Are you nutrient deficient?

vitaminsGiven the abundance of food in America, it’s hard to fathom that people could possibly be deficient in anything food related, let alone nutrients. Surprisingly, this is not the case.

The US Department of Agriculture reports that Americans are significantly deficient, 50 percent or more, in vitamins A, C and E, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Additionally, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than half of Americans lack in vitamin D. This includes 70 percent of elderly Americans and 90 percent for people of color.

Given these alarming statistics, we thought it would be wise to look at a few of the most common vitamin and nutrient deficiencies and the foods that can be eaten to supplement them into our diets.

Iron

Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency and the leading cause of anemia in the United States as reported by the CDC. This deficiency can cause mental and physical developmental problems in babies, and cause fatigue and mental impairment in teens and adults. Because meats tend to carry a greater amount of iron, vegetarian diets can often be lacking when it comes to iron intake. Fortunately, there are ways to supplement for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.

For consumers of meat, beef, duck, and lamb are all good sources of iron. Organ meats like liver or giblets are also excellent. Clams, oysters, shrimps and sardines are good sources from the sea. Options abound for vegetarians too: spinach, lentils, chickpeas, almost any of the bean varieties, especially white beans, pumpkin seeds, dry fortified cereals and tomatoes are all good sources.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin” due to our body’s ability to synthesize it with exposure to sunlight. It’s commonly linked to rickets, a condition that leads to bone deformity in children. While this isn’t much of an issue in the US, research has linked vitamin D to a host of other conditions including seasonal affective disorder, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis and cancer.

Vitamin D can be supplemented with cooked fish like tuna, salmon, sardines or mackerel, egg yolks, shitake mushrooms, fortified dairy products, orange juice and some cereals. The best way to get vitamin D is still sunshine. 15 -20 minutes a day should do the trick.

Vitamin B12

Our bodies use vitamin B12 to make our nerve and blood cells, and it also plays a role in brain function and the formation of DNA: the stuff that makes us, “us.” B12 deficiency is often under-diagnosed as it isn’t commonly tested and its range of levels is often misunderstood. Research indicates as much as 40% of people are deficient in B12.

Symptoms include several neurological disorders including depression, anxiety, dementia or Alzheimer’s-like symptoms. Lethargy, unwanted weight loss and developmental issues in children are also commonly seen.

Vitamin B12 is only available naturally through meat products including meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy. It’s especially critical for vegetarians to supplement their diet.

Calcium

We all know that calcium plays a major part in bone growth and strength, but for some reason nearly 70% off Americans aren’t getting enough. Continually falling short of the daily allowances can lead to osteoporosis, depression, tooth decay, insomnia, brittle nails and more.

Dairy products, including milk, yogurt and cheeses are great sources of calcium, as are many leafy greens including kale spinach and collard greens. Fortified cereals, fortified orange juice and enriched breads and grains make excellent sources too.

Magnesium

Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body and is involved in over 300 different chemical reactions therein. It helps regulate the heart, nervous and immune systems, as well as maintaining bone strength. Magnesium deficiency can show itself in a wide range of symptoms from heart arrhythmia to depression to seizures.

Fortunately, there are many sources to get your magnesium: almonds and cashews, dark greens including Swiss chard and spinach, dark chocolate, espresso, avocado, raisins and even halibut.

These are just a handful of the vitamins, minerals and nutrients we need to make sure we’re getting proper amounts of. Fortunately, there are a multitude of supplements available and some very tasty options to boost our intake.

Photo credit: TheKarenD

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