Every essential nutrients are absolutely necessary for good health. That means 16 vitamins, 72 minerals, 12 amino acids, and 3 omegas. It is possible to get some of them from a balanced, whole food diet. This means unprocessed fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and meats. However, America’s diet lacks several very important nutrients due to all the processed foods. Because of the lacking nutrients in our dirt there are 7 common deficiencies.
1. Iron Deficiency
Iron an essential mineral, is a main component of red blood cells, where it binds with hemoglobin and transports oxygen to cells. Iron deficiencies are more common in women. However it affects men as well.
There are two types of iron nutrients:
- Heme iron: Only found in animal products, and red meat contains particularly high amounts. It is the easily absorbed by the body.
- Non-heme iron: More common to our diets is this form of iron. Found in both animal and plant nutrition. However, it’s not absorbed as easily as heme iron.
Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world. It affects more than 25% of people worldwide (1, 2). Shockingly 47% in preschool children are deficient in iron. More understandable 30% of menstruating women may be lacking iron, due to their monthly cycles. And up to 42% of young, pregnant women may suffer from this deficiency as well. Vegetarians and vegans have an increased risk of deficiency since they consume only non-heme iron, which is not absorbed as well as heme iron (3, 4).
The most common healthy issues of iron deficiency is anemia. Meaning the quantity of red blood cells is decreased, and the blood becomes less able to carry oxygen throughout the body. Symptoms can include: tiredness, weakness, weakened immune system and impaired brain function (5, 6).
The best dietary sources of heme iron include:
- Red meat: 3 ounces (85 g) of ground beef provides almost 30% of the RDI (7).
- Organ meat: One slice of liver (81 g) provides more than 50% of the RDI.
- Shellfish, such as clams, mussels and oysters: 3 ounces (85 g) of cooked oysters provide roughly 50% of the RDI.
- Canned sardines: One 3.75 ounce can (106 g) provides 34% of the RDI.
The best dietary sources of non-heme iron include:
- Beans: Half a cup of cooked kidney beans (3 ounces or 85 g) provides 33% of the RDI.
- Seeds, such as pumpkin, sesame and squash seeds: One ounce (28 g) of roasted pumpkin and squash seeds provide 11% of the RDI.
- Broccoli, kale and spinach: One ounce (28 g) of fresh kale provides 5.5% of the RDI.
BOTTOM LINE: Iron deficiency is very common. Caution among young women, children and vegetarians is very important. It may cause anemia, tiredness, weakness, weakened immune system and impaired brain function. Without the proper nutrition you can put you health at risk for more serious illnesses or injury.
2. Iodine Deficiency
An essential mineral for normal thyroid function and the production of thyroid hormones Iodine deficiencies can cause many issues(8). Thyroid hormones aid in many processes in the body. These include: normal growth, brain development, bone maintenance and regulating the metabolic rate. Affecting one-thrid of the world’s population, it is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world. (9, 10, 11).
One common symptom of iodine deficiency is an enlarged thyroid gland aka Goiter. It can also cause an increased heart rate, shortness of breath and weight gain (8). Severe iodine deficiency may cause serious adverse effects, especially in children can include: mental retardation and developmental abnormalities (8, 10).
There are several good dietary sources of iodine:
- Seaweed: Only 1 g of kelp contains 460–1000% of the RDI.
- Fish: 3 ounces (85 g) of baked cod provide 66% of the RDI.
- Dairy: One cup of plain yogurt provides about 50% of the RDI.
- Eggs: One large egg provides 16% of the RDI.
However, keep in mind that these amounts can vary. Found mostly in the soil and the sea, so if the soil is iodine-poor then the produce grown in it will be low in iodine as well. Some countries have added iodine to salt, which has successfully reduced the severity of the problem (12). However, I would recommend buying sea salt or Himalayan pink salt for a natural way of adding iodine to your diet.
BOTTOM LINE: Iodine is super important to your body. Lacking the nutient may cause enlargement of the thyroid gland and severe iodine deficiency can cause mental retardation and developmental abnormalities in children.
