Despite having an abundance of food available, nutrient deficiency is one of the largest health issues affecting Americans today. Unfortunately, it may be difficult to recognize nutrient deficiency, as you may not realize you are not getting an adequate intake of an essential vitamin or mineral through your current diet. It is always beneficial to keep up with regular doctors’ visits so they can perform routine blood tests to ensure you are not depriving yourself of an essential nutrient. Keep reading to find out if you may be at risk for one of these common nutrient deficiencies and which food sources contain these essential nutrients.
In addition to maintaining a healthy immune system and healthy bones, Vitamin D is essential to calcium absorption.* Spending time outdoors (with at least 15 minutes of sun exposure) is the best way to keep levels of “the sunshine vitamin” up, as Vitamin D is limited in food sources. Fatty fish, like sardines, salmon, and tuna are sources of Vitamin D, while cheese and egg yolks provide smaller amounts. People with limited exposure to the outdoors (like the elderly), live in a northern city, and African Americans are at greater risk for Vitamin D deficiency.
Calcium is an essential mineral that the body needs on a daily basis, responsible for maintaining the health of muscles, the heart, and bones.* The National Institutes of Health reports that more than 53 million people either already have osteoporosis or are at high risk due to low bone mass. Because the body cannot produce calcium on its own, a well-balanced diet that includes an adequate intake of calcium throughout life plays a role in maintaining bone health and may reduce the risk of osteoporosis.* Dietary sources of calcium include dairy products, leafy greens (like kale and spinach), and sardines. Women, teenagers, and seniors are especially prone to calcium deficiency, which is why you might find calcium supplements a staple in Grandma’s pantry!
Iron: it’s a word we associate with strength, and rightly so—this mineral is necessary for energy metabolism, delivering oxygen to cells, and it is a vital component to hemoglobin.* Dietary iron is found in mostly meat sources, including chicken, red meat, and shellfish, but can also be found in dried fruits, beans, and broccoli. Women, especially pregnant women, are most vulnerable to iron deficiencies. In addition to needing 600 milligrams of iron per day for herself, a pregnant woman has to supply 375 milligrams of iron to create blood for the fetus. Children are also susceptible to iron deficiency due to rapid growth.
Think of magnesium as the person you rely on the most in the office. Without that person, it’s hard to get work done, right? Magnesium has a lot of responsibilities in the body as a “helper.” It regulates calcium transport, is essential for cell formation, is involved in muscle contractions, is necessary for the release of energy, supports sugar metabolism, and it may even promote menstrual health.* The journal Nutrition Reviews reported that in 2005-2006, 48% of Americans “consumed less than the required amount of magnesium from food;” however, it is abundant in foods like potatoes, spinach, peanuts, and black beans. As we age, we tend to not only consume less dietary magnesium, but our ability to absorb it decreases. People exposed to hospital patients and those eating a diet high in processed foods are at risk for inadequate magnesium intake.
Vitamin B-12 is a water-soluble vitamin that aids in the regeneration of red blood cells and plays a role in energy metabolism in the body.* It also supports heart health in conjunction with folic acid and Vitamin B-6.* Significant amounts of Vitamin B-12 are not available in vegetables, but rather animal sources, such as beef, salmon, chicken, and eggs. Not surprisingly, deficiency is common in vegetarians, which is why many use Vitamin B-12 supplements. Individuals who have had weight loss surgery and adults over 50 are also at risk, as our ability to absorb Vitamin B-12 decreases with age.