How to Recognize Nutrient Deficiencies

March 12, 2016 Updated: March 13, 2016
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If you eat a balanced, whole-food diet you’re probably giving your body more-than-adequate amounts of the vitamins and minerals it needs to function. 

If not (and this applies to the majority of the U.S. population), there’s a good chance your body is lacking in important nutrients. Even if you do eat well, other factors – such as your age and certain health conditions (digestive issues and others) – can impact your body’s ability to absorb the nutrients in your food.

Meanwhile, soil quality, storage time, and processing can significantly influence the levels of certain nutrients in your food, such that even healthy produce may not be as nutrient-rich as you may think.

Nutrient deficiencies can be sneaky, too. Unless you are seriously deficient for some time, you may notice no symptoms at all, leading you to believe (falsely) that your body is getting all the nutrition you need. 

More often, however, such deficiencies do cause symptoms, which can range from minor to severe. Unless you know what to look for, however, you’re likely to mistake the signs for something else…

5 Signs Your Body May Be Nutrient Deficient

If you’ve noticed a mysterious health symptom that has no apparent cause, it’s worth considering whether a nutrient deficiency may be to blame. Q for Equinox recently shared 5 examples to watch for. As Dr. Susan Blum, founder of the Blum Center for Health, said:

“You may not get a disease but you can end up with impaired functioning, because vitamins are co-factors for all the bio-chemical reactions in the body. We need them in order to function properly.”

1. Cracks at the Corners of Your Mouth

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This can be a sign of iron, zinc, and B-vitamin

This can be a sign of iron, zinc, and B-vitamin (niacin, riboflavin, and B12) deficiency, or that you’re not getting enough protein. Good dietary sources of these nutrients include organic free-range poultry and eggs, wild-caught Alaskan salmon, oysters, and clams (if you can be sure they are harvested from non-polluted waters), Swiss chard, and tahini.

Because iron absorption is enhanced by vitamin C, be sure your diet also includes plenty of vitamin C-rich veggies like broccoli, red bell peppers, kale, and cauliflower.

2. Hair Loss and a Red, Scaly Rash (Especially on Your Face)

This can be a sign of biotin (vitamin B7) deficiency. Your body needs biotin for metabolizing fats, carbohydrates, and amino acids, but it’s most well-known for its role in strengthening your hair and nails. Egg yolks from organic, free-range eggs are one of the best sources of biotin.

Wild-caught Alaskan salmon, avocados, mushrooms, cauliflower, nuts, raspberries, and bananas also contain biotin.

(NadiaCruzova/iStock)
Eat avocados for hair loss. (NadiaCruzova/iStock)

 

3. Red or White Acne-Like Bumps (on Your Cheeks, Arms, Thighs, and Buttocks)

This can be a sign of deficiency in essential fatty acids like omega-3s, as well as vitamin A or vitamin D deficiency. Increase your intake of omega-3 fats by eating more sardines and anchovies (or wild-caught Alaskan salmon) or taking a krill oil supplement. 

You can find vitamin A in foods like leafy green vegetables, carrots, sweet potatoes, and red bell peppers, while vitamin D is best obtained through safe sun exposure or use of a high-quality tanning bed.

4. Tingling, Prickling, and Numbness in Your Hands and Feet

This can also be a sign of B-vitamin deficiency (particularly folate, B6, and B12). The symptom is related to the deficiency’s effect on the peripheral nerves and may be combined with anxiety, depression, anemia, fatigue, and hormone imbalances.

Some good sources of B vitamins include spinach, asparagus, beets, organic free-range eggs and poultry, and grass-fed beef.

5. Muscle Cramps (in Your Toes, Calves, Backs of Legs, and Arches of Feet)

Muscle cramps may be a sign of deficiencies in magnesium, calcium, and potassium, especially if it happens frequently. Fix this by eating more almonds, hazelnuts, squash, dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, and dandelion), broccoli, Bok choy, and apples.

Tips to Supercharge Your Diet with Nutrients

Sandwich Full of Alfalfa Sprouts (healthy lifestyle concept)
Sandwich with Alfalfa Sprouts (FelixRenaud/iStock)

 

As much as possible, I recommend getting the nutrients your body needs from whole foods. This means minimizing processed foods as much as possible and instead focusing on healthy fats, fresh produce, grass-fed meats and pastured poultry, raw dairy products, organic free-range eggs, nuts and seeds, and, if you’re healthy, moderate amounts of fruit. That being said, there are a few tricks to get copious amounts of nutrients with little effort. You’ll still need to eat a variety of foods to get the wide range of nutrients your body needs, but the tips that follow will give you an excellent start:

  • Homemade Bone Broth: Bone broth contains high amounts of calcium, magnesium, and other nutrients. 
  • SproutsSprouts can contain up to 100 times more enzymes than raw fruits and vegetables, allowing your body to extract more vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fats from the foods you eat. 
  • Juicing: Juicing not only helps you to consume more nutrient-rich veggies, it also helps you absorb the nutrients they contain. Juicing will help to “pre-digest” the veggies for you, so you will receive most of the nutrition, rather than having it go down the toilet. 
  • Fermented Foods: Fermented foods support the beneficial bacteria in your gut, which helps with mineral absorption and plays a role in producing nutrients such as B vitamins and vitamin K2.