- Brian Bender, PhD
America's Micronutrient Intake at a Glance [Interactive Chart]
Updated: Jun 5, 2021
The primary way average micronutrient intake is determined in America is through surveys. The CDC conducts the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey every 2 years. During this survey, thousands of Americans from all walks of life are interviewed and clinically tested to provide a snapshot of the typical American diet.
So, How's Our Micronutrient Intake Looking?
"The average American diet is below the RDA for every #micronutrient."
The chart below combines the latest 5 years worth of NHANES survey data ('09-'14). It's interactive. Click on individual vitamins and minerals to single them out. You can filter by gender as well.
Feel free to publish the charts you create. Just reference us at Intake!
Vitamins and minerals are essential for life, occupying roles in biochemical pathways for just about every conceivable function. And the only way to get them is to eat them.
Your body can’t live without them. They’re needed as catalysts and coenzymes for your cells to work as they should.
The lack of adequate amounts of these micronutrients can progressively lead to an increased risk of certain diseases and health complications.
Severe Micronutrient Deficiencies?
Micronutrient deficiencies are becoming rare, but are by no means extinct. Particularly, these 5 groups are at risk of a micronutrient deficiency. These can be debilitating at times; deadly if left unchecked.
The Past: Some deficiencies from the past were corrected once we discovered the source of the deficiency. In the absence of vitamin C, scurvy will set in in around 4–6 weeks. Gums will start to bleed, teeth may fall out. Eventually, excessive bleeding and infections typically lead to death.
Scurvy used to kill sailors before we knew what caused it. Some estimate around 2 million British sailors died from scurvy between 1500–1800 - more than those dying from all combat during that time.
The Present: According to the Global Nutrition Report, 2 billion people globally still suffer from micronutrient deficiencies.
As an example, iron is needed for hemoglobin to function properly and distribute oxygen. Without it, anemia sets in, you won’t be able to breathe well, and fatigue will develop. Eventually, the lack of oxygen can be fatal.
In fact, still today, predominately in developing nations, iron deficiency still impairs the lives of nearly a billion people worldwide and kills over 180,000 every year.
Nutrition International (formerly the Micronutrient Initiative), works to correct micronutrient deficiencies in Africa, Asia, and the Americas largely through fortification, supplementation, and salt iodization.
Chronic, Sub-Clinical Micronutrient Intake?
Our understanding of long-term effects of sub-clinical vitamin levels (i.e., enough vitamin D to prevent rickets, but still “low”) is still not well characterized. However, studies do suggest long-term latency diseases can manifest from chronic underconsumption of micronutrients. And despite a lack of acute clinical symptoms, issues that are difficult to pinpoint a source, like fatigue and depression, are thought to have potential nutritional sources.
And it's not just caused by a lack of food. Some studies have shown lower rates of micronutrient intake levels are typical among obese Americans.
Long-term studies on possible ill-effects of sub-clinical micronutrient intake are difficult to perform. Not to mention, small, long-term effects need large statistical power to be credible (Why Most Published Research Findings Are False) - which is often not the case in many nutrition studies.
Is our Micronutrient Intake Low in Everything?
Vitamins and minerals were not all created equally. If we consume too much vitamin C or riboflavin, for example, we typically just pee out the extra.
But can you consume too much of anything? Unfortunately yes, and we do.
Salt intake (aka, sodium) is necessary but generally overconsumed in America. Sodium is essential for life. But too much increases your risk for hypertension. The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that high blood pressure is the 3rd leading disease risk factor in America, and dietary risks are the 1st, explicitly stating high sodium intake as a major problem. This is also why the World Health Organization, the American Heart Association, the CDC and the Institute of Medicine, Public Health England, USDA Guidelines, and others recommend reducing salt intake. Further, the World Heart Federation cites a WHO report stating that hypertension is the leading cause of cardiovascular disease worldwide (the leading cause of death globally).
The WHO guidelines suggest sodium intake should be less than 2 grams per day, and the AHA suggests a target of around 1.5 grams per day.
"Daily salt intake is too high in 84% of 33-year-olds”
A Balance of Micronutrients is Required
Many vitamins and minerals act symbiotically. Some are required for absorption of others, some take part in another’s metabolic pathway, and some even inhibit another’s absorption.
Low calcium levels? You’re not alone. Over 48% of Americans do. Add the estimated 75% of Americans deficient in vitamin D, and it’s no wonder osteoporosis and low bone mass have become major concerns. And certain segments of the population can be worse.
“Roughly 70% of women aged 20-50 don't get enough #calcium in their diet.”
Calcium is an important component for bone mineralization. It is a part of hydroxyapatite, a component in bone that can diminish as calcium stores are depleted.
If you are low on calcium, simply consuming more calcium may not be enough.
Vitamin D is required to transport calcium through the body. Without proper levels of the sunshine vitamin, you won’t adequately use the calcium you’ve been taking.
Several other symbioses exist too. The B-complex is a good example. The B vitamins are a large class of water-soluble vitamins, while the other classes are fat-soluble vitamins (vitamin C is an exception). Folate, biotin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12...they all require each other. So a deficiency in one can bring down several.
And sometimes, the symbiosis isn't always beneficial. Zinc, for example can interfere with vitamin C absorption.
Ultimately, a balance that is neither too low, nor too high, in all of your essential vitamins and minerals will help keep your body functioning properly.
What Happened to the Missing Vitamins?
Ever wonder why there are gaps in the vitamin naming scheme? It's because vitamins were originally “discovered,” and named (vitamin F, for example), only later to be realized that these should not be classified as vitamins and “re-assigned” to a new class. But since vitamin K was already classified, they didn’t rename it as vitamin F.
Vitamin F is linoleic acid. This is an essential omega-6 fatty acid. It was originally classified as vitamin F in the 20s, but reclassified as a fat, rather than a vitamin.
Vitamin G is an outdated term for vitamin B2 (riboflavin).
Biotin is vitamin H. It is also classified as a B vitamin (B7).
Vitamin I is actually just a nickname for ibuprofan.
Vitamin J was a catechol that is normally produced by the body, and thus, no longer considered a vitamin.
There were others too, after K. Vitamins L, M, and so on. These too, were later determined not to fit the definition of a vitamin often because they were produced naturally by the body.
You might also have found it funny that the B-complex usually skips some numbers too. You’ll see vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, and B12. Similarly, B4, B8, B10, and B11 were originally classified only later to be determined they should not be classified as vitamins.
Mind Your Micronutrient Intake
Although there are certain segments of the population that should make a conscious effort to include certain micronutrients in their diet, a well-balanced diet should get you everything you need. Unfortunately, most of our diets come up short.
A variety of fruits and vegetables, a reduction in salt intake, and a reduction in sugar intake would put you well on your way towards a long long healthspan.
But in addition to varying preferences and lifestyles, people can have unique responses to different diets. Variations in genetics, epigenetics, gut microbiota, and body composition may eventually make dietary reference intakes obsolete.
Ultimately, everyone is unique. Discover your diet.