Common nutrient deficiencies
It can be hard to imagine Americans being malnourished with all of the food available to the majority today. Most individuals have refrigerators, pantries, and cupboards full of groceries, and many are consuming at least three meals each day.
Micronutrient deficiencies like vitamins A and B9, and minerals like iron, zinc, and iodine, are common in developing countries and affect billions of people worldwide (1).
When we lack a particular nutrient in our diet, especially an essential nutrient, the body can become deficient which can lead to dysfunction and disease like osteoporosis, hypertension, anemia, cancer, and cardiovascular disease (1) (3).
An essential nutrient is a nutrient that we must consume in food each day because the body can not produce it at all or in amounts necessary for growth, disease prevention, and overall health. The micronutrients mentioned above, vitamins A, C, D, E, and minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, and choline, are examples of essential nutrients that must be consumed daily through the food we eat (2).
How we become nutrient deficient
When we do not consume the necessary amounts of essential nutrients through our daily diet we can become deficient because the body can not produce essential nutrients. This situation is, perhaps, one of the easiest to correct. For example, if we do not consume enough vitamin C in our diet, we can increase our intake of fruits and vegetables like bell peppers (red, yellow, and green), oranges, strawberries, and broccoli (7).
When the body is unable to absorb the nutrients from the foods that we eat, which can be due to diseases like celiac or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), we can become deficient (6) (8). In this situation, certain foods may need to be eliminated from the diet, and steps may need to be taken to correct damaged intestinal cells (6) (8).
Further, certain medications can lead to nutrient deficiencies. For example, drugs like proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and metformin can cause vitaminB12 deficiency, and PPIs have been found to cause magnesium deficiency (9).
This article will discuss how to recognize a few common nutrient deficiencies, what those deficiencies can lead to, and list some of the foods that you can incorporate into your meal plan to begin correcting an imbalance.
Vitamin D, Calcium, and Magnesium
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and a hormone that is responsible for many important body functions, like the absorption and utilization of calcium and phosphorus that is necessary for developing and maintaining healthy bone structure, maintaining normal heart action as well as normal immune and nervous system functions (4).
The two main dietary forms of vitamin D, cholecalciferol (D3) and ergocalciferol (D2) can be found in foods like fatty fish and egg yolks, and mushrooms and yeast, respectively.
However, vitamin D is primarily produced in the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight (4).
Recognizing a vitamin D deficiency can be difficult, but if you experience frequent illness or infections, feel fatigued, have lower back pain, have slow wound healing, or feel depressed often, your vitamin D levels may need some attention (5).
A deficiency of vitamin D can lead to low bone density which contributes to fractured bones and osteoporosis (10). Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), inflammation, and cancer (11) (12).
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body sustaining the development and maintenance of strong bones and teeth, while it also assists in blood clotting, muscle movement, and heart and nerve functions (13).
Dairy products like cheese and yogurt are among the best sources of calcium in the diet, with a few servings each day able to provide what the body needs. Other excellent sources of calcium in the diet include dark leafy greens, broccoli, sardines (with bones), black beans, chia and sesame seeds, and almonds.
A calcium deficiency can produce symptoms like tetany, muscle cramps, back and leg pains, insomnia, irritability, depression, tooth decay, and brittle bones (14).
A deficiency of calcium in the daily diet can take time to recognize because the body will maintain calcium levels by taking it directly from the bones to meet the needs for vital functions like blood clotting, muscle movement, and heart function. Over time, low levels of dietary calcium can lead to conditions like osteoporosis and osteopenia (15).
Magnesium is a mineral needed for hundreds of reactions in the body and plays a role in blood pressure regulation, muscle contraction, DNA and protein synthesis, nerve transmission, insulin metabolism, vitamin D function, and reproduction (14).
Some foods that are rich in magnesium include nuts and seeds like pumpkin seeds and almonds, dark leafy greens like spinach, legumes like black beans, peanut butter, avocado, and dark chocolate (70% cacao).
Early signs of magnesium deficiency include weakness, fatigue, nausea, headache, and loss of appetite (16). If the deficiency continues and worsens, symptoms like numbness and tingling of extremities, muscle cramping, depression, abnormal heart rhythms, and coronary spasms can occur (16) (17).
Nutrients rely on each other
I chose to discuss these three common nutrient deficiencies, vitamin D, calcium, and magnesium, to highlight another avenue of deficiency.
Some nutrients are necessary for the metabolism or absorption of other nutrients, and when we are deficient in one nutrient we can become deficient in another.
For example, you’ll notice above that magnesium plays a role in vitamin D function, and vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of calcium. So, when we are deficient in magnesium we can also become deficient in vitamin D and calcium which can lead to dysfunction in the body that can, over time, lead to disease.
You can learn more about body functions and food sources for 30 essential nutrients that we all need, by clicking this link and requesting your FREE copy of “30 Key Nutrients”.