How much of each nutrient do I need each day?

Messages from the media confuse us. We are told to make sure we’re getting enough protein. Then they tell us to focus on Omega-3 and Omega-6. Then we hear warnings about fiber deficiency. And on and on. Well, you should know for yourself what you need, and you find that out by following the Institute of Medicine’s Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs). They are broken down into age groups because not every age group or gender has the same consumption needs. It lists macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats, fiber) and micronutrients (vitamins & minerals). For example, my recommended carb intake for the age group of 31-50 years old is 130 grams per day. Here is the table so you can find your own requirements (and for your babies — for you new moms out there!):

Dietary Reference Intakes from IOM

Table Sources:
–IOM. Dietary Reference Intakes: The essential guide to nutrient requirements. Washington (DC): The National Academies Press; 2006.
–IOM. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. Washington (DC): The National Academies Press; 2010.

Now, this means for at least a week you should be doing your homework on every piece of food you put into your mouth. Write down how much of each nutrient that particular food gives you. Check labels on everything! The tricky part is produce and bulk foods where there are no nutritional facts. They exist, trust me – you can dig for them here: – you just enter the food into the search box at the top right and find what you need. The wealth of information on each food is very thorough. With restaurants, I’d say skip them for the week you do this unless they can produce for you nutritional info on their dishes.

Tracking all of this requires the help of a food journal or a google doc that you have access to most of the day, or — as I have blogged about previously — the MyDietAnalysis tracker. I was only supposed to use that thing for my class for five days, but I am totally hooked and I continue to use it because I love it and it tells me exactly what I am lacking and what I have met for that day (so as not to go over too much).

For vitamins and minerals, most are ok to go over the DRI recommendation a little. As long as you have variety in your diet and you aren’t overdosing on one food all day long, this isn’t a worry. Last week and this week so far I am still slow to get in my calcium, iron, and Vitamin D according to those charts from the MyDietAnalysis program. So I did a little hunting at the store and found Calcium & Vitamin D enriched soy milk and enriched orange juice. That does help, but according to my DRI I need even more. So I stocked up on tofu (non-GMO) for more calcium and then hit up my vitamin drink packets for the rest of the stuff I’m missing.

Things you need to limit are sodium, fat, protein, and cholesterol. In some studies, over-doing it on protein by a big amount has suggested a link to certain types of cancers or other types of early death.1,2  The IOM‘s take on cholesterol is this: “All tissues are capable of synthesizing enough cholesterol to meet their metabolic and structural needs. Consequently, there is no evidence for a biological requirement for dietary cholesterol. … However, it is recommended that people maintain their dietary cholesterol intake as low as possible, while consuming a diet nutritionally adequate in all required nutrients.”3 Guess what…out of everything I ate last week I had ZERO cholesterol [proof here]! Eric did one day of tracking his diet and I noticed he went over his recommended limit of 300g of cholesterol. To test it, I looked over the foods he ate, deleted the two egg entries, recalculated the report, and viola — cholesterol went way down. Remember what I said about eggs and cholesterol? Don’t eat ’em!

It’s funny people ask me how I get my protein, but I didn’t have to put effort into it at all to meet my 43g/day! I easily met it, and sometimes went over a little (133% of my goal). That makes me wonder…hmmm… if a vegan goes over in protein, how far gone are the carnivores then? Yikes!–protein overload! I didn’t do so hot, however, in meeting my carbohydrate intake (only 80% of goal met). I don’t eat a whole lot of bread or cereal so I think that is part of it. I will try to step that up from now on. I could also lower my fat too (124% goal met), but I am not concerned about it because I eat good fats like those found in nuts, olive oil, and avocado.

Well, there it is folks. Follow the table inserted at the top of this post and change your diet accordingly so that you don’t become deficient in some nutrient. If you eat pretty much the same types of food every day, there is a likelihood that you are definitely deficient in SOMEthing. Find out what it is and take steps to fix it…like now!

For some help with how to find foods with nutrients you need: I haven’t yet completed this, as of this blog post, but here is a listing of foods that are good sources of certain vitamins and minerals: Nutrition Info: Nutrient Sources google doc.



1. Barnard, N. D. (2002). Health Risks of High-Protein Diets. Good Medicine, 11(3), 12.

2. Ward, D. (2007). A Diet to Die For. Good Medicine, 16(4), 5.

3. Jennifer J. Otten, Jennifer Pitzi Hellwig, Linda D. Meyers, Editors. Dietary Reference Intakes: The Essential Guide to Nutrient Requirements. 2006. Institute of Medicine.

4. USDA & USHHS. Dietary Guidelines 2010.


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