It is always recommended to eat a balanced diet, but do you know why this is so? It certainly makes us healthy, but if you are to get into the nitty gritty of it, are you aware of the exact reasons why this is recommended? The answer lies in ensuring that you get all the nutrients that the body needs. This is important because it prevents nutritional deficiencies which, just as the name suggests, is a lack of a specific nutrient(s). It is important to note that even though you may be eating a balanced diet, it is still possible to get certain nutritional deficiencies.
This happens because other factors affect nutrient absorption. These factors include old age, genetic predisposition, health conditions, use of certain medication and even the source of food ingested. In some cases, the method of preparation of the right foods leads to loss of nutrients. The truth is that you need not let this happen if you are armed with the right information. Before you can avoid nutritional deficiencies, it is essential to recognize them in order to know how to fix them.
NOTE: This is just a general guide and is provided for informational purposes. If you suspect that you may be suffering from a deficiency, get professional medical attention. It is not recommended to self-diagnose deficiencies, and in any case, a number of the conditions below may not be remedies by making dietary changes alone.
1. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is one of the most prevalent nutritional deficiencies across the world. More than ever, millions of people are not getting enough Vitamin D in their bodies. this may come as a surprise because Vitamin D is commonly known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, so it is almost expected that such a vitamin would be easy to get in adequate amounts.
There are many effects of not having enough Vitamin D in the body because it plays an integral role in optimal body functions. In fact, research shows that this Vitamin has an effect on as many as 200 genes in the body. It is referred to as the sunshine vitamin because more than 50% of the amount required is produced by the body following exposure to natural sunlight.
Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency:
- Chronic fatigue – this is thought to be as a result of reduced energy production by the cells as well as reduced muscle function.
- Excessive sweating is one of the common symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency, and is thought to occur due to Vitamin D’s effect on the nervous system.
- Feeling under the blues is yet another sign of Vitamin D deficiency. This happens because low Vitamin D levels affect the amount of serotonin produced by the body. Serotonin has an effect on one’s mood and mental health. This deficiency is also known to be the culprit behind seasonal affective disorder (SAD) as this is linked to changes in seasons and less sunlight.
How to Avoid Vitamin D Deficiency:
- Ensure that you get adequate sun exposure on large parts of the skin. These include the chest, back, arms and legs. Science shows that the best time to do this is as close as possible to the solar noon. The one thing to be careful about is to limit the length of exposure. A a general guide, once your skin has turned the lightest shade darker, the body switches off the Vitamin D synthesis. for many people, this lasts between 15 and 20 minutes. Any further exposure to the sun will only cause damage to the skin cells. Remember, to get these benefits, do not use sunscreen for the 20 minutes.
- Increase your intake of foods rich in Vitamin D. These include egg yolks, beef liver as well as fatty fish such as tuna and sardines.
- Opt for foods fortified with Vitamin D and cut down on processed foods.
2. Vitamin E Deficiency:
Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin whose key functions in the body make it an important nutrient. Its main function is to act as an antioxidant. The presence of antioxidants in the body protects the cells from free radicals which cause damage.
The vitamin is also required for a healthy brain as it has been shown to prevent the loss of an important molecule in the organ. It is important to mention that while the human brain has a high concentration of DHA (one of the brain’s building blocks and an omega-3 fatty acid), the brain cannot synthesize it and it has to be obtained from the liver.
The DHA is transported to the brain using transporter molecules whose function is optimized with the presence of Vitamin E. With Vitamin E deficiency, cells are more prone to damage. Additionally, Vitamin E also plays a key role in proper functioning of the immune system.
Symptoms of Vitamin E Deficiency:
- You keep getting sick, despite having adequate rest and eating well. This could be a pointer to Vitamin E deficiency which impairs certain cells in the immune system.
- You experience neurological issues which may be attributed to low levels of Vitamin E in the body.
- You experience brain fog, thanks to the important role Vitamin E plays in a healthy brain.
How to Avoid Vitamin E Deficiency:
NOTE: Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin. What this simply means is that it is best absorbed in lipids. For this reason, it helps to incorporate healthy fats in your diet . Fortunately, Mother Nature helps with this as many sources of Vitamin E are fatty in nature.
Below are some excellent sources of Vitamin E to prevent a deficiency:
- Nuts are an excellent source of Vitamin E with almonds recommended for their high concentration. Other ideal sources include hazelnuts, pecans and walnuts
- Seeds, particularly sunflower seeds, are an easy way to avoid a Vitamin E deficiency.