3. Vitamin D Deficiency
A fat-soluble vitamin, Vitamin D works like a steroid hormone in the body. It is also know as the sunshine vitamin. By traveling through the bloodstream and into cells, turns genes on or off. Most every cell in the body has a receptor for vitamin D. the body can produced vitamin D through the cholesterol in the skin when it is exposed to sunlight. People who live far from the equator or spend most the time indoors are highly likely to be deficient (13, 14).
In America, around 42% of people may be vitamin D deficient. This deficiency rises up to 74% of the elderly and 82% in people with dark skin, since their skin produces less vitamin D in response to sunlight (15, 16). Vitamin D deficiency symptoms are not usually visible, the symptoms are subtle and may develop over years or decades (17, 18).
Adults with this deficiency may experience muscle weakness, bone loss and increased risk of fractures. Where in children, it may cause growth delays and soft bones also known as Rickets (17, 20, 21). Vitamin D deficiency may aid in reduced immune function and an increased risk of cancer (22). Unfortunately, very few foods contain significant amounts of vitamin D.
The best dietary sources of vitamin D are (23):
- Cod liver oil: A single tablespoon contains 227% of the RDI.
- Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines or trout: A small, 3-ounce serving of cooked salmon (85 g) contains 75% of the RDI.
- Egg yolks: One large egg yolk contains 7% of the RDI.
To prevent deficiency in vitamin D taking a supplement is the best idea. As well as increasing their sun exposure. It is very hard to get sufficient amounts through your food alone.
BOTTOM LINE: Vitamin D deficiency is super common. Symptoms include muscle weakness, bone loss, increased risk of fractures and soft bones in children. It is very difficult to get sufficient amounts from your food alone.
4. Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Vitamin B12 or cobalamin, is a water-soluble vitamin. It is essential for blood formation. It is also important for brain and nerve function. Every cell in your body needs B12 to preform normally. However, the body is unable to produce it so we must get it from food or supplements. Vitamin B12 only comes in animal products. The exception of nori seaweed and tempeh.
Studies have shown that vegetarians and vegans are at a high risk of being deficient in vitamin B12. Some numbers go as high as 80–90% (24, 25). 20% of elderly people may also be deficient in vitamin B12, since absorption decreases with age (26, 27, 28). The absorption of vitamin B12 is harder to absorb than most vitamins, since it needs help from a protein known as intrinsic factor. Some people are lacking in this protein and supplementing is the only way to ensure you have proper amounts of B12 for your health and wellness.
One symptom of vitamin B12 deficiency is megaloblastic anemia. Mean a blood disorder that enlarges the red blood cells. Other symptoms include: impaired brain function and elevated homocysteine levels. Which is a risk factor for several diseases (29, 30).
Dietary sources of vitamin B12 include:
- Shellfish, especially clams and oysters: A 3-ounce (85 g) portion of cooked clams provides 1400% of the RDI.
- Organ meat: One 2-ounce slice (60 grams) of liver provides more than 1000% of the RDI.
- Meat: A small, 6-ounce beef steak (170 grams) provides 150% the RDI.
- Eggs: Each whole egg provides about 6% of the RDI.
- Milk products: One cup of whole milk provides about 18% of the RDI.
BOTTOM LINE: Vitamin B12 deficiency is a common issues and even more so in vegetarians and the elderly. The most common symptoms include a blood disorder, impaired brain function and elevated homocysteine levels.
5. Calcium Deficiency
Calcium is needed for every cell in your body. It strengthens bone and teeth, especially during times of rapid growth. It is also part of maintenance of bone health. Calcium plays a role as a signaling molecule throughout the body. Without it, the heart, muscles and nerves would not be able to function normally. The concentration of calcium in the blood is regulated naturally, and any excess is stored in bones. If there is lack of calcium in the diet, calcium is taken from the bones causing the bone to lose density. This is how is how osteoporosis starts.
One study found that in the US alone, less than 15% of teenage girls and fewer than 10% of women over 50 get the recommended daily calcium intake (31). In the same study, less than 22% of young, teenage boys and men over 50 get the recommended daily calcium intake from food alone. Supplementing is the only logical way to get the daily amount needed to help lower, if not prevent the loss of bone density. Calcium plays such a big role in our over all health that it is highly important to ensure you are getting enough of it every day.
Dietary sources of calcium include:
- Boned fish: One can of sardines contains 44% of the RDI.
- Dairy products: One cup of milk contains 35% of the RDI. However this is a fortified calcium and the body has a hard time absorbing and using it.
