It’s been proven that 31% of people in the United States are at risk for a deficiency in at least one vitamin or mineral that is essential for optimal health. With an abundance of food that we have available at all times, it may be hard to believe that we don’t get enough nutrition. Based on a recent study, there are five top nutrients that most of us need more of.
Would it be advisable for you to be worried about being low in a couple of nutrients or minerals? I would say yes. Vitamins and minerals are essential for optimal health. Being low may not cause immediate symptoms, but it puts you at risk for many serious diseases that can affect your brain, heart, blood, immune system, metabolism, bones, mental health, etc.
Nutrients are key pieces your body needs to keep all of your systems in good working order. Missing just one or two pieces can throw off the delicate balance you need to be healthy and feel your best. Most nutrients don’t have just one vital role to play within the body, they play many different vital roles.
How can you tell if you are at risk of a nutrient deficiency? It’s not always obvious. Symptoms may not be felt for a long time, or they may be very vague and not specific. For example, fatigue, irritability, pain, weakened immune system, and palpitations can all be signs of various nutrient deficiencies. I will be discussing the five most common nutritional deficiencies, including the number one most common nutrient, Vitamin B6.
1 – Vitamin B6 Nutritional Deficiency
The number one most common nutrient deficiency in the US was B6. This vitamin is essential for your blood, brain, and metabolism. It helps with the formation of hemoglobin in the blood. This is the part that carries oxygen around. It also helps to maintain normal levels of homocysteine, which is linked with heart disease. Vitamin B6 also plays an important part in the production of neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers that help nerve cells to communicate. B6 also is involved in hundreds of enzyme reactions in the body.
Serious Vitamin B6 deficiency symptoms include depression, confusion, convulsions, and microcytic anemia. Mild deficiency symptoms include increased risk for heart disease and Alzheimer’s. I wouldn’t say that these are less serious, but are still serious. This is why B6 is so essential for health.
Vitamin B6 is found in all of the food groups. High-fiber cereals are often fortified with B6, so if you eat high-fiber cereal, you will most likely have high levels of B6. This vitamin is also found in high quantities in potatoes, fruits like bananas, and various animal products (poultry, fish, and organ meat).
For a recipe that is high in Vitamin B6, click here. This chicken would be great over a salad or along with your favorite roasted veggies.
2 – Vitamin B12 Nutritional Deficiency
Vitamin B12 is also very important for your brain and blood. It helps create healthy red blood cells and helps with the formation of the outer coating of nerve cells, which is very important for the optimal functioning of the nervous system.
It can be difficult for vitamin B12 to absorb from your food so it’s important to have adequate acid and digestive enzymes in the stomach. B12 is strongly bound to the proteins in food and the stomach enzymes will help to break those bonds and free the vitamin so your body can absorb it.
B12 deficiency can be caused by pernicious anemia. This is a type of anemia that is an autoimmune disease that affects the stomach. It reduces the ability to absorb vitamin B12. A B12 deficiency can then lead to another type of anemia called megaloblastic anemia. Low levels of B12 can also cause neurological damage.
It’s not naturally present in most plant-based foods, except it is found in some nutritional yeast products. It is found in dairy, eggs, fish, poultry, and meat naturally. It is especially high in clams, beef liver, trout, and salmon. Also, you can find many kinds of breakfast cereal that are fortified with it.
If you are taking B12 supplements or eating foods that contain it, your levels of stomach acid and digestive enzymes aren’t as critical. This is because when you add vitamin B12 to foods and supplements, it’s not tightly bound to their proteins and this makes it much more easily to be absorbed.
3 – Vitamin C Nutrient Deficiency
Vitamin C plays an important role in wound healing via a protein called collagen. It also aids in the production of neurotransmitters, metabolism, and the proper functioning of the immune system. It also acts as an antioxidant that helps to reduce the damage caused by free radicals that can worsen diseases such as certain cancers and heart disease. Vitamin C also helps your body absorb iron, which is an essential mineral and is in the top five nutrient deficiencies found in the blog post.
Collagen is a critical component of connective tissue and when there’s a deficiency, it is known as scurvy. Symptoms include weak connective tissue such as bleeding, wounds that won’t heal, and loss of teeth.
