Even the healthiest people struggle to eat complete, nutritious meals at every sitting. In the busy pace of modern life, it’s common to choose convenience and cost over balanced diets as we run from obligation to obligation.
But diets that don’t include the intake of all the necessary vitamins, minerals, and nutrients means we miss out on the optimal, healthy functioning of our bodies. It can also increase our risk of illness.
Here are the five key nutrients lacking in most adult diets and where you can get those missing health and immunity boosters.
1. Iron Deficiency
Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies, affecting more than 25% of people worldwide. But why do we even need this mineral?
Iron is an incredibly critical mineral for normal physical functioning. It’s found in every cell in the body and binds with hemoglobin in your blood to carry oxygen all over your body.
Not everyone experiences iron deficiency equally. Anemia is the most common consequence of iron deficiency. This is a condition where the number of your red blood cells and your blood’s ability to carry oxygen declines. This results in fatigue, pale skin or brittle nails, a weakened immune system, and headaches.
According to studies on iron deficiency, about a third of women on their periods also experience iron deficiency due to blood loss and up to 42% of young, pregnant women may be deficient as well.
In addition, people who’s diet excludes meat products are at an increased risk of iron deficiency. Vegetarians and vegans often suffer from this mineral deficiency since they ingest iron through plants which is not absorbed as well as heme iron, the iron found in animals.
Here are some iron-rich foods you can include in your diet to compensate for possibly low iron levels:
* Dark, leafy greens
* Red meat
You can also use iron supplements to increase your iron intake. However, never supplement with iron unless you truly need it. Talk with your doctor about your iron levels and let them suggest an iron supplement that would work best for you. They may also recommend increasing your vitamin C intake via foods like oranges, kale, and bell peppers since this vitamin can enhance the absorption of iron.
2. Vitamin C Deficiency
Vitamin C is an excellent antioxidant which helps prevent damage inflicted by free radicals— molecules produced when your body breaks down food or is exposed to tobacco smoke, X-rays, radiation from the sun, or other sources. Free radicals contribute to the development of heart disease, cancer and other diseases. Vitamin C is also essential for amino acid formation, the absorption of iron, and the regulation of collagen production.
Vitamin C deficiency can lead to a range of illnesses including gum disease, weakness, skin problems, and weak immune system. There’s also a risk of developing scurvy, a fatal-if-untreated disease that causes fatigue, inflamed and bleeding gums, difficulty healing wounds, easy bruising, weakness, and rashes.
You can boost your vitamin C levels by eating the following foods:
* Red and green peppers
* Citrus fruits
* Brussels sprouts
3. Vitamin D Deficiency
This vitamin is unique in that most vitamin D can be produced in our bodies when cholesterol in your skin is exposed to adequate amounts of UVB radiation from sunlight.
Vitamin D is essential for bone health since its key role is to regulate the absorption of calcium. People with a vitamin D deficiency are unable to absorb calcium and suffer from weaker bones leading to a higher risk of bone density loss, osteoporosis, and bone fractures.
People with limited exposure to sunlight are likely to be vitamin D deficient, especially people who live far from the equator. Breastfeeding infants, older people, people with darker skin are also more likely to have a vitamin D deficiency.
About 35% of adults in America are vitamin D deficient. To avoid the side effects of this deficiency, aim to get 10-15 minutes of mid-day sun exposure of the face, hands, and arms without protective sunscreen. However, be careful—it’s a fine line to walk between boosting vitamin D and increasing your risk of skin cancer over time. If your skin is starting to turn pink, you got too much sun.
You can also boost your vitamin D levels through certain foods, including:
* Cod liver oil
4. Vitamin B12 Deficiency
A little known but absolutely important vitamin, B12 is needed for every cell in your body to function normally. This vitamin is essential for the production of red blood cells, as well as brain and nerve function, and the production of DNA. The vitamin also helps megaloblastic anemia which is a condition where red blood cells are larger than usual so there are too few of them. As a result the blood carries less oxygen to tissues across the body.
Our bodies have a harder time absorbing B12 compared with other vitamins. This is because its absorption is aided by a protein known as intrinsic factor. Some people don’t have this protein and are at risk to be B12 deficient. These folks need B12 injections or higher doses of supplements.
Since B12 is only found in significant amounts in animal foods, many people who don’t eat animal products are B12 deficient are at a higher risk of developing a deficiency. In fact, 80–90% of vegetarians and vegans are on track to be vitamin B12 deficient.
If you’re experiencing vitamin B12 deficiency, you may suffer from memory problems, numbness, fatigue, and megaloblastic anemia.
You can eat the following foods to help prevent a vitamin B12 deficiency:
* Beef liver or other organ meat
* Some breakfast cereals
* Dairy products
5. Iodine Deficiency
Iodine deficiency is one of the most common in the world and can be devastating for many. That’s because iodine is critical for normal thyroid function and the creation of thyroid hormones. These hormones are essential to a number of bodily functions such as brain development, the regulation of your metabolic rate, growth, and bone maintenance.
People with an iodine deficiency can suffer from serious issues such as mental retardation and developmental abnormalities, especially among children. It’s also associated with enlarged thyroid glands known as goiters, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, and weight gain.
You can find significant levels of iodine in the following foods:
* Iodized salt
Make a list of some of your favourite foods from this list and find recipes with those ingredients. By boosting your nutrient intake, you’re protecting your body from easily-preventable issues and supporting a healthier lifestyle.