You are what you eat and research has proven that a healthy lifestyle starts with a nutrient-filled diet. However, many of us in the U.S. suffer from nutrient deficiencies, leading to increased risk of various diseases. Here are five common nutritional deficiencies and what you can do to boost your intake.
We have all heard the term ‘eat a balanced diet’. But what does that mean? And, honestly, why should we do it? Finding the ‘right’ foods can be complicated and time-consuming. Is it really worth it?
The answer is ‘Yes!’. Otherwise, your body can be subject to all kinds of complications and diseases. Particular attention should be paid to fruits and vegetables.
Epidemiological and clinical studies have consistently demonstrated the numerous health benefits associated with eating fruits and vegetables, each day. And be sure to get your daily recommended fiber.
Calcium is essential for maintaining strong bones and teeth, regulating muscle function, and supporting nerve transmission. Unfortunately, 70% of Americans fail to meet their recommended daily intake of calcium, which can lead to increased risk of osteoporosis and fractures. Symptoms of calcium deficiency include muscle cramps, weakened bones, and dental problems.
To combat calcium deficiency, include calcium-rich foods in your diet. Dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt are excellent sources. For individuals who are lactose intolerant or follow a vegan diet, calcium-fortified plant-based milk, tofu, leafy greens (like kale and collard greens), and almonds can provide adequate calcium intake. Aim for 1,000-1,200 mg of calcium per day, depending on your age and gender.
Vitamin D Deficiency
Even after all the conversations about the importance of vitamin D to fight Covid, half of the U.S. population has a deficiency, especially among those who live in locations with limited sun exposure and northern latitudes.. Vitamin D is essential for maintaining healthy bones, regulating the immune system, and supporting overall well-being.
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include fatigue, muscle weakness, bone pain, cancer, bone fractures, and a weakened immune system.
To combat a vitamin D deficiency, the best thing to do is to get out in the sun without sunscreen for about 10-15 minutes a day. For best sunlight, make sure your shadow is shorter than your body. If sun is not available, then incorporate vitamin D-rich foods into your diet.
Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines are excellent sources. Additionally, fortified dairy products, egg yolks, and mushrooms exposed to sunlight are also good dietary sources. Aim for 600-800 IU of vitamin D per day to meet your body’s needs.
Vitamin C Deficiency
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that supports immune function, collagen synthesis, and iron absorption. Although severe vitamin C deficiency (also known as scurvy) is rare in America, mild deficiencies are still prevalent, with 43% of U.S. adults and 19% of children deficient.
Symptoms of vitamin C deficiency include fatigue, poor wound healing, and susceptibility to infections.
To combat vitamin C deficiency, incorporate vitamin C-rich foods into your diet. Citrus fruits (such as oranges and grapefruits), strawberries, kiwi, bell peppers, and broccoli are excellent sources of vitamin C. Aim for 75 and 90 mg of vitamin C per day for women and men, respectively.
Iron is vital for the production of red blood cells and the transportation of oxygen throughout the body. Iron deficiency, also known as anemia, is a common nutrient deficiency, with 17% of premenopausal women and 10% of children in the U.S. . Symptoms of iron deficiency include fatigue, weakness, pale skin, and difficulty concentrating.
To combat iron deficiency, include iron-rich foods in your diet. Animal sources such as red meat, poultry, and seafood are excellent sources of heme iron, which is the most absorbable type of iron. Plant-based sources of iron include legumes, tofu, spinach, and fortified cereals.
Pairing iron-rich foods with foods high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits or bell peppers, can enhance iron absorption. Aim for 18 mg of iron per day for women and 8 mg per day for men.
Creating a Balanced Diet to Combat Nutrient Deficiencies
Now that we have discussed the top five nutrient deficiencies in America, let’s explore how to create a balanced diet that can help combat these deficiencies. The table below provides a breakdown of the recommended daily intake of each nutrient and the corresponding foods to include in your diet.
We went straight to Dr. Michael Greger’s book, How Not to Die. He has a ‘daily dozen’ list of foods to put on your meal plan every day. He even has an app so you can check them off.
See his list below for more ways to get all those nutrients into your diet:
Small changes make a big impact
By incorporating these practical tips, you’ll find it easier and more enjoyable to meet your daily recommended intake of fruits and vegetables while ensuring you’re getting adequate fiber and protein as well. Remember to consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian for personalized guidance based on your specific nutritional needs.
Consider these Meal Plans!
Scroll down for some examples of meal plans that include each of your recommended daily intake of vitamin D, iron, vitamin B12, calcium and vitamin C. This also includes your daily value of fiber, fat and protein while taking into consideration your recommended caloric intake, based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet (unless otherwise noted).
The Bottom Line
Nutrient deficiencies are a common issue in America, but they can be effectively addressed by adopting a balanced diet. By including foods rich in iron, calcium and vitamins D, C & B12 in your meals, you can combat these deficiencies and promote optimal health. Start making small changes to your diet today and reap the physical and mental benefits of a nutrient-rich lifestyle.