We all know we should be eating a varied and balanced diet, right?
But the majority of us don’t. And even if we think we are, there’s still many vitamins and minerals that we are deficient in.
Vitamins and minerals are needed for the general health and efficient growth of tissues and functioning of organs. Vitamins are organic compounds required by the body for normal functioning. Whereas minerals are chemical elements. Vitamins can be water or fat soluble.
Now I want to point out that eating more of a certain food or taking supplements doesn’t necessarily resolve the issue. If your body is not working efficiently, you won’t be able to absorb the nutrients and will just pee the stuff out. Which makes it pretty expensive, as well as pointless.
I’m just going to give a broad overview in which nutrients we in the Western world, are deficient in. You can then work out based on symptoms, what you may need to increase in your diet.
This is one of most common mineral deficiencies.
It’s vital for carrying oxygen around the body (by way of binding to Haemoglobin) so if there’s not enough of this stuff in your body, you can imagine it’s going to cause all sorts of issues.
The two types of dietary iron are:
Heme iron. This type of iron is very well absorbed. It’s only found in animal foods, with red meat containing particularly high amounts. This is where vegetarians and vegans need to supplement.
Non-heme iron. This type, found in both animal and plant foods, is more common. It is not absorbed as easily as heme iron.
Children are actually highly likely to be iron deficient. It’s always best to give them foods which naturally have iron in, rather than fortified cereals which have all sorts of other nasties added to them. Around 30% of menstruating women may be deficient due to monthly blood loss, and up to 42% of young, pregnant women may be deficient as well.
Symptoms of low iron include tiredness, weakness, a weakened immune system, and impaired brain function. Excessive iron intake can be related to insufficient calcium and magnesium in the body because these minerals compete with each other for absorption. So, as always, don’t overdo it on one supplement without thinking what it could affect elsewhere in the body.
The best foods to eat for heme iron are red meat or organ meat (liver, kidneys etc.) and for non-heme would be things like kidney beans and green leafy vegetables.
This is a fat soluble vitamin which means they are stored in the tissues and can be called upon when required. However, if you have a low fat diet, there may not be enough fatty acids available to transport these vitamins to where they’re needed.
Amazingly, almost every cell in your body has a receptor for vitamin D. So this stuff is pretty important.
Vitamin D is produced from cholesterol in your skin upon exposure to sunlight. Therefore, people who live far from the equator are likely to be deficient unless their dietary intake is adequate or they supplement with vitamin D. Deficiency is not usually obvious, as its symptoms are subtle and may develop over years or decades. But bearing in mind how little sun the majority of us get, you can assume we’re all pretty much deficient in this one.
Adults who are deficient in vitamin D may experience muscle weakness, bone loss, and an increased risk of fractures. In children, it may cause growth delays and soft bones (rickets). Also, vitamin D deficiency has been shown to play a role in reduced immune function and an increased risk of cancer. (The Role of Vitamin D in Human Health: A Paradigm Shift, 2011, Joan M. Lappe).
It is difficult to get Vitamin D from dietary sources but the best one is cod liver oil. I always say get out in the sun (doesn’t even have to be ‘sunny’) for at least 20 minutes per day. If that’s difficult then supplementation is the way forward.
This is a water soluble vitamin, meaning you need to get it from dietary sources. It is essential for blood formation, as well as brain and nerve function but essentially every cell in your body needs B12 to function properly.
B12 is only found in sufficient amounts in animal products, although certain types of seaweed may provide small quantities. Therefore, those who do not eat animal products are at a seriously increased risk of deficiency.
Absorption of B12 is more complex than that of other vitamins because it’s aided by a protein known as ‘intrinsic factor’. Some people are lacking in this protein and may therefore need higher doses of supplements.
A common symptom of B12 deficiency is impaired brain function and and elevated homocysteine levels, which is a risk factor for several diseases.
Shellfish is the best source of this vitamin along with meat/organ meat and eggs.
Calcium is essential for every cell in your body. It mineralizes bones and teeth, especially during times of rapid growth and is also very important for bone maintenance. Calcium serves as a ‘signalling’ molecule and without it your nerves wouldn’t be able to function, your muscles wouldn’t be able to contract and blood wouldn’t clot. So pretty important we have a sufficient amount in our diet! However, sufficient stomach acid must be present to ensure the absorption of calcium from our food. This goes for pretty much all nutrients.
The calcium concentration in your blood is tightly regulated, and any excess is stored in bones. If your intake is lacking, your bones will release calcium. That is why the most common symptom of calcium deficiency is osteoporosis, characterized by softer and more fragile bones. Conversely, if your intake of calcium is too high (usually via supplementation) it can lead to formation of “stones” in the body, especially in the gall bladder and the kidneys.
Boned fish, dairy products and dark green leafy vegetables are great sources of calcium.
Magnesium is a key mineral in your body. Essential for bone and teeth structure, it’s also involved in more than 300 enzyme reactions.
Deficiency may be caused by disease, drug use, reduced digestive function, or inadequate magnesium intake. The latter 2 being the most likely these days.
The main symptoms of severe magnesium deficiency include abnormal heart rhythm, muscle cramps, restless leg syndrome, fatigue, and migraines. However, more subtle, long-term symptoms that appear gradually include insulin resistance, high blood pressure and PMS. So it’s really important to ensure that your magnesium intake is at the right level. The likelihood is it’s not, because western diets are typically high in sugar and low in good fats and vegetables.
Nuts (small handful), good quality dark chocolate (80% plus) and yet again, dark green, leafy vegetables are the best sources of magnesium. Those green leafy vegetables just keep popping up don’t they?
It’s really important to be aware of the potential deficiencies that you and your family have and the best ways to naturally restore the balance. I believe that actually there doesnt always need to be a ‘balance’, particularly when you’re trying to correct an imbalance in the body. Sometimes certain foods need to be cut and others increased supplemented to achieve overall health. Supplementation should only be advised by a professional and with high quality products that the body can absorb and utilise efficiently. Unfortunately, ‘off the shelf’ supplements often aren’t worth the money as they aren’t potent enough to make much difference.
If you are concerned that your health may be declining because of a deficiency – or any other reason! – and want some help, message us here.