Vitamin C is present in many fruits and vegetables. Ones that are particularly high in Vitamin C include bell peppers, oranges, and orange juice. Other high sources of Vitamin C include kiwi, broccoli, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, tomato juice, cantaloupe, cabbage, and cauliflower. Vitamin C is not naturally present in grains, but some breakfast cereals are fortified with it.
While picking foods for Vitamin C, pick the freshest choices since levels of the nutrient naturally diminish over time the longer the food is stored. Try to eat Vitamin C-rich foods raw if at all possible. If you do cook them, then steam or microwave them instead of boiling because the vitamin is destroyed by heat and is water-soluble.
This overnight oats recipe is loaded with Vitamin C and is a great way to start your day!
4 – Vitamin D Nutrient Deficiency
Vitamin D, otherwise known as the “sunshine vitamin” is vital for your bones. It aids the absorption of calcium. When your body has enough calcium, it can maintain normal bone mineralization and prevent issues in the muscles that lead to cramps and spasms. Making sure you get enough Vitamin D and calcium you can also help protect against osteoporosis. In addition to all of the bone and muscle impacts, Vitamin D also helps to reduce inflammation and modulate both immune function and sugar metabolism.
Without enough Vitamin D your bones can become thin, brittle, or misshapen. Vitamin D prevents issues known as rickets (in children) and osteomalacia (in adults).
Your skin makes Vitamin D when it’s exposed to the UV rays of the sun and not many foods naturally contain it. Vitamin D-rich food sources include fatty fish and fish liver oils (e.g., salmon, trout, cod liver oil). Different food sources that naturally contain a limited amount of Vitamin D include egg yolks, beef liver, and cheddar cheese. Some mushrooms can contain Vitamin D—particularly those exposed to UV light.
The majority of the dietary Vitamin D that individuals in the US get is from fortified foods and beverages. These include a few dairy products (mostly milk), certain plant milk (e.g., soy, almond, or oat milk), different breakfast cereals, and a few types of orange juice. Make certain to read the nutrition labels to see if and how much Vitamin D is in each serving of the food or beverage.
For more on Vitamin D, check out this blog post.
5 – Iron Nutrient Deficiency
And finally, we come to Iron. Iron is a mineral essential for healthy blood so that it can transport oxygen all throughout your body the entire day. This happens through a compound in your red blood cells called “hemoglobin.” Iron also helps your muscles (like Vitamin D) and your connective tissue (like Vitamin C). Having adequate iron is fundamental for physical growth, neurological development, hormone production, and the function of your cells.
A deficiency in iron is commonly known as “anemia.” Menstruating women are more likely to be lower in iron simply because of their regular loss of blood.
Generally iron in the body is in the blood, but some are stored in the liver, spleen, bone marrow, and muscles. This is why iron deficiency progresses slowly from depleting your stores (mild iron deficiency), to decreasing the number of red blood cells (marginal iron deficiency), before you get to full-out iron deficiency anemia.
Iron is normally found in numerous food sources in one of two forms: heme and nonheme. Animal-based foods contain the more absorbable heme form. Plant-based food sources naturally contain nonheme iron. This is where Vitamin C comes in. Vitamin C aids the absorption of non-heme iron from plants, which is why, if plants are the main source of iron in your diet, it’s important to combine iron-rich plants with Vitamin C-rich plants in the same meal.
Some of the best sources of iron include fortified cereals, oysters, white beans, dark chocolate, beef liver, lentils, spinach, and tofu. Try out this smoothie that has iron.
Thirty-three percent of people in the US are in danger of at least one nutrient deficiency. Most commonly, that deficient nutrient is Vitamin B6, yet there are also many individuals that are deficient in vitamins B12, C, and D, as well as the mineral iron. Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients since everyone needs them on a consistent basis for good health. Lacking in any one nutrient can have far-reaching consequences.
Eating a nutrient-rich diet with a variety of foods can help everyone achieve their health and nutrition goals.
To know if you’re at risk for a nutrient deficiency, consult a Registered Dietitian who can review your foods and supplements. [I can help. Book your call today to see if my services will work for you.
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I now offer genetics testing that can help determine if you are prone to be deficient in certain vitamins and minerals. For more information on 3×4 Genetics Testing, click here. If you are ready to order your test and get your results soon, click here to order.
It’s always best to try and get the needed vitamins and minerals through diet, but there are times that we just can’t get enough. Check out my supplement store for a list of high-quality supplements.
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