9 Essential Nutrients Missing from Fruits & Veggies
Eating your fruits and vegetables isn’t enough anymore to ensure you’re getting all the essential nutrients your body needs. Unfortunately, technological advances that provide us with so many wonderful conveniences have diminished the nutritional quality of our produce.
Even if you follow an optimal diet full of fruits and veggies, you’re still not getting all the essential nutrients we need or expect. Many people are startled to learn the fruits and vegetables grown today are actually less nutritious than they once were. In fact, there are much less essential nutrients in our fruits and veggies than ever before. The reductions are as great as 40% or more in some cases.
Don’t worry. I will tell you which nutrients are missing from your fruits and veggies and how you CAN get all the essential nutrients you need! First, let’s talk about when it all changed.
How Did This Happen?
The modern cultivation practices used by most large, corporate growers focus on speeding growth, increasing size, and improving pest resistance. These growers use chemical fertilizers to increase production and keep pests from damaging their crops, which in turn decrease the concentrations of minerals. This is called the “dilution effect.”
Modern agriculture has increased the amount of our food supply, making more food available for more people. However, it has also stripped the nutrients from the soil in which our food grows in the process. This is called soil depletion or soil degradation. Every new season of crops grown actually increases the problem.
A study at the University of Texas analyzed nutritional data from the US Department of Agriculture. This data compared 43 different fruits and vegetables for two periods that were 50 years apart. The study found significant declines in calcium, iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2), and vitamin C. The sad fact is the food we’re eating now doesn’t have the nutrients it used to have because the soil nutrients aren’t there.
The same researchers believe declines in other nutrients such as magnesium, zinc, and vitamins B6 and E are also likely. Another study concluded that you’d have to eat eight oranges to get the same amount of vitamin A your grandparents got from enjoying just one!
Over time this is going to keep getting worse.
The Impact on Your Health
The vitamins and minerals found in soil and quality fruits and veggies are integral for your cells and organs to function properly. Essential nutrients support your body’s optimal growth and development and are vital for the health of your immune system.
As I explain in my New York Times bestseller, “ ”, a wide array of autoimmune conditions, which together affect at least 23.5 million Americans, are frequently linked to essential nutrient deficiencies in addition to other factors including stress and our toxic environment. Essential nutrient deficiencies also play a role in fatigue, mood imbalances, thyroid dysfunction, and heart disease, among other issues.
Let’s take a look at the essential nutrients in fruits and veggies that have declined due to soil depletion.
We all know calcium is the essential nutrient that supports healthy bones and teeth. Without enough calcium to form a compound called hydroxyapatite, which is the main mineral of tooth enamel and bone, our teeth would break easily and our bones would become soft and bendable.
Calcium also plays an important role in your nervous system by facilitating the release of neurotransmitters by your brain. Key plant sources of calcium include kale, bok choy, oranges, edamame, and broccoli rabe.
Iron is a mineral your body needs for many functions. For example, iron binds with hemoglobin in your red blood cells to carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. Iron also helps provide oxygen to your muscles. This essential nutrient is also critical in fighting free radicals; without enough of it, you are more prone to infections and may feel weak because you can’t process the energy within your body.
Iron deficiency, also called anemia, can be characterized by tiredness, difficulty maintaining body temperature, and decreased immune function. Iron-rich fruits and veggies include all dark green vegetables, prunes, and raisins.
Vitamin B2, also known as riboflavin, is one of the 8 B vitamins that aid the conversion of carbohydrates into glucose, which is used to produce energy. This essential nutrient also helps maintain membranes in your digestive system and facilitates healthy liver and adrenal gland function.
A lack of riboflavin can cause skin dryness and cracking, rashes, weakness, and vision problems. Many of the most widely known sources of riboflavin contain gluten or are grains, which I never recommend in anyone’s diet. Instead, eat fruits and veggies such as avocados and spinach.
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient that plays a vital role in maintaining optimal health. In fact, it is critical for the development, growth, and repair of all your body’s tissues. It is used by your body to form a protein to make skin cells, blood vessels, ligaments, and tendons. Vitamin C also helps repair wounds, cartilage, bones, and teeth, and is critical for the absorption of iron.
Many fruits and veggies contain Vitamin C, including all citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, and limes; strawberries, papaya, and broccoli. Getting enough vitamin C can be delicious!
This essential nutrient supports a healthy skin appearance and the production of white blood cells, which are essential to your immune system. Zinc also plays an important role in your thyroid health by supporting the enzyme needed to convert T4 to T3. This essential nutrient is also necessary to trigger your hypothalamus’ thyroid hormone receptors, meaning that without enough zinc, your hypothalamus can’t accurately gauge thyroid hormone levels to increase production when levels are low.
Zinc deficiency can cause hair loss, diarrhea, skin sores, and unwanted weight loss. Fruit and veggies continuing high levels of zinc include mushrooms, lentils, hemp seeds, and most nuts. If you are on the autoimmune protocol diet, these foods should be avoided. However, I will tell you how you can still get this essential nutrient later on.
