Balanced and conscious eating is an art every human should master. Consuming food is such a habitual part of our lives that we rarely question what this process means for our body and overall well-being. To say it simply – we take eating for granted.
But as someone once said – ‘you are what you eat’, which means that we should try to balance our nutrient intake and make sure that our body gets all it needs to function properly.
You have probably heard about different nutrients that support our energy levels, boost our immune system, support youthful skin and hair, etc. Knowing which nutrients play role in these bodily functions and where to get them can set you up for a long, healthy life. On the other hand, ignoring dietary balance and consuming only certain types of foods/nutrients can lead to nutrient deficiency, which can become a cause of significant health problems.
But the good news is that we can easily get required nutrients through food and supplements. You just have to know what’s missing. For example, you might have enough macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat), but be missing micronutrients like vitamins and minerals which are required in smaller amounts.
One thing you need to know about nutrient deficiency is that it does not only happen when a person is starving or not getting enough food. Actually, there are many people who suffer from nutrient deficiencies even though their caloric intake is normal or even above the recommended level. There are several reasons that can lead to nutrient deficiency:
- Let’s start with the most obvious one – improper and unbalanced diet. Balanced diet should include an appropriate amount of proteins, fat, carbohydrates, fibers, vitamins, and minerals. All of these nutrients play a role in building our bodies. To get all of these nutrients, you need to consume all of the five food groups: protein, dairy, grains, fruits and veggies. What is a balanced diet? It is recommended that your daily food plate should consist of 25% protein (fish, poultry, beans, nuts), 25% whole grains (whole wheat, quinoa, oats, etc.), and 50% fruits and vegetables. Next time you’re having a meal, take a look at your plate and compare where you are to where you should be and try implementing some positive changes.
Why? Because these nutrients do matter. For example, a sodium rich diet increases blood pressure and damages your cardiovascular system. On the other hand, a Mediterranean diet which is rich in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains and seafood provides a great combination of nutrients and decreases the risk of depression. Talk about the power of food!
- Another explanation for nutrient deficiency can be gut health issues like malabsorption or Leaky Gut Syndrome. To get needed nutrients, your body needs to be able to absorb them from the digestive system. However when intestinal lining is inflamed or damaged, you can no longer access all the required nutrients. Another reason for malabsorption is small intestine bowel overgrowth (SIBO), which causes imbalance of gut bacteria and disrupts nutrient intake. In case of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) you might experience pain and discomfort in the gut area, which could lead to loss of appetite or indigestion of certain foods, like gluten, dairy, etc. This can also become a cause for nutrient deficiencies.
So, if you have been diagnosed with gut issues, it is a good idea to check for nutrient deficiencies and start replenishing your body.
- Stress can be another reason causing nutrient deficiency. Psychological and physical stress have been shown to lead to depletion of several important micronutrients like magnesium and zinc, as well as calcium and iron. Additional studies need to be done to identify which stressors and what level of stress lead to nutrient deficiencies. However, nutritional deficiencies caused by stress have been widely observed in a number of studies.
Overall, we can say that people with high stress, gastrointestinal issues, lack of sleep, chronic medical conditions, , regular consumption of alcohol, drugs or prescription medications, (not relevant to my readership whatsoever) have a higher probability of developing nutrient deficiencies. Unfortunately, this includes most of us today! Also, people with restricted diets often encounter this problem. For example, here are 10 essential nutrients vegans and vegetarians often lack.
Deficiency of nutrients is about your body not getting enough of specific nutrients which translates into visible symptoms and problems. So, let’s dive into some of the common signs indicating that your body is nutrient deficient.
1.Hair and nail problems
Brittle hair and nails are a common sign of nutrient deficiency. Particularly, this is linked to deficiency of biotin, which is also referred to as vitamin B7. This vitamin helps you metabolize glucose, amino acids and important omega fatty acids. Lack of vitamin B7 is also accompanied by chronic fatigue, muscle pain, cramps, etc. It can also manifest itself in scaly, red rash. So, any of the above symptoms could be telling you to recharge your biotin levels.
Some of the best food sources of biotin include egg yolks, almonds, nuts, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, whole grains and salmon. In some cases you can also opt for biotin supplements.
2. Oral problems
Another problem related to deficiency of vitamin B is inflammation or mouth ulcers. Lack of iron is associated with oral problems related to teeth, salivary glands, tongue and gum structure, etc. If you’re suffering from gum health and wound healing, this can indicate vitamin B12 deficiency. In a small study, almost a third of patients with mouth ulcers had deficiencies in crucial vitamins like B1, B2 and B6. Moreover, vitamin C supports healing of the oral cavity and vitamins A and D play a role in tooth health.
