Thanks to the wide variety and availability of nutritious foods in the United States, nutrient deficiencies are not a common occurrence. Yet, some of us may be falling below the recommended daily allowances setting us up for a subpar nutrient status. Lacking an optimal nutritional standing can manifest itself in many ways - disrupting digestion, metabolism, nerve and enzyme function and water balance. Certain medical conditions such as osteoporosis and osteopenia due to deficiencies of calcium or vitamin D and anemia caused by insufficient iron intake, can have long term effects making it important to recognize which nutrients many of us may be coming up short in.
This mineral is a part of the protein hemoglobin which carries oxygen in the blood and is part of the protein myoglobin in muscles making oxygen available for muscle contraction. Young children and pregnant women are at risk due to rapid growth and higher iron needs. Adolescent girls and women of childbearing age are also at risk due to menstruation.
Symptoms of iron deficiency – Anemia, weakness, fatigue, pale skin, pale concave nails, headaches, inability to concentrate and lowered cold tolerance.
Food sources – Beef, beef and chicken liver, chicken, turkey, spinach, black beans, navy beans, swiss chard, iron-fortified cereals, and fish. Iron from animal sources are absorbed better than iron from plant sources.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body. It’s the main mineral of our bones and teeth. It’s also necessary for normal muscle contraction and relaxation, nerve functioning, blood clotting, blood pressure, and regulation of cell activities.
Symptoms of a calcium deficiency – Stunted growth in children, adult bone loss resulting in osteopenia or osteoporosis, fatigue, muscle cramps, and abnormal heart rhythms.
Food sources – Dairy foods (milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese) tofu, broccoli, turnip greens, and sardines.
3. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is necessary for mineralization of our bones by helping to absorb calcium and phosphorus.
Symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency – Abnormal growth in children (rickets) and bowing of the legs, joint pain, weakness and malformed teeth.
Food sources – Fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, milk fortified with vitamin D, enriched cereals, and the best source is the nonfood source of spending time outdoors in the sun.
Iodine is part of the thyroid hormone thyroxine which helps us regulate growth and our metabolism or the rate in which we burn calories. Women between the ages of 20-39 tend to have the lowest intakes of iodine.
Symptoms of an iodine deficiency – The development of a goiter, cretinism, and hypothyroidism.
Food sources – Table salt containing iodine, cod, haddock, shrimp, tuna, milk, seaweed and plants grown in iodine rich soil.
Magnesium is involved in bone mineralization, the building of protein, enzyme action, normal muscle function, transmission of nerve impulses and maintenance of our teeth. It’s estimated that up to 80% of Americans are not getting enough magnesium in their diets.
Symptoms of a magnesium deficiency – Unexplained weakness or fatigue, muscle twitches, appetite loss, confusion, and abnormal heart rhythms.
Food sources – Dark leafy greens such as spinach, collard greens, kale or Swiss chard, soybeans, avocados, bananas, dark chocolate, low-fat yogurt, and fish.
Potassium is involved in the maintenance of the fluid and electrolyte balance, transmission of nerve impulses, contraction of muscles including the heart to beat properly and to regulate blood pressure. Low potassium is known as hypokalemia and is more common in people with eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, or people with AIDS, alcoholics and those who have had bariatric surgery. About one out of every five people hospitalized in the United States has a low potassium level.
Symptoms of a potassium deficiency – Weakness, tiredness, cramping in arm or leg muscles, tingling or numbness, nausea or vomiting, constipation, palpitations of the heart, and fainting due to low blood pressure. Potassium deficiencies also usually accompany dehydration.
Food sources – Bananas, honeydew melon, baked potato, lentils, salmon, winter squash, sweet potato, yogurt, halibut, cantaloupe, milk, pistachios, raisins, chicken breast and tuna.
The best way to avoid a nutrient deficiency is to eat a well-balanced diet and to be familiar with the characteristics of a nutritious diet. These characteristics are:
1. Adequacy – The foods you choose provide enough of each essential nutrient, fiber and calories.
2. Balance – The choices you make do not overemphasize one nutrient or food at the expense of another.
3. Calorie control – You eat enough food to provide the amount of energy you need to maintain an appropriate weight for your height.
4. Moderation – You avoid foods providing an excess amount of fat, salt, sugar or other unnecessary ingredients.
5. Variety – The foods you choose from day to day differ so you are obtaining a wide variety of various nutrients needed for good health.
If you follow these characteristics on a daily basis, your chance of having a nutrient deficiency will be reduced to a bare minimum.