Many nutrients like vitamins and minerals are absolutely essential for good health. A balanced, food-based diet typically provides all the essential nutrients. Even if we are super health-conscious, our modern lifestyle and busy schedules can at times make it tough to get all the nutrients we require from our diet alone. The typical Western diet can often be low in several important nutrients. Many people take a multivitamin, but the reality is if our diet is filled with a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, we probably don’t need those extra vitamins and minerals.
Here are 7 of the most common nutrient deficiencies:
Iron is a vital mineral for our body and a lack of iron leads to abnormally low levels of red blood cells. Iron forms a large component of red blood cells needed to make hemoglobin and transport oxygen to our cells. Anemia, where the number of red blood cells drops very low, is the most common result of iron deficiency.
Heme iron and non-heme iron are the two types of dietary iron commonly found in animal and plant food. Vitamin C enhances the absorption of iron, so eating foods rich in vitamin-C like oranges, kale, and bell peppers will help your body get the iron you need.
Symptoms: tiredness, weakness, headaches, dizziness, a weakened immune system, heart palpitations, dry and damaged hair and skin.
The recommended dietary sources of heme iron include:
- Red meat. 3 ounces of ground beef
- Organ meat. One slice of liver
- Shellfish. 3 ounces of cooked oysters, mussels or clams
- Canned sardines. 106 grams of sardines
The recommended dietary sources of non-heme iron include:
- Beans. Half a cup of cooked kidney beans
- Seeds. Pumpkin, squash and sesame seeds are good sources of non-heme iron. One ounce or 28 grams of roasted pumpkin seeds
- Dark, leafy greens. One ounce of kale or kale or spinach
Iodine is an essential mineral for normal thyroid functioning and for the production of thyroid hormones in our body. The thyroid hormone is required for brain development, growth and bone maintenance. Our body does not produce iodine, so it is an essential part of our daily diet.
Today, iodine is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world which leads to the enlargement of the thyroid gland seen mostly in the underdeveloped nations. Nearly a third of the world’s population is affected by iodine deficiency. A lack of iodine has been reduced around the world as some countries have made it mandatory to fortify regular table salt with iodine.
Symptoms: Enlarged thyroid gland (also known as a goiter); unexpected weight gain; fatigue and weakness; hair loss; dry, flaky skin; problems during pregnancy; developmental abnormalities in children.
Good dietary sources of iodine include:
- Seaweed. 1 gram of kelp
- Fish. Three ounces of baked cod
- Dairy. One cup of plain yogurt
- Eggs. One large egg
Vitamin D deficiency
Vitamin D functions like a steroid hormone in our body which helps our body absorb calcium. It travels through our bloodstream and into cells, telling them to turn genes on or off. When our skin gets exposed to sunlight, Vitamin D gets produced from cholesterol. Generally, people who live far from the equator are likely to be Vitamin D deficient unless they maintain a healthy balanced diet. Vitamin D deficiency is not usually obvious, and it may develop over many years. In the United States, about 40% of people are said to be Vitamin D deficient.
Symptoms: Muscle weakness; bone loss; an increased risk of fractures in adults. growth delays in children;. getting sick or infected often; fatigue and tiredness; bone and back pain; depression; hair loss;
The best dietary sources are:
- Cod liver oil. A single tablespoon
- Fatty fish.Salmon, mackerel, sardines, and trout – small servings of cooked fish
- Egg yolks. One large egg yolk
Vitamin B12 deficiency
Vitamin B12 is essential for blood formation, as well as nerve and brain function. Vitamin B12 is also known as cobalamin and is water-soluble. Every cell in our body needs B12 to function normally, but our body is unable to produce it, so we must get it from our diet or from supplements. Meat has sufficient amounts of Vitamin B12, and in certain seaweeds. People who do not eat meat are at increased risk of deficiency. 80%-90% of vegetarians may be deficient in Vitamin B12.
Symptoms: Some red blood cell disorders; impaired brain functioning; elevated homocysteine levels;
Dietary sources of vitamin B12:
- Shellfish. A cooked portion of clams or oysters
- Organ meat. 2-ounce slice of liver packs
- Meat. A small, 6-ounce beef steak
- Eggs. One whole egg
- Milk products. One cup of whole milk
Calcium is essential for each and every cell in our body. Calcium strengthens bones and teeth, especially during the growing years. But it is also required for adults for bone maintenance. Without calcium our heart, muscles, and nerves would not function as the chemical serves as a signaling molecule. The calcium concentration in our blood is tightly regulated by our bodies. Excess amounts are stored in our bones and is released when we aren’t consuming enough. According to a recent survey, United States teenage girls and men above 50 are at the highest risk of having calcium deficiency.
Symptoms: Osteoporosis; muscle problems; painful premenstrual syndrome; dental problems; depression;
Dietary sources of calcium:
- Boned fish. One can of sardines
- Dairy products. One cup of milk
- Dark green vegetables. Just 1 ounce of fresh. Kale, spinach, bok choy, or broccoli
Vitamin A deficiency
Vitamin A helps maintain healthy skin, bones, teeth, and cell membranes. It is responsible for the production of eye pigment, which is necessary for proper vision. More than 70% of people who eat a Western diet get sufficient amount of Vitamin A and do not need to get worried about Vitamin A deficiency.
Two different types of dietary Vitamin A:
Pro-vitamin A. Found in plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables. Beta carotene, which our body turns into vitamin A, is the most common form.
Preformed Vitamin A. Found in animal products like meat, fish, poultry, and dairy.
Symptoms: Temporary and permanent eye damage leading to blindness; suppressed immune function; increased child mortality; dry skin; infertility and trouble conceiving; delayed growth; poor wound healing;
Dietary sources of preformed vitamin A:
- Organ meat. 2-ounce slice of beef liver
- Fish liver oil. One tablespoon
Dietary sources of beta carotene (pro-vitamin A):
- Sweet potatoes. One medium, boiled sweet potato
- Carrots. One large carrot
- Dark green, leafy vegetables. One ounce of fresh spinach
Magnesium is a vital mineral in our body, essential for bone and teeth structure. Magnesium is a part of more than 300 enzyme reactions in our body. Statistics show that half of the U.S. population consumes less than the required amount of Magnesium. Magnesium deficiency is common in Western countries.
Symptoms: insulin resistance; high blood pressure; muscle cramps; mental disorders; osteoporosis; fatigue and muscle weakness; blood pressure; asthma; irregular heartbeat;
Dietary sources of magnesium include:
- Whole grains. One cup of oats
- Nuts. Twenty almonds
- Dark chocolate. One ounce of dark chocolate.
- Dark green, leafy vegetables. One ounce of raw spinach
The bottom line
The deficiencies are by far the most common ones. Older adults, children, young women, vegans, and vegetarians seem to be at the highest risk of many deficiencies. The best method to prevent deficiency is to eat a balanced diet that includes whole, nutrient-rich foods. On the other hand, supplements may be necessary for those who can’t obtain enough from their daily diet.