Why We’re Not Getting the Nutrients We Need

Jan 26, 2023 Lifestyle Tips 13 MIN

Why We’re Not Getting the Nutrients We Need

Variety is the spice of life and also the key to complete nutrition. Although it may feel as though we’re eating our fair share of fruits, veggies, and other nutrient-rich foods, the data tells another story. According to some staggering national statistics, we’re not consuming the recommended amount of many of our most essential vitamins and minerals. So much so, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) has deemed specific nutrient gaps or shortfalls a “public health concern.”1

Nutritional Perception Vs. Reality

So what is a nutrient shortfall? When we say nutrient “shortfall” or “gap,” we’re referring to that space between meeting the recommended daily intake of a vitamin or mineral and the amount of that essential nutrient that we actually consume. Anyone who’s tracked their meals or calories can relate to the shock that comes with realizing just how much salt, fat, or sugar they eat in a day. The same inadvertent diet perception happens when it comes to getting enough of the essential nutrients your body needs.

Our busy on-the-go lifestyles mean we’re not always paying attention to how much we eat (or what we eat) during the day. This lack of awareness is probably why 60% of Americans reported to ORC International that they eat a very healthy diet. But when asked to detail their eating habits, only 6% of U.S. adults report eating the USDA recommended five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day.2*

“Only 6% of U.S. adults report eating the USDA recommended 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day while 62% admit to eating just one to two servings each day.”2*

It’s also not easy to tell if we’re suffering from a nutrient gap. The symptoms are easily overlooked, because they range from feelings of exhaustion and muscle fatigue to poor sleep, and low mood. If those sound like the everyday ailments of being a human, you’re not wrong. Most of us wouldn’t blame a poor night’s rest on a missing mineral. Regardless of whether or not we feel it, the data shows most of us aren’t getting enough of the nutrients we need.

Nutrient Gaps Across the Age Spectrum

Nutrient shortfalls affect everyone from the young to the old. In fact, children between the ages of 4–18 are not getting enough vitamins A, D, E or the minerals calcium and magnesium.3 The biggest concerns for children are the nutrient shortfalls in calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium, which are needed to build healthy bones.

To put it in numbers, nearly 34% of children and adolescents are falling short on the recommended amount of magnesium. 73% of children don’t get enough vitamin D, and more than half of them aren’t consuming enough calcium. 66% of children fall short in vitamin E, and 25% of them don’t get enough vitamin A.4

But even as Americans mature and may gain better eating habits than they had as kids, nutrient gaps still exist well into adulthood. One out of every two adults between the ages of 19 and 50 are lacking in magnesium, and vitamins A, C, D, and E.5 A study of The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data found that 37% of women are at a higher risk of vitamin deficiencies overall, including anemia6 during their menstruating years and while pregnant due to a lack of iron from their diets.

“...women are at a higher risk of vitamin deficiencies overall, including anemia.”6

As many as 9 out of every 10 Americans are falling short of consuming adequate amounts of nutrients from their food alone.7 The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) examines the health and nutritional status of both adults and children in the United States using dietary intake interviews and in-person health examinations. Based on this data, researchers found that most Americans do not meet their recommended intakes for many essential nutrients, including: vitamins A, C, D, and E as well as the minerals magnesium and calcium.7 We’d say our mothers would be disappointed in us, but they’re just as guilty.

“…most Americans do not meet their recommended intakes for many essential nutrients, including vitamins A, C, D, and E as well as the minerals magnesium and calcium.”7

These nutrient shortfalls may even cause or contribute to many of the issues we commonly associate with getting older. A lack of sleep, fatigue, low mood, and muscle fatigue have all been tied to nutritional shortfalls. Recent studies show people who sleep less than seven hours per night are more likely to lack the recommended levels of magnesium in their diet.9 But beyond how we feel today, if left unattended, nutrient gaps can affect our long-term health. 

Americans over age 51 have an inadequate intake of vitamins A, C, D, E, calcium and magnesium.5 Bone building and maintaining nutrients like vitamin D, calcium, and magnesium are important as we age because they can support healthy bones. We tend to lose our appetites with age as well, which can make it even more difficult to get all our nutrients from food.10

Every five years a group of leading nutritional and public health scientists get together to develop the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). In the 2020-2025 DGA, they identified multiple “under-consumed nutrients,” including calcium, potassium, dietary fiber, and vitamin D. They even these nutrients as under-consumed to the extent that they may lead to adverse health outcomes. As a result they have designated these essential nutrients as “nutrients of public health concern.”1

Contributing Factors to Nutritional Shortfalls

So where do we begin in order to correct this nutrition crisis? Let’s start by understanding the factors that contribute to it. Some factors affect us all, while others are specific and situational. It starts at the root, so to speak. And by root we’re talking about the soil and farming of our foods. A study on nutritional data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture from both 1950 and 1999 on 43 fruits and vegetables found “reliable declines” in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin, and vitamin C.11

Farming and Soil

With a growing population comes a growing demand on our farms and soil to produce more food. As a result, overfarming and enhanced crop-growing techniques are thought to be causing a decrease in the nutrient quality of our foods. Many fruits, vegetables, and nuts are genetically engineered or genetically modified to be more pest resistant, and grow larger, faster. However, it is thought that the rapid growth of GMO crops may make it difficult for the plants’ nutrient uptake to keep pace.11 In other cases, overfarming of land season after season depletes the soil of micronutrients without allowing time for it to replenish its micronutrients before it is farmed again.

