Mind the Gap

Food comes first for satisfying nutrient needs and fueling workouts. The problem is, even clean eaters often don’t get enough fruit, vegetables, whole grains, or dairy products in their diets. As a result, many women are low on up to 11 vitamins and minerals, according to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

For example, only 3% of women include the recommended amount of vitamin D, and 55% fail to meet their magnesium needs. Coming up short for folate and iron can lead to problems before, and during, pregnancy. Here’s what you may be missing, and some smart food choices you can make to help fill in the gaps.

1. Vitamin A

Vitamin A is essential for eyesight and immunity. We get most of this vitamin through carotenoids—plant compounds that the body turns into vitamin A when digested. We tend to use beta-carotene (which also functions as an antioxidant) the most efficiently.

Top clean sources: sweet potato, spinach, kale (one medium baked sweet potato gives you your daily dose)

2. Iron

Iron equals energy. It’s in the part of red blood cells responsible for transporting oxygen to every part of the body. Missing out on iron means you tire more easily, and you may have difficulty concentrating.

Top clean sources: fortified breakfast cereals, lean beef, lentils (1 cup cooked spinach, 1 cup cooked lentils, and 150g cooked 95% lean ground beef give you your daily dose)

3. Vitamin E

Vitamin E defends cells against free radicals, unstable oxygen compounds generated by everyday metabolism, air pollution, and tough workouts.

Top clean sources: almonds, sunflower seeds, safflower oil (20g almonds plus 1½ Tbsp safflower oil give you your daily dose)

4. Vitamin C

It may be best known for boosting immunity, but vitamin C is also key for collagen, the tissue that keeps skin and muscles taut, and bones strong. Vitamin C also improves the absorption of iron from plant foods.

Top clean sources: broccoli, strawberries, bell peppers (½ cup chopped raw sweet red bell pepper gives you your daily dose)

5. Potassium

Potassium promotes muscle and nerve cell function, and helps reduce puffiness by regulating fluid balance. Muscles need potassium to store energy for workouts. You need a lot from food to meet your recommended needs.

Top clean sources: winter squash, legumes, yogurt, potatoes (1 cup cooked acorn squash, 150g cooked salmon, 1 cup Greek yogurt, ½ cup canned white beans, 1 baked white potato, and ½ cup cubed avocado give you your daily dose)

6. Calcium

You know that calcium makes for strong bones, but it’s also mandatory for a regular heartbeat and for normal muscle contraction.

Top clean sources: tofu processed with calcium sulfate, yogurt, milk, and fortified soy milk (½ cup tofu and 150g  plain, fat-free Greek yogurt give you your daily dose)

7. Magnesium

Magnesium plays a role in energy metabolism and protein production, regulates muscle and nerve activity, promotes a normal heart beat, and keeps blood pressure in check.

Top clean sources:  spinach, brown rice (1 cup cooked spinach, 20g almonds, and ½ cup cooked brown rice give you your daily dose)

8. Folate

Folate is a B vitamin naturally present in plant foods. Folic acid is its synthetic form found in fortified grains—it’s absorbed by the body way better than the natural kind. Both are necessary to prevent a type of anemia and to head off neural tube defects in early pregnancy, often before a woman knows she is pregnant.

Top clean sources: fortified whole-grain breakfast cereals and other enriched grains such as rice and pasta, spinach, legumes (1 serving of fortified breakfast cereal or 1 cup cooked spinach and ½ cup cooked lentils give you your daily dose)

9. Vitamin D

Vitamin D promotes the body’s uptake of calcium from foods and supplements. It also shuttles calcium in and out of bones to maintain concentrations of the mineral in the blood that helps regulate muscle function and heart beat.

Top clean sources: tuna, fortified milk and salmon

10. Vitamin K

Your blood couldn’t clot properly without vitamin K, which is also involved in making proteins that strengthen your skeleton.

Top clean sources: kale, spinach, broccoli (1 cup raw kale gives you your daily dose)

11. Choline

Choline flies under the radar, but it’s an essential nutrient for the normal functioning of cells, particularly in the brain and in the liver, which helps detox your body. Protein-packed foods are also rich in choline, so they do double duty for muscle-making.

Top clean sources: egg yolks (all of the choline is in the yolk), lean beef, poultry, and seafood (2 whole eggs and 150g cooked chicken or beef give you your daily dose)