For iron deficiency, you can increase consumption of poultry, meat, fish, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains. These products can also supply your body with other forms of vitamin B. To maintain gum health, make sure you consume fresh fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamin C. Even small amounts are found to be extremely effective in treating symptoms.
People often worry about unexplained fatigue and what causes it. Turns out iron deficiency is a common cause for it. Iron deficiency can develop into a serious disease, called anemia, which makes your body unable to produce enough hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is important, because it allows red blood cells to carry oxygen from lungs to different parts of your body. Without enough hemoglobin, you can develop a set of symptoms, including fatigue, pale skin, cold hands and feet, etc. A fun fact about iron deficiency is that it causes a number of strange cravings for non-food items like dirt and paper.
Replenishing iron supply is very important for proper functioning of the body. Some of the iron rich foods include red meats, eggs, rice and beans. Iron supplements may also be prescribed as needed.
4.Cramps and abnormal sensations in limbs
Abnormal sensations in hands and feet, including restless leg syndrome could be a sign of nutritional deficiencies. This condition is twice more likely to affect women and usually, the symptoms get worse when a person is trying to relax or sleep. Some studies have linked restless leg syndrome to iron levels (yet another sign that iron is very important for our overall health). Here as well, increasing intake of iron seems to alleviate the symptoms.
Another similar symptom of nutrient deficiency is muscular cramps in calves and stabbing sensation in feet and toes. In this case, magnesium, or the lack of thereof, is the one behind these symptoms. Magnesium plays an important role in muscle relaxation and contraction. Other culprits include potassium and calcium. So, in case of muscle cramping, you should look into all three nutrients.
Healthy and delicious sources of magnesium include avocados, pumpkin seeds and unsweetened cacao. Almonds and Brazil nuts help with both magnesium and calcium. Pink salts, dark green leafy veggies and restricting sugar also help with muscle cramping related symptoms.
5.Itchy red rashes, acne & blemishes
The connection between our food and skin is so well established that many people notice how one day of “bad” eating translates into days of skin problems. Skin can tell us so much about our health. Acne, blemishes, and rashes are often an indication of what is happening inside the body.
Many of these skin conditions can be linked to nutritional deficiencies. For example, omega-3 fatty acids have strong anti-inflammatory properties and support skin’s lipid barrier, which protects skin from bacteria and other impurities. Lack of omega-3 fatty acids decreases natural protection and can lead to inflammation. Other nutrients that are important in skin health include vitamin A, vitamin D and vitamin E. Many modern skin care products are using retinol, which is basically vitamin A. It protects the skin and inhibits inflammation.
Some other symptoms of nutrient deficiencies could include lack of appetite, irritability, poor night vision, dandruff, etc. And these are just a few physically noticeable signs that point to nutritional deficiencies.
While you might feel sufficiently satiated on a daily basis, these symptoms can indicate that your body is lacking in one of the major nutrients it needs for proper functioning. And what’s important is that each nutrient plays a role in more than one bodily functions. So, don’t ignore the signs that your body is sending you and explore the underlying causes of these symptoms. Remember, symptoms do not appear without a reason.
To determine if you have any specific nutrient deficiencies, you can opt for Nutrient Testing. It measures how nutrients are actually functioning within your blood cells. While different tools and tests are available to help determine nutrient deficiencies, the best tests look at an average over a prolonged number of weeks/months – not just a mere snapshot of the last 24 hours. This type of testing is used to help identify your individual dietary needs by evaluating your overall nutritional status and by assessing your need for vitamins and minerals.
Nutrient testing is a clinically efficient diagnostic tool for the prevention and management of chronic disease conditions.
This test allows nutritional assessment for patients dealing with a broad variety of clinical conditions including: arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular risk, diabetes, various immunological disorders, metabolic disorders, autoimmune disease, and chronic fatigue.
Full list of nutrients tested at The Dempster Clinic can be found here.
We also offer Fatty Acid Testing which is useful for patients with chronic pain, depression, weight issues and cardiovascular risk. You can read more about that here.
There is very little that your body requires from you to function properly – water and food. Treating your body with respect and supporting it with all the nutrients it needs is the least you can do. If you decide to explore your nutritional levels and see what your body lacks, I am thrilled to offer a Complimentary 15-minute Discovery Session. This session can take place over the phone or at the clinic in person.
At The Dempster Clinic- Center for Functional Medicine, I can work with you to analyze your lifestyle and design a healthy diet for your individual needs.
Dr. John Dempster BSc., ND, FAAFM
The Dempster Clinic- Center for Functional Medicine