Healthy Living

Most Americans Don’t Get Enough Nutrients, But They Consume Over-The-Top Levels Of Fat And Sodium: Study

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Though taking supplements helped improve nutrient levels in the people examined, the researchers still concluded that Americans simply are not getting enough proper nutrition. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

We already knew that Americans have trouble keeping their diets in check, but a new study pinpoints another problem in the way we eat: Most U.S. adults don’t meet their recommended daily levels of 10 essential nutrients.

The study, completed at the University of Illinois, also discovered that Americans with disabilities especially lacked these nutrients. The researchers found that many American adults fell short of consuming enough vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, and iron. In addition, Americans have a tendency to eat far more saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium than is normal or recommended.

In the study, researchers used self-reported food and supplement data from 11,811 adults — 4,200 of whom were disabled. They used information from the 2007-2008 and 2009-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. “We conducted statistical analyses to compare people with and without disabilities in terms of nutrient intake,” Ruopeng An, a kinesiology and community health professor at the University of Illinois, said in the press release. “We found that American people consume much lower amounts of nutrients than are recommended. For example, only 11.3 percent of people meet the daily recommended intake of fiber. Only 4.7 percent of adults consume recommended amounts of potassium.”

The researchers found that Americans with disabilities, meanwhile, were even worse off when it came to nutrition levels. Disabled people have some difficult mental and physical challenges, and it may be harder for them to stay on top of a well-balanced diet; for example, many might have difficulty chewing, swallowing, or digesting foods, as well as doing simple things like cooking with a stove or opening cans. Those who had the most severe disabilities were the worst off when it came to nutrient intake, the researchers found.

“In general, people with disabilities are also disadvantaged nutritionally compared with people without disabilities, even though the bar is already so low,” An said in the press release. “Physically, financially, and mentally, they have different barriers to accessing healthy food.”

An argues that the results of the study call for improving the diets of disabled Americans. “Policymakers and activists for the disabled traditionally have focused primarily on improving transportation options and the physical accessibility of buildings, roads, paths and parking lots,” he said in the press release. “Now it’s time for them to turn their attention to the nutritional challenges that confront people with disabilities.”

Meanwhile, it’s time for other Americans to take control of their own diets and nutritional intake. A 2012 report from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine found that many Americans lack basic information about proper nutrition. For example, the researchers found that only 18 percent of people surveyed knew that 70 percent of calories found in cheese were from fat; not many people knew that beans, broccoli, and milk all have high amounts of calcium.

Lacking proper nutrients can lead to severe deficiencies like iron deficiencies, which can end up as anemia. When a person has anemia, their body doesn’t produce enough red blood cells; the disorder is mostly prevalent in developing countries. Then there’s vitamin D deficiency, which is so widespread that it affects up to 50 percent of the population worldwide. Vitamin D is incredibly important to build healthy bones and maintain calcium, so lack of the vitamin could lead to osteoporosis and has been linked to plenty of other issues, like muscle weakness, reduced stamina, chronic pain, and depression. To keep your vitamin D up, you can spend time getting sunlight, eating fish or dairy products, or even taking supplements.

Source: An R, Chiu C, Zhang Z, Burd N. “Nutrient intake among US adults with disabilities.” Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 2014.

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