This site uses cookies to store information on your computer. Learn more x


Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Can Sugar and Saturated Fat be Eliminated without Impacting Essential Nutrient Intakes?

By Michael McBurney

Over 79 years ago nutritionist Victor Lindlahr published his book “You are What You Eat: How to Win and Keep Health with Diet”. Since then overweight and obesity has increased dramatically. Yet more than 870 million people do not have enough to eat, poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under 5y, and roughly 100 million (1 of every 6) in developing countries is underweight (World Food Program statistics). The world has a double burden of overconsumption (calories) and hidden hunger (underconsumption of essential nutrients).

A new publication by Huth and colleagues studied the major food sources of essential nutrients intakes for those ≥2y of age from the foods they report consuming in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES 2003-2006). They calculated the top 10 sources of calories, saturated fat and total sugars.  They report that foods contributing the most to saturated fat intakes are also major contributors to calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and vitamin E intake.

  • Potassium: Using all 3 approaches, only 1 category (calories) listed a commonly consumed food. It was milk providing 4.6% of calories and 11.6% of potassium consumption.
  • Dietary fiber was found in all of 3 lists (calories, total sugars, saturated fats) of top 10 sources. The predominant food sources were yeast breads and rolls (10.8%), crackers, popcorn, pretzels, chips (6.3%), ready-to-eat-cereal (5.6%), and cakes, cookies, quick bread, pastry and pie (5.1%).
  • Calcium was also found in all 3 lists of top 10 sources. The predominant food sources were milk (25.3%), cheese (21.0%) and yeast breads and rolls (7.0%).  
  • Vitamin D sources were milk’ (49.5%) and ready-to-eat-cereal (6.2%).
  • Vitamin E sources were crackers, popcorn, pretzels, chips (9.4%), cakes, cookies, quick bread, pastry, pie (6.6%), crackers, popcorn, pretzels, chips (6.5%), and other fats & oils (5.5%).

How do we ensure that people get the right balance of essential nutrients for health and macronutrients to maintain an active body? TalkingNutrition focused on 5 nutrients because the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 identifies four of them - potassium, dietary fiber, calcium and vitamin D - as nutrients of concern (Executive summary, pp xi).  Vitamin E is not mentioned in the report even though the usual daily intake from food (6.9 mg) is approximately half of the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI)  and >90% are not consuming the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) for vitamin E (Fulgoni et al., 2011).

To be healthy, people are encouraged to consume the DRIs which are defined by age and gender. To help make choices, use the USDA Nutrient Data link to search for foods high or low in specific nutrients.


Stevens GA, Singh GM, Lu Y, Danaei G, Lin JK, Finucane MM, Bahalim AN, McIntire RK, Gutierrez HR, Cowan M, Paciorek CJ, Farzadfar F, Riley L, Exxati M, et al. National, regional, and global trends in adult overweight and obesity prevalences. 2012 Population Health Metrics doi:/10.1186/1478-10-22

Huth PJ, Fulgoni VL, Keast DR, Park K, Auestad N. Major food sources of calories, added sugars, and saturated fat and their contribution to essential nutrient intakes in the US diet: data from the national health and nutrition examination survey (2003-2006). 2013 Nutr J doi:10.1186/1475-2891-12-116

Fulgoni VL, Keast DR, Bailey RL, Johanna Dwyer. Foods, fortificants, and supplements: Where do Americans get their nutrients? 2011 J Nutr doi:10.3945/jn.111.142257