly, you can't get enough vitamin D from food alone. This is one nutrient, even if you eat perfectly, that you also need to supplement. Make sure to choose nonfat or 1% low-fat milk to avoid the saturated fat in other full-fat dairy products.
3. You need at least 5 servings of whole grains each day to ensure optimal intake of fiber, magnesium, and trace minerals, such as chromium that helps regulate blood sugar. The fiber in oats is particularly important, since it helps regulate blood sugar and lower blood fats, like cholesterol. If you don't eat whole grains, then make sure to add extra starchy vegetables to your daily diet, such as sweet potatoes and corn.
4. You need 2 servings daily of extra-lean beef, chicken breast, or legumes, such as black beans, kidney beans, lentils, and split peas. We think of these foods are sources of protein, which they are, but they also are key suppliers of iron and zinc, two minerals important for healthy blood, immunity, wound healing, and more. Any girl or women who menstruates is at particular risk for iron deficiency and must include a few servings daily of these foods in her diet. Also, get your iron checked and request a "serum ferritin" test, which is a sensitive indicator of iron status. If that value is low, you'll need to take a supplement along with lots of iron-rich foods.
5. You need at least 2 servings a week of fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, or sardines. This is the only natural source of the omega-3 fats DHA and EPA, which lower the risk for depression, dementia, heart disease, and possibly ADHD, dyslexia, macular degeneration, and more. If you don't like salmon then supplement with a fish oil and if you are vegetarian supplement with an algal-based DHA.
6. You need at least 6 to 8 glasses of water daily. Even moderate dehydration can cause fatigue, nausea, mental confusion, etc. Thirst is a poor indicator of fluid needs. If you are thirsty, you're already dehydrated.