Are You Missing Some Nutrients In Your Diet? The signs of a nutrient deficiency are not always visible but may put you at risk.
Did you know that the hidden cause of what you may think of as everyday symptoms (like fatigue and muscle aches) could be due to poor nourishment?
In fact, fatigue can be a sign of a deficiency in one or more key nutrients.
With the variety of foods we have to choose from, you’d think deficiencies would have been eliminated by now. But even today, most of us are missing those keepers of health known as the “essential nutrients.” Your body will just not function properly without them.
And, truth be known, it primarily comes down to our food choices. It’s not for lack of variety.
The essential nutrients humans need are the following:
- Fats (yes!)
Deficiencies in any of these changes the way our bodies function and how they process what we eat at the most basic cellular level, by affecting:
- Fluid balance
- The function of our enzymes
- The signals from our nerves which keep us alive by coordinating our digestion and metabolism.
Resolving these deficiencies is important for healthy growth, development, and function.
Nutrient deficiencies can also lead to diseases:
➡ Calcium and vitamin D deficiencies can cause osteopenia or osteoporosis, which result in brittle bones.
Both indicate varying degrees of bone loss, as measured by a bone mineral density test, which measures how much calcium and other types of minerals are in an area of your bones.
- This test helps detect osteoporosis and predict your risk of bone fractures.
With osteopenia, there is decreased bone density but not to the extent of osteoporosis.
➡ Lack of iron can cause anemia, which simply zaps your energy.
But, our wonderfully designed bodies offer us all the clues we need if we’re low in any of the essential vitamins and minerals.
Here’s how to recognize some important (and the most common) nutrient deficiencies.
1. Calcium: Strengthens Your Musculoskeletal System
Calcium is important for maintaining strong bones and controlling muscle and nerve function.
➡ Two common causes of calcium deficiency are diarrhea and/or vomiting.
➡ Excessive sweating, a need for frequent use of antibiotics or diuretics, or chronic conditions such as eating disorders and kidney disease are indications of a calcium deficiency.
➡ Signs of severely low calcium include muscle cramps and abnormal heart rhythms.
You can change that by making sure you’re having at least 3 servings of milk or yogurt every day.
- Good sources of calcium are cheese, calcium-fortified orange juice, and dark leafy green vegetables.
2. Vitamin D is critical for bone health.
➡ Symptoms like fatigue, muscle aches or weakness can be vague, but they show a deficiency in Vitamin D.
➡ If the deficiency is allowed to continue long-term, it can lead to softening of the bones and unexpected fractures.
To get enough vitamin D, nutritionists suggest:
➡ Having three servings of fortified milk or yogurt daily
➡ Eating fatty fish, such as salmon or tuna, twice a week
➡ Spending some time outside in the sunshine every day.
3. Potassium helps your heart, muscles, and nerves function properly
Symptoms of a deficiency include:
➡ Muscle weakness
➡ Tingling and numbness and in severe cases, an abnormal heart rhythm.
Some natural sources of potassium include
- whole grains
- beans and peas
4. Iron Is Necessary for Oxygen-Rich Blood:
➡ Iron is necessary to produce red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout your body.
When iron levels get too low, anemia (a condition in which you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues) occurs.
➡ Anemia causes fatigue, hair loss, and sparse, thin hair, to name a few, due to a deficiency of oxygen, which is normally carried by those red blood cells.
To boost iron levels, eat:
➡ Iron-fortified cereal
➡ Beans (especially white beans, chickpeas, and kidney beans)
5. Vitamin B12 aids to produce our brain chemicals
➡ B12 plays a role in the production of DNA and helps create your neurotransmitters.
A neurotransmitter is defined as “a chemical messenger” that carries, boosts, and balances signals between your neurons (nerve cells) and other cells in the body.
➡ Vegans may be at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency because plants do not produce vitamin B12.
➡ People who’ve had weight loss surgery are also at risk for a deficiency because the procedure makes it difficult for the body to extract B12 from food.
Symptoms of a serious B12 deficiency include:
➡ Numbness in the legs, hands, or feet
➡ Problems with walking and balance
➡ A swollen, inflamed tongue
➡ Memory loss
➡ Paranoia and hallucinations.
You can boost your levels of B12 by eating more fish, chicken, milk, and yogurt.
If you’re vegan, opt for vegan foods fortified with B12, such as non-dairy milk, meat substitutes, and breakfast cereals.
6. Folate is commonly known as vitamin B-9 and is found abundantly in leafy greens.
➡ Folate (folic acid), is a particularly important vitamin for women of childbearing age, which is why prenatal vitamins contain such a hefty dose.
➡ A folate deficiency can decrease the total number of cells and large red blood cells and cause “neural tube defects” in an unborn child, which affect their brains, spines or spinal cords.
Symptoms of a folate deficiency include
➡ Mouth Sores
➡ Poor growth
➡ Changes in the color of hair, skin, and nails
The Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board recommends that women who could become pregnant should make sure they get 400 mcg of folic acid daily, whether through food or a supplement.
To get folate from food, go for:
➡ Fortified cereals
➡ Leafy greens
7. Magnesium May Boost Your Energy Level
➡ Magnesium helps support bone health and assists in energy production.
Although a magnesium deficiency is fairly uncommon (in otherwise healthy people), it can affect those who take certain medications, have certain health conditions, or drink too much alcohol, according to the Office Of Dietary Supplements of the National Institutes of Health.
Magnesium deficiency can cause:
➡ Loss of appetite
➡ Nausea and vomiting
In severe cases, it can lead to:
➡ Muscle cramps
➡ Abnormal heart rhythms
➡ Personality changes
➡ Lowered potassium or calcium levels.
To help your levels return to normal, eat more magnesium-rich foods such as:
- Green leafy vegetables (e.g. spinach and kale)
- Fruit (figs, avocado, banana, and raspberries)
- Nuts and seeds.
- Legumes (black beans, chickpeas, and kidney beans)
- Vegetables (peas, broccoli, cabbage, green beans, artichokes, asparagus, brussels sprouts)
- Seafood (salmon, mackerel, tuna)
- Spinach and edamame
- Black beans
If you suspect you have a nutrient deficiency, talk to your doctor. Blood tests can help determine if you’re deficient. If you are, your doctor may refer you to a registered dietitian or recommend supplements.
The best way to avoid or remedy nutrient deficiencies is to make sure you are eating a balanced, nutrient-rich diet.
I encourage eating healthy foods first, but if you’re at an increased risk of a nutrient deficiency, you may benefit from taking a multivitamin. Just be sure to speak with your doctor before adding any supplements to your diet, as some of them may interfere with the action of your current medications.
Those at highest risk of nutrient deficiency include the elderly, smokers, those who are lactose-intolerant, and those who have recently had bariatric surgery, but none of us are excluded.