- Dark green vegetables, such as kale, spinach, bok choy and broccoli: One ounce of fresh kale provides 5.6% of the RDI.
BOTTOM LINE: Low calcium intake especially in young females and the elderly is very common. The most common symptom of calcium deficiency is an increased risk of osteoporosis in older age.
6. Vitamin A Deficiency
Vitamin A, am essential fat-soluble vitamin, helps form and maintain healthy skin, teeth, bones and cell membranes. It produces our eye pigments – which are necessary for vision (38).
The two different types of dietary vitamin A are:
- Preformed vitamin A: This type of vitamin A is found in animal products like meat, fish, poultry and dairy.
- Pro-vitamin A: This type of vitamin A is found in plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables. Beta-carotene, which the body turns into vitamin A, is the most common form.
More than 75% of people in America get more than enough vitamin A and do not need to worry about deficiency (39). However, vitamin A deficiency is common in many developing countries. Vitamin A deficiency can cause both temporary and permanent eye damage. This deficiency may even lead to blindness. In fact, vitamin A deficiency is the world’s leading cause of blindness. A lack of Vitamin A in the body can also suppress immune function or increase mortality, especially among children and pregnant or lactating women (40).
Dietary sources of preformed vitamin A include:
- Organ meat: One 2-ounce slice (60 g) of beef liver provides more than 800% the RDI.
- Fish liver oil: One tablespoon contains roughly 500% the RDI.
Dietary sources of beta-carotene (pro-vitamin A) include:
- Sweet potatoes: One medium, 6-ounce boiled sweet potato (170 g) contains 150% of the RDI.
- Carrots: One large carrot provides 75% of the RDI.
- Dark green leafy vegetables: One ounce (28 g) of fresh spinach provides 18% of the RDI.
While it is very important to consume enough vitamin A, too much can cause toxicity. This does not apply to pro-vitamin A, such as beta-carotene which is from a whole food supplement or foods. High amounts of beta-carotene may cause the skin to become slightly orange, but it is not dangerous. The saying you are what you eat is true here, too many orange foods and you too will be orange. I speak from experience here and can tell you it looks like a bad at home spray tan! LOL!
BOTTOM LINE: Vitamin A deficiency is not as common in America as it is in developing countries. But is can be a issue with people who eat an unbalanced diet. It can cause eye damage and lead to blindness, as well as suppress immune function and increase mortality among women and children.
7. Magnesium Deficiency
Magnesium is an essential mineral in the body. It is a building block for the bone and teeth, and it also aids in more than 300 enzyme reactions (42). Almost half of the US population (48%) consumed less than the daily required amount of magnesium in 2005-2006 (43). Lack of magnesium has been associated with several diseases, including type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease and osteoporosis (43, 44). Low blood levels of magnesium are particularly common among hospitalized patients. Studies find that 9–65% of them are magnesium deficient (45, 46, 47). This may be caused by disease, drug use, reduced digestive function or poor diet (48).
Symptoms of severe magnesium deficiency include: abnormal heartbeat, muscle cramps, restless leg syndrome (RLS), fatigue and migraines (49, 50, 51). Long-term symptoms that you may not notice right away can include: insulin resistance and high blood pressure.
Dietary sources of magnesium include:
- Whole grains: One cup of oats (6 ounces or 170 g) contains 74% the RDI.
- Nuts: 20 almonds provide 17% of the RDI.
- Dark chocolate: 1 ounce (30 g) of dark chocolate (70–85%) provides 15% of the RDI.
- Leafy, green vegetables: 1 ounce (30 g) of raw spinach provides 6% of the RDI.
BOTTOM LINE: Most of the US are get very little magnesium daily. Making this deficiency common in Western countries. Low magnesium intake has been associated with many health conditions and diseases.
What To Do About It
It is possible to be deficient in almost every essential nutrient. There are 16 vitamins, 72 minerals, 24 amino acids, and 3 omegas, but these 7 are by far the most common deficiencies. The people who have the highest rick of these are Children, young women, the elderly and vegetarians. The best way to prevent a deficiency is to eat a balanced, whole food-based diet that includes nutrient-dense foods (both plants and animals) and take a natural whole food supplement.
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