7 nutrients you should be eating

...but probably aren't.

For much of the past decade, the measure of a healthy diet was whether it had the right amounts of specific, high-value nutrients. Think about the push to get protein with every meal and to keep an eye on your iron intake. That focus did two things: It emphasized lab-made supplements such as protein powder and green pills, while de-emphasizing the need for whole foods. And, in doing so, it also overlooked smaller nutrients that don't appear on nutrition labels, but that are still essential to optimal health.

There's been a move among some health experts to stop agonizing over grams of iron and protein, a mindset known as 'nutritionism,' and instead recommend a diet filled with a variety of whole foods, especially plants, explains Drew Ramsey, MD, a New York-based psychiatrist, farmer and author of Eat Complete. This mindset shift helps ensure that you're getting all of the under-appreciated nutrients you may be inadvertently ignoring. Click here to learn a few of the less headline-grabbing nutrients and ways to incorporate them into your next meal.

Photography by Christine Han

1 / 6
Slide 1 of 6
  • Iodine


    This mineral plays a key role in brain development in early life and is an element of thyroid hormone, making it essential for metabolic activity. Iodine also helps form the fatty insulation of brain cells and has been shown to improve IQ. Seaweed is the most concentrated source, but you can also find it in scallops, cod, yogurt, and milk.

    1 / 6
  • B1 (Thiamine)

    B1 (Thiamine)

    All of the B vitamins are important, but B12 and B9 (folate) tend to get more attention than B1, which is central to energy production within cells, Ramsey explains. “The brain mainly runs on glucose (blood sugar), and turning glucose into energy requires thiamine,” so if you’re not getting enough, you may suffer from low energy levels and brain fog. Pork, sunflower seeds, trout, peas, and pecans are all great sources, but there are a few factors to keep in mind: Alcohol can inhibit absorption, and regular exercise and pregnancy increase the amount you need. “It’s one of these vitamins that you don’t store much of so you need a continuous supply in your diet,” Ramsey adds.

    1 / 6
  • Tryptophan


    Known for being a Thanksgiving sleep-aid, it’s actually an essential amino acid and a building block of the neurotransmitter serotonin. If you’re not getting enough, your brain will make less serotonin, which can affect your mood, memory, and increase aggression, Ramsey says. It’s the most difficult to find in food among all of the amino acids, but you can get it in turkey, cod, beef, and some plant sources like soybeans and asparagus.

    1 / 6
  • Vitamin K and Magnesium

    Vitamin K and Magnesium

    Vitamin K is known for its role in blood coagulation and clotting and is linked to a decreased risk of heart disease, but recent research has also revealed it plays an important role in helping our bodies absorb calcium, explains Keri Glassman, RD, a New York-based nutritionist. Find it in vegetables like kale, collards, and spinach. Those leafy greens also contain magnesium, a mineral also involved in calcium absorption as well as nerve and brain function. Pumpkin seeds, almonds and beans contain magnesium as well. 

    1 / 6
  • Lycopene


    This is an instance in which heating produce can enhance its nutrient load. Cooked tomatoes (and watermelon juice) contain lycopene, which research finds may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and certain cancers like prostate.

    1 / 6
  • Choline


    Found in eggs, beef, seafood, broccoli, and peanuts, choline is involved in several systems. “It’s a big building block for cells,” Glassman says. “It’s a basic nutrient that we need for almost everything.” It’s used to make a neurotransmitter that’s important for learning and memory; is involved in the methylation cycle, which affects energy and mood; and has been shown to regulate inflammation (perfect for people who work out a lot, which is a cause of inflammation). 

    1 / 6
1/ 6