Magnesium is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in people. In fact, magnesium is one of the top four essential nutrients in your body. Magnesium plays a role in more than 300 systems that regulate biochemical reactions as diverse as protein synthesis, muscle contraction, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation. Magnesium facilitates a healthy immune system response and supports heart health. It also helps your body absorb calcium and enables healthy bowel movements by drawing water into the intestine.
Fruits and veggies rich in magnesium include dark leafy greens, seeds, and coconut milk. Grains, wheat and oats are also high in this essential nutrient, however, those contain gluten and should never be a part of your diet.
This all-important mineral is critical, yet research by the National Institute of Health suggests that half of all Americans don’t get the recommended daily dose of 400-420mg of magnesium per day from the foods they eat.
I will tell you how you can get optimal levels of this essential nutrient in just a minute.
Vitamin B6 helps your body in several unique ways. For one, vitamin B6 supports your metabolism, cellular growth, and promotes the production of mood regulators serotonin and norepinephrine, an important chemical that helps you cope with stress. Vitamin B6 also produces melatonin which supports optimal sleep.
With too little of this essential nutrient, you can be prone to skin rashes, mood changes, low energy, and tingling in your hands and feet. Fruits and veggies that are rich in vitamin B6 include avocados, sweet potatoes, and bananas.
Vitamin E is an essential nutrient to support healthy hair, skin, and nails as well as promote a healthy immune system response. Vitamin E is considered an antioxidant that protects cells from free radical damage. Vitamin E naturally occurs in fruits and veggies such as leafy green vegetables, pumpkin, safflower oil, mangos, and avocados.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning it’s absorbed into your fat, that is naturally present in many foods. It supports healthy vision, heart health, and reproductive health. It is also essential for every organ function in your body! There are two types of vitamin A. The first is known as preformed vitamin A and is found in beef, poultry, and fish. The second type is known as provitamin A, and is found in fruits and veggies, and other plant based products. Vitamin A is found in fruits and veggies such as carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, apricots, and cantaloupe.
If you want to test your nutrient levels at home, I recommend using a home micronutrient test fromLetsGetChecked. You can choose between the essential vitamin test, which tests the levels of vitamin D, B12, and E, a mineral test, or the full micronutrient test, which tests for the vitamins I mentioned and copper, selenium, zinc, and magnesium. The results are available online so you can share them with your functional medicine doctor.
Organic Fruits and Veggies are a Better Choice
As most of you know, I am a medical doctor, not a farmer. However, I was raised in a family that grew most of our fruits and veggies in our backyard. We ate a seasonal diet, full of fresh garden goodies. Although I no longer have the time or space to tend a large garden, I have tried to ensure my daughter has access to the same types of wholesome produce I was raised on. It turns out that’s a bit more difficult than I thought.
Even organic growers often make do with hybrid seeds, meaning most commercially available organic produce is not of the heirloom variety. That is, it’s not exactly the same type of fruit or vegetable grown prior to the 1950s, our benchmark for the decline in nutritional value due to soil depletion.
While organic fruits and veggies are definitely better for a whole host of reasons, they still won’t be packed with all the essential nutrients you need. However, even those are better than commercially farmed fruits and veggies that are sprayed with pesticides. It is always a best practice to buy fruits and veggies that are locally produced and grown from heirloom seeds, such as those often found at farmers’ markets.
Get Essential Nutrients with a High-Quality Multivitamin
I recommend virtually everyone take a high-quality multivitamin. It’s absolutely critical to get the full spectrum of nutrients that your body needs. With the depletion of these essential nutrients due to the declining quality of our air, water and soil, it’s extremely difficult to get all these essential nutrients from food alone.
After years of searching for and failing to find a multivitamin that contained all of the essential nutrients at the levels your body actually needs, I decided to formulate my own: Metagenics SPM Active! This physician-formulated multivitamin was designed specifically for you to build the ultimate foundation for optimal health.
Metagenics SPM Active is made with pharmaceutical-grade essential nutrients at optimal levels and in the most bioavailable forms so that they are readily absorbed by your body. I specially designed it to support those of us with autoimmune and thyroid issues, although it’s perfect for anyone looking to achieve optimal health. It is also completely free of common inflammatory and toxic ingredients and does not contain gluten, wheat, dairy, corn, soy, GMOs, yeast, or artificial sweeteners.
Compare the supplement facts label of Metagenics SPM Active with others and you will see for yourself the higher levels of key nutrients designed to support overall general wellness and detoxification. It’s the ideal supplement to support your health so that you can get the nutrients you need to power your body through your busy days.
What are essential nutrients?
Essential nutrients are the vitamins and minerals your body needs to achieve optimal health. If you are not getting the essential nutrients your body needs, either through diet, supplements, or both, then your body will not perform at its best level.
What are the best essential nutrients?
Essential nutrients include vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin B6, and minerals such as magnesium, riboflavin, and iron.
How do I get enough essential nutrients?
Ensuring your body gets enough essential nutrients can seem difficult, especially since our food is less nutritious than ever. Make sure to choose quality produce, such as the fruits and veggies available at farmers’ markets, and to supplement with multivitamins or specific supplements when needed.
Dr. Grace - Founder of The Gut Institute