- Treat your body to avocado goodness, one of the fruits with the highest concentration of Vitamin E.
- Do not skip the leafy greens because they not only add fiber to your diet, they also help avoid Vitamin E deficiency. Prefect examples in this category include spinach, broccoli, mustard greens and Swiss Chard.
3. Iron Deficiency:
Iron deficiency is also prevalent across the world, particularly in children and women in their childbearing years. One of the most common conditions associated with low iron levels in the body is anemia. Anemia is a condition that leads to the reduced production of the red blood cells.
This happens because iron is incredibly important in the body. It is required for the synthesis of hemoglobin found in the red blood cells. Hemoglobin, abbreviated HB, is responsible for binding to the oxygen and delivering it to the cells. As such, the body produces fewer blood cells when iron levels are low. It is important to take note of three factors that pertain to this form of deficiency.
- Women are more predisposed to iron deficiency, thanks to natural. biological processes that include menstruation and child birth.
- The body is able to store iron for a short period of time, so short-term deficiency is often unlikely.
- Too much iron is just as dangerous as low levels of iron.
Symptoms of Iron Deficiency:
- Iron-deficiency anemia.
- Poor immune response increasing the risk of infections in the body.
- Fatigue resulting from low oxygen levels in the body.
How to Avoid Iron Deficiency:
- Lean meat and seafood are great sources of iron.
- Increase your intake of beans to improve iron levels in the body. Look out for grains and flours fortified with iron.
- Iron supplements are extremely important for growing kids and expectant women to help the body meet the increased demand for oxygen.
4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids Deficiency:
It is hardly a surprise that a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids is so common as the major source of this important nutrient is fish. Part of the reason for this is that fish is not a favorite for many, yet if people knew just how nutritious fish was, perhaps there would be less cases of this deficiency.
Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in reducing inflammation in the body, thanks to its potent anti-inflammatory properties. this is in sharp contrast with the omega-6 fats found in processed vegetable oils. These oils are known to increase the risk of inflammation, which sets the stage for a myriad of conditions.
Symptoms of Omega-3 Fatty Acids Deficiency:
- Dry flaky skin, with parts of the arm and back featuring what is commonly referred to as chicken skin.
- Dry brittle hair
- Extreme fatigue even with simple daily tasks
- Poor ability to focus
- Painful menstrual cramps
How to Avoid Omega-3 Fatty Acids:
- As mentioned above, fatty fish is among the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. These include salmon, sardines and mackerel.
- For those who prefer other non-fish sources, walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseed and sprouted radish seeds are excellent alternatives.
- Supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids are also available in form of krill oil and fish oil. Those who lead a vegetarian/ vegan lifestyle may use omega-3 fatty acids sourced from algae. Just make sure to look for a reputable company.
It is no secret that calcium is one of the most important nutrients required for healthy and strong bones. It is therefore a surprise that many people are not getting enough Calcium. Without it, the bones cannot make new cells, leaving them weak, brittle and prone to fractures.
This is further pronounced in menopausal women. In addition to this, Calcium also helps maintain a healthy weight through its action on the parathyroid hormone. Additional functions include protection of the heart and reduction of blood pressure.
Symptoms of Calcium Deficiency:
- Muscle aches and cramping as a result of the nerves’ sensitivity to sodium, as is the case with low levels of calcium. This causes over activity of the nerves leading to the pain.
- Poor bone density is perhaps one of the most commonest signs of low Calcium levels in the body. Calcium found in the bones is a reserve source kept to meet the body’s demands when there’s little calcium absorption. For this reason, someone who has had the deficiency for a long period of time is likely to end up with brittle bones.
- Tooth decay is also a symptom of calcium deficiency. Teeth is made up of tissue that has undergone calcification. For this reason, low levels of calcium lead to the wearing out of the enamel.
How to Avoid Calcium Deficiency:
- Milk and milk products (such as yogurt, tofu and cheese) are some of the best sources of calcium, but not everyone is able to benefit from milk’s goodness because of lactose intolerance. Below are other natural sources of calcium.
- Green leafy vegetables such as collard greens, kale, broccoli, spinach and Chinese cabbage.
- Canned seafood including sardines and salmon are also rich in calcium.
- Food fortified with calcium such as breakfast cereals.
- Mineral water has some calcium too.
- Calcium supplements
Knowing these deficiencies alongside ways to fix them is the first step to healthy eating and benefiting from a balanced diet. Remember to consult your doctor if you suspect you may be suffering from any of the top 5 nutritional deficiencies mentioned above.