“Overfarming and enhanced crop-growing techniques are thought to be causing a decrease in the nutrient quality of our foods.”

But this doesn’t mean you should reach for a doughnut over a salad. Vegetables, fruits, nuts, and some grains are extraordinarily rich in nutrients and beneficial phytochemicals and still our best sources of these. If you have concerns about the quality of your produce, some suggest buying organic and believe forgoing pesticides and synthetic fertilizers for organic farming practices are better for the soil and the crops grown in it.

Cost and Access to Nutritious Foods

Access to whole fruits and veggies is a major challenge for some Americans. More than 23 million Americans do not have easy or consistent access to fresh, nutrient-dense meals or groceries12 as a result of living in a food desert. According to the USDA, food deserts are parts of the country that are devoid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful foods.13 As a result, people living in them must travel out of their way to access nutritious foods.

“More than 23 million Americans do not have easy or consistent access to fresh, nutrient-dense meals or groceries.”12

Harvard School of Public Health recommends a daily multivitamin as an affordable and convenient way to combat insufficient nutrient intake. A daily multivitamin is an inexpensive nutrition insurance policy that helps ensure you are getting the recommended levels of nutrients essential to activities and body function.14

Our Go-Go Lifestyle

So if fruits, veggies, nuts, and other healthy foods are still our best bet when it comes to getting our daily nutrients, what’s stopping us? Well, us not stopping for one. Our lives have increasingly become more on the go, making it hard to stop and smell the roses... and eat our veggies.

We tend to grab meals and snacks on the go that are high in calories but nearly void of nutrients. In fact, Americans have increased the proportion of food they consume away from home from 18% to 33% in the past three decades.10

“Americans have increased the proportion of food they consume away from home from 18% to 33% in the past three decades.”10

Even if these snacks or meals aren’t always a burger from the drive-thru, they aren’t always packed with whole fruits, veggies, and other nutrient-rich foods. Rather, these meal choices away from home tend to be high in saturated fats, refined grains, sugar, and an overabundance of sodium. If we want to keep up our on-the-move lifestyles, we need to find healthier solutions to fueling them.

Filling Nutrient Shortfalls With Smart Food Choices & Dietary Supplements

(Related content: Do I Really Need A Dietary Supplement?)

The good news is that the key to filling nutrient shortfalls is in your hands and on your plate. Whether you keep a list on your fridge of all the dietary sources for the nutrients you need, rely on healthy meal delivery plans, or opt for a custom multivitamin and supplement pack—it’s nice to know we have some options.†

Food Sources for Important Nutrient Shortfalls

From fruits and veggies to nuts and meats and more, there’s a wide variety of nutritious foods to fill your plate and help bridge specific nutrient gaps in your current diet. Below are recommendations from the USDA Nutritional Database for some of the best food sources to fill the most common and critical nutrient gaps found in our diets today.15



Nutrient Content

% Recommended Daily Allowance RDA

Beef liver, 3 oz.

7,700 ug


Pumpkin, 1 cup canned

1,906 ug


Sweet potato, 1 medium

1,096 ug


Spinach, 1 cup cooked

943 ug


Cantaloupe, ½ whole

466 ug


Mango, 1 whole fresh

181 ug





Nutrient Content

% Recommended Daily Allowance RDA

Orange juice, 1 cup fresh

124 mg


Broccoli, 1 cup cooked

101 mg


Green pepper, 1 whole

96 mg


Strawberries, 1 cup fresh

85 mg


Cauliflower, 1 cup cooked

55 mg


Watermelon, 1 slice

23 mg


Baked potato, 1 whole

20 mg





Nutrient Content

% Recommended Daily Allowance RDA

Salmon, sockeye, 3 oz.

375 IU


Fortified milk, 1 cup

120 IU


Beef liver, 3 oz.

49 IU


Egg yolk, 1 large

37 IU


Butter, 1 tbsp.

9 IU





Nutrient Content

% Recommended Daily Allowance RDA

Almonds, 1 oz.

7.4 mg


Safflower oil, 1 tbsp.

4.6 mg


Sunflower seeds, 2 tbsp.

