Nutrient deficiencies can cause a variety of issues, but many people don’t realize they’re lacking in these essential nutrients until they go to their doctor for their symptoms. These symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening depending on the severity of the deficiency.
So, here are the top five nutrient deficiencies, how to recognize the symptoms, and what you can eat to help ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need!
Iron is an essential mineral that makes up a large portion of your red blood cells and helps transport oxygen throughout your body. There are two types of iron - heme iron, and non-heme iron. Heme iron is only found in animal protein (like red meat) and most people are able to absorb this fairly easily. Non-heme iron can be found in meat and vegetables, however, it’s not as easily absorbed as heme iron.
The most common result of iron deficiency is anemia, and symptoms usually include “ tiredness, weakness, a weakened immune system, and impaired brain function” (1).
The best way to get enough iron in your diet is to eat red meat, organ meat, or shellfish (for heme iron), and beans, seeds, and dark leafy greens for non-heme iron. Vitamin C has been shown to improve iron absorption.
Iodine is necessary for normal thyroid function and the production of thyroid hormones (1). These hormones contribute to brain and bone development and help regulate your metabolism.
People who have an iodine deficiency may develop an enlarged thyroid gland, also known as a goiter. They may also suffer from an increased heart rate, shortness of breath, or weight gain.
The best way to get more iodine in your diet is to eat seaweed or fish. Dairy and eggs are also decent sources of iodine, and many countries require that it’s added to salt to avoid deficiencies.
Calcium is an important mineral that’s utilized by every cell in your body. It keeps your bones and teeth strong and serves as a signaling molecule, ensuring that your heart, muscles, and nerves function properly.
The most common sign of calcium deficiency is osteoporosis, which leads to softer bones that can become brittle and more easily broken.
The best sources of calcium include fish, dairy, and dark green veggies like kale, spinach, or broccoli.
4. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is produced when you’re exposed to sunlight and is an important vitamin that affects all of our cells. It essentially tells cells what genes to turn on or off, and almost all cells have a receptor for Vitamin D. People who live in areas with less sunlight may need to supplement their Vitamin D, as there are not many foods that contain it naturally.
People who lack sufficient Vitamin D may have weakened immune systems, muscle weakness, and an increased risk of cancer (1).
While most of us get some of our Vitamin D from the sun, there are a few foods that are good sources of Vitamin D as well. These include fatty fish (like salmon, sardines, or trout), cod liver oil, and egg yolks.
Magnesium is an anti-inflammatory mineral that’s responsible for over 300 metabolic processes. It’s essential for bone & teeth health and can help protect against a variety of issues like high blood pressure and diabetes. (2)
The most common symptoms of a magnesium deficiency include muscle cramps, weakness, restless leg syndrome, heart arrhythmias, fatigue, and sleeplessness. More serious deficiencies may result in insulin resistance and high blood pressure.
The best way to get more magnesium in your diet is to eat whole grains, nuts, dark, leafy veggies, and dark chocolate.
Many of these nutrient deficiencies are easy to avoid with the right diet. By eating a variety of whole foods, most people are able to get what they need without supplements and can avoid any of the long-term consequences of nutrient deficiencies.