Common Nutrient Deficiencies: How to Recognize & Treat Deficiencies
Many Americans are not getting enough of key nutrients. The problem is often not in the amount of food in the diet, but rather the nutritional quality of the choices. In addi-tion, some nutrients are particularly difficult to get from food alone. Here are a few of the most challenging nutrients and tips for ensuring that you get enough in your diet.
Pump Up the Iron
Low iron is the most common nutritional deficiency in the country. When iron levels in the blood get too low, less oxygen is able to get to the body’s cells, and a condition called anemia can develop. Common symptoms of anemia include fatigue, cold hands and feet and shortness of breath. Menstruating or pregnant women, infants, children, and vegetarians and vegans have the highest risk for iron deficiency. To ensure that you are getting enough iron in your diet, choose iron-rich foods like red meat, fortified cereals, beans, blackstrap molasses and raisins. Cooking in a cast iron skillet can add iron to meals, while consuming iron-rich foods alongside foods that are high in vitamin C, such as tomatoes, red peppers or citrus fruits, will assist with absorption of the mineral.
Keep Calcium in Check
Calcium is best known for its vital role in keeping bones and teeth strong but this valu-able nutrient also assists with muscle contraction and nerve function. The best sources of calcium include dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese; leafy greens like kale and Swiss chard; and calcium-fortified foods or supplements. The challenge with cal-cium comes in the sheer quantity that is needed every day, 1000-1300 mg (depending on age). After years of getting too little calcium, bones weaken leading to osteoporosis and possible fractures. Women are especially at risk for this condition and should be extra diligent about meeting daily calcium needs through diet or supplements.
Vitamin B-12 plays an essential role in nerve and blood cells, and therefore assists with energy production. Similar to iron, if levels are too low, megaloblastic anemia can occur leading an individual to feel very tired and weak. This unique vitamin is only found naturally in animal products like meat, fish, chicken and eggs. As a result, those that follow a plant-based diet are at risk for deficiency if they don’t regularly consume fortified foods like cereals and nutritional yeasts, or take a vitamin B12 supplements.
Keeping a watchful eye on your diet and your body are really the best tools for pre-venting nutritional deficiencies. By paying attention to your lifestyle, noting symptoms and working with your healthcare provider to monitor your blood work regularly, you can ensure that all your nutritional needs are met, now and for years to come.