A report entitled “What We Eat in America, NHANES 2001-2002,” released this month by the Agricultural Research Service's Food Surveys Research Group in Beltsville, Maryland, reveals that Americans are deficient in a number of required nutrients, particularly vitamin E. The report is the latest compilation of data obtained from the dietary interview component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) for 2001-2002. Dietary (not including supplemental) intake of 24 nutrients was calculated for 8,940 participants age one and older via 24 hour dietary recall surveys in 2001 and 2002. The average values were compared with the Institute of Medicine's Dietary Reference Intakes for children, men and women in established age categories.
When the estimated usual intakes of the subjects were compared to the Institute of Medicine's Estimated Average Requirements, which are the average daily nutrient intakes estimated to meet the needs of half of the healthy individuals in a given population group, the participants were found to be deficient in a number of nutrients. A deficiency of vitamin E was the most striking finding, with 93 percent of Americans estimated to consume inadequate amounts of the vitamin (if the dietary habits of the participants in this study can be agreed upon as accurately reflecting those of the general population). Not surprisingly, magnesium came in second, with 56 percent of the population estimated to be deficient. Deficiencies of vitamin A were estimated to affect 44 percent of Americans, of vitamin C, 31 percent; of vitamin B6, 14 percent; and zinc deficiencies were estimated to exist in 12 percent. Folate, copper, phosphorus, thiamin (vitamin B1) iron and protein were found to be lacking in females aged 9 and older.
The findings of the survey are disturbing given that many consider the Dietary Reference Intakes as already too low to ensure good health. Interesting amid the current media-bashing of vitamin E was the finding that intake of the vitamin is insufficient among most Americans. The report's findings stand in sharp contrast with the too-often-heard statement that one can obtain all of one's vitamin needs from one's diet.
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