Are You Lacking in Any of These Key Vitamins? Here’s How to Get More

Registered Dietician

| 5 min read

Woman taking a vitamin
Vitamins are an important part of your diet. They offer so much to benefit your body and your health. In general, the goal is to get your vitamins from food. This is possible by having a well-balanced diet with vegetables, fruit, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, heart-healthy fats and lean protein foods. Even though you may know this, it is easier said than done.
The 2010 dietary guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture stated that Americans are not getting enough nutrients, specifically Vitamin A, B12, C, D and K. With these deficiencies, there is an opportunity to make better choices and eat more nutritious food. However, eating perfectly every day is tricky, so supplements may be necessary.
Remember that a vitamin supplement is called a supplement because it’s supposed to supplement the diet. So focus on eating right daily, but while you are at it, take the time to choose a great multivitamin to help.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A deficiency usually occurs in underdeveloped countries. One of the first signals of lack of Vitamin A is night blindness, which is the inability or difficulty seeing in low-light situations. With extreme cases, an A deficiency can cause permanent blindness or even death. This is not very likely in the United States, but there are some cases of night blindness that do occur in pregnant and lactating women in developed countries.
The recommended goal is to get 5,000 International Units daily. The top 10 vitamin A-rich foods are:
  1. Liver pate
  1. Red spices, such as paprika, red pepper, cayenne and chili powder
  1. Sweet potatoes
  1. Carrots
  1. Dark leafy greens
  1. Butternut squash
  1. Dried herbs
  1. Lettuce
  1. Dried apricots
  1. Cantaloupe

Vitamin B12

A deficiency in vitamin B12 may cause the following symptoms or issues:
  • Weakness, fatigue or light-headedness
  • Rapid heart beat and breathing
  • Pale skin
  • Sore tongue
  • Easy bruising and bleeding, including bleeding gums
  • Upset stomach, diarrhea or constipation
  • Weight loss
  • Tingling or numbness in fingers or toes
  • Difficulty walking
  • Mood swings, depression
  • Memory loss, disorientation or dementia
The goal is to get 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 daily. For vegetarians, this vitamin usually must come from a supplement, since vitamin B12 comes from meat or dairy products. Here are the best sources of B12: clams, oysters, mussels, caviar, liver, octopus, fish, crab, lobster, beef, lamb, cheese and eggs.

Vitamin C

A lack of vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, can weaken your immune system and can lead to scurvy, a rare disease that can cause symptoms including fever, bleeding in the gums and diarrhea.
The daily goal is to get at least 60 mg of vitamin C. Here are some vitamin C-rich foods:
  • Red and green hot chile peppers
  • Guava
  • Bell peppers
  • Fresh thyme and parsley
  • Dark leafy greens, such as kale, mustard greens and garden cress
  • Cruciferous vegetables like, broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts
  • Kiwi
  • Papaya
  • Oranges
  • Tangerines
  • Clementines
  • Strawberries
Vitamin C also helps your body absorb iron. By pairing an iron-rich food with a vitamin C-rich food, you can avoid iron deficiency anemia as well.

Vitamin D

Lack of vitamin D can cause bone pain and muscle weakness. Low levels of vitamin D are associated with the following:
  • Cancer
  • Severe asthma in children
  • Cognitive impairment in adults
  • Increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease
There is evidence that a third of the population is deficient in vitamin D, partially due to the fact that vitamin D is the sun vitamin, meaning that the sun helps your body produce vitamin D. Since Michigan lacks sun during the winter, vitamin D deficiency is definitely prevalent here.
The goal is to have at least 600 IUs of vitamin D daily. There are few foods rich in vitamin D, including milk or orange juice enriched with vitamin D, cod liver oil, shiitake mushrooms and fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines or mackarel.

Vitamin K

It is rare for people to be truly deficient in vitamin K, which is important for bone health and blood clotting. Vitamin K is needed for your bones to absorb calcium properly. Lacking vitamin K usually means that there is some kind of malabsorption issue, such as celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, or Crohn’s disease.
If you have a heart condition and take a blood thinning medication, know that you can still have vitamin K foods, but you must keep it limited and consume a the same consistent amount daily. The goal is 90 micrograms of vitamin K daily.
Here are some vitamin K-rich foods for you to include in your daily diet:
  • Herbs
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Scallions
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Asparagus
  • Cabbage
  • Prunes
Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble vitamins. This means that they are stored in the liver and fatty tissue for your body to use and is eliminated more slowly than water-soluble vitamins. The risk for overdoing fat-soluble vitamins is possible when using supplements. However, consuming foods rich in fat-soluble vitamins will not be toxic for the body.
All complex B vitamins and vitamin C are water-soluble vitamins. This means it is more difficult for one to overdose because the excess is usually excreted in your urine. Again, levels of toxicity have been seen with supplementation, but not with food.

Vitamin Recommendations

Now that you know which vitamins Americans are lacking the most and how much is recommended daily, remember there are many other vitamins that are important to have regularly as well. The USDA has many reference materials to help you so that you don’t overdo it.
With that being said, I recommend having a physical annually to learn which vitamins you may be lacking. In the meantime and for starters, eat a well-balanced diet and try taking a reputable multivitamin as a supplement.
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Photo credit: Tassii

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