A balanced diet can improve symptoms because it contains complete nutrients. Before the early 1900s, people didn’t know that vitamins existed or that a lack of them could contribute to disease. Once scientists made that connection, though, the food supply began to change. Beginning in the 1920s, for example, salt became fortified with iodine to prevent goiter, an enlarged thyroid causing symptoms including fatigue , weight gain and decreased body temperature. In the 1940s, milk was fortified with vitamin D to reduce the incidence of rickets, which caused children to have bowed legs and knocked knees.
Fast-forward 75 years and deficiencies still exist, just different ones for different reasons. Today, people are consuming foods high in calories, saturated fat, added sugar and sodium. Many of these foods are highly processed and lack an abundance of nutrients needed to grow and thrive. In particular, most people are lacking vitamins A, C and D, calcium, fiber, magnesium and potassium, according to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines. Adolescent and premenopausal females tend to lack iron.
The goal is to get in the nutrients sweet spot – not too little and not too much. (Too much of certain nutrients can cause health problems, too.)
Here are some of the most common nutrients you may be lacking and how you can get your fill:
1. Vitamin D
A lack of vitamin D in adults can lead to osteomalacia, a condition in which bones begin to soften. It can also worsen osteoporosis, which leads to brittle bones. Because it’s easy to overdose on vitamin D, ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels with a simple blood test before taking vitamin D supplements.
Foods providing vitamin D: egg yolks, fortified cow’s milk, fortified cereals, fatty fish
This mineral is widely recognized for its function in bone health. Lack of calcium can also lead to
osteoporosis . The 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommends three servings of dairy – one of the top sources of calcium – each day. Alternative milk beverages such as hemp, almond, rice and coconut may be popular and tasty, but they don’t count toward the daily recommended amount of dairy since they don’t measure up nutritionally to cow’s milk. Your doctor can help determine if you’re not getting enough calcium, and a registered dietitian can help determine if you can get enough through food or if a supplement is necessary.
Foods providing calcium:dairy products, fish with soft bones, leafy green vegetables (like kale and broccoli), tofu made with calcium sulfate, beans
The recommendations for fiber are between 28 and 40 grams each day. Most people eat close to half this amount. Health benefits of fiber include lowering blood cholesterol, reducing the risk of diabetes and heart disease, a feeling of fullness assisting with weight management, prevention of constipation and a healthy gastrointestinal tract. If you’re not used to eating fiber, increase your intake slowly until you reach your goal. Also, make sure to drink plenty of fluids.
Foods providing fiber: fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains (like oats, whole wheat and barley), seeds
This mineral is an electrolyte that helps maintain water balance in your body. It also assists in muscle contractions, including maintaining a normal heartbeat. One of the reasons people may not be getting enough potassium is improper food choices. Foods that are high in calories, added sugar, saturated fat, sodium or all of the above tend to lack potassium. Also, certain diseases and medications can lead to a potassium deficiency. Symptoms that you’re lacking this mineral include muscle cramps, weakness, nausea and abnormal heart rhythm. If you’re concerned about your potassium levels, check with your doctor.
Foods providing potassium: dairy products, legumes, fruits, vegetables, potatoes , meats
Iron is the key component of red blood cells, which carries oxygen to the cells in the body. A lack of iron leads to iron deficiency anemia, which can make you feel tired , irritable or depressed. Adolescent and premenopausal females have been found to lack iron, and
pregnant women should get their iron levels checked regularly. When I was pregnant, my blood tests revealed that I was deficient – so much so that my doctor recommended I eat more iron-filled foods and take an iron supplement.
Foods providing iron: red meat, poultry, beans, lentils, leafy green vegetables
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