4.2 mg


Shrimp, boiled, 3 oz.

1.9 mg


Sweet potato, 1 medium

0.81 mg





Nutrient Content

% Recommended Daily Allowance RDA

Yogurt, 1 cup

372 mg


Tofu, ½ cup

253 mg


Cheddar cheese, 1 oz.

204 mg


Milk, 1 cup

129 mg


Kale, 1 cup cooked

94 mg


Kidney beans, 1 can

92 mg


Broccoli, 1 cup cooked

62 mg





Nutrient Content

% Recommended Daily Allowance RDA

Spinach, 1 cup cooked

157 mg


Navy beans, 1 cup cooked

96 mg


Garbanzo beans, 1 cup cooked

79 mg


Wheat germ, ¼ cup raw

69 mg


Figs, 5 dried

29 mg


Whole wheat bread, 1 slice

23 mg


Sirloin steak, 3 oz.

21 mg



Nutritional Supplements Can Help

Whole, nutrient-dense foods are our best bet when it comes to getting the vitamins and minerals we need to stay healthy. They’re packed with essential nutrients, plus other elements of a healthy diet like fiber and phytonutrients. But when you don’t have the time in your schedule (or room in your stomach) to prep and munch all of your daily nutrients, dietary supplements can help bridge those nutritional gaps.

NHANES assessed nutrient intake from two groups of people—those consuming food alone versus food plus multi-vitamin/mineral supplements (MVMS). Compared to food alone, taking a MVMS was associated with a lower prevalence of inadequacy for 15 of the 17 nutrients examined.Findings like this make a good case for supplementing with a multi no matter how you eat as well as supplementing with other individual supplements based on your diet, gender/sex, or age needs.


Think of nutrients like the essentials needed to build a functioning home. Nutrients aren’t the “nice to have” fireplace feature. They’re essential to our human structure, like a solid foundation of weight-bearing beams. Knowing which nutrients we might be lacking may not solve all our problems, but figuring out what variety of foods and combination of supplements can help make our bodies into the happy home we all deserve.



*Based on a 2,200 calorie per day diet for those aged 14 and older.

† These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.


  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov.
  2. ORC International conducted research on behalf of MegaFood via an online survey among a representative sample of 1,025 U.S. adults (514 men and 511 women) 18 years old or older; the study was fielded January 5–8, 2017 using ORC International’s twice-weekly Online CARAVAN® Survey. https://www.megafood.com/category/news/americas-nutrition-gap-although-60-americans-report-eat-healthy-diet-94-fall-short-daily-recommendations.html
  3. Centers for Disease Control. “Obesity and Overweight.” 2016. National Center for Health Statistics. Accessed on: September 5, 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/obesity-overweight.htm
  4. Fulgoni, VL 3rd et al. Foods, fortificants, and supplements: Where do Americans get their nutrients? J Nutr. 2011; 141 (10): 1847-1854. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21865568
  5. Devarshi, P., et al. "Nutrient Gaps in US Adults by Age and Gender: Vitamin A, D, E, K, C, Magnesium, Calcium, Choline and Dietary Fiber." Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 120.9 (2020): A27.
  6. Bird, J et al. Risk of Deficiency in Multiple Concurrent Micronutrients in Children and Adults in the United States. 2017, 9, 655. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28672791
  7. Reider CA, et al. Inadequacy of Immune Health Nutrients: Intakes in US Adults, the 2005-2016 NHANES. Nutrients. 2020 Jun 10;12(6):1735.
  8. Blumberg, JB et al. Impact of frequency of multi-vitamin/multi-mineral supplement intake on nutritional adequacy and nutrient deficiencies in U.S. adults. Nutrients. 2017; 9 (8): 1–8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28792457
  9. Ikonte, CJ et al. Micronutrient Inadequacy in Short Sleep: Analysis of the NHANES 2005–2016. 2019; 11 (10): 2335. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31581561
  10. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020: Shifts Needed to Align with Healthy Eating Patterns.” 2015. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Accessed on: September 16, 2015. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-2/opportunities-for-shifts-in-food-choices
  11. Davis, D et al. Changes in USDA Food Composition Data for 43 Garden Crops, 1950 to 1999. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2004; 23 (6): 669-682. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15637215
  12. Obama Whitehouse. “Healthy Communities.” 2009. Let’s Move. Accessed on: September 5, 2019. https://letsmove.obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/healthy-communities
  13. American Nutrition Association. “USDA defines food deserts.” Accessed on: September 5, 2019. org/newsletter/usda-defines-food-deserts
  14. Harvard T.H. Chan. “Nutrition Insurance Policy: A Daily Multivitamin.” School of Public Health. Accessed on: October 3, 2019. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/multivitamin
  15. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. Food Data Central. 2019. Accessed on: October 3, 2019. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov


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