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5 common nutritional deficiencies that could be affecting your day-to-day life

Live It Up dove into the science and research, primarily from the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, to find five common nutritional deficiencies and how to spot them.

5 common nutritional deficiencies that could be affecting your day-to-day life
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5 common nutritional deficiencies that could be affecting your day-to-day life

Although food is abundant in the United States, many people still don't get enough of the right nutrients. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 12.3% and 10% of adults met the recommended fruit and vegetable intake in 2019, leading to a lack of nutrients that can help boost their immunity and prevent severe illnesses.

Apart from having a healthy diet of at least 1.5 cups of fruits and 2 cups of vegetables a day, as recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, consumers also have access to an array of dietary options, supplements, and nutrient-rich drinks that can boost nutrient levels that could help them meet their daily nutritional goals. Even then, it's difficult to know where the root of the problem begins and what to consume more of.

Live It Up dove into the science and research, primarily from the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, to find five common nutritional deficiencies and how to spot them.

One potential reason for present-day deficiencies is malabsorption, which happens when the body doesn't properly process nutrients. Malabsorption issues could occur in any part of the digestion process, from the breaking down of food to elimination from the body. People with this issue often experience diarrhea.

Another culprit could also be too much sugar. In a study published by Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, researchers found that individuals with diets where 25% or more of calories come from added sugar experience deficiencies in vitamins A, C, and E, plus magnesium.

Even for those focused on eating healthy food and avoiding sugar, avoiding nutrient deficiencies can seem like a part-time job. Trusted doctors may not have enough training to give guidance. In a review of literature by medical schools in the U.S. and the U.K. from 2015 and 2020 published by the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics in 2022, researchers found that students only received an average of 11 hours of training in nutrition throughout the program compared with the 25 nutrition training hours recommended by the National Academy of Sciences in 1985.

For those who may want additional guidance, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has published a database to search for credentialed experts who can help develop a game plan for getting enough nutrients. In the meantime, here are five common nutritional deficiencies to watch out for and how to address them. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine noted the recommended dietary allowances.

vitamin b12
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Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that affects systems throughout the body. When the body isn't getting enough of this nutrient, people experience such symptoms as fatigue, depression, anemia, pale skin, and tingling hands or feet.

Those at risk include older adults, especially those with gastritis; people who experience gastrointestinal disorders like celiac disease or Crohn's disease; and infants born to vegans. Because animal products almost exclusively contain B12, vegans, and even omnivores choosing to consume more of their protein from plant sources, are also at risk for deficiency.

The good news is there are other ways to reach the recommended daily allowance of 2.4 micrograms per day for adults. Taking supplements is one option, but B12-fortified foods such as clams, tuna, and tempeh are another possibility: One of them, nutritional yeast, is the magic ingredient for vegan mac and "cheese."

However, note that B12 interacts with some prescriptions, such as anti-inflammatory drugs or vitamin C supplements, so ask your doctor or pharmacist and read labels.

vitamin d
Nicoleta Ionescu // Shutterstock

Vitamin D

One thing that sets vitamin D apart from other nutrients is one doesn't need to rely solely on diet or supplements: Exposure to sunlight is one source. Fatty fish, egg yolks, and fortified milk (both dairy and plant-based) are also good choices for boosting vitamin D levels, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient that helps the body absorb calcium, promote bone health, avoid osteoporosis, and manage inflammation. Without enough vitamin D, you may experience muscle spasms, bone deformities, and muscle weakness. A target amount of vitamin D for optimal health is 15 to 20 micrograms daily. However, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine notes that guidelines vary for different countries, citing "an incomplete understanding of the biology and clinical implications of vitamin D."

People who don't get too much sun, those with darker skin, and those who have undergone gastric bypass surgery are at risk of Vitamin D deficiency.

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Calcium is a crucial mineral for many structures and processes throughout the body, including healthy bones and teeth, blood circulation, and clotting. Muscle spasms and bone diseases, including osteoporosis, often result without enough calcium.

Postmenopausal women also tend to lack calcium since menopause leads to bone loss due to decreased estrogen production. Because the nutrient is present in dairy, those with allergies or who choose to avoid that food group for other reasons also risk deficiency.

Getting enough calcium on a nondairy diet is doable but takes more work. Beans, seeds, nuts, and soy are good choices. Darky leafy greens, like kale, spinach, and arugula, contribute significant amounts of the nutrient.

Most adults need about 1,000 milligrams per day, though the ideal amount for adults over 70 is 1,200 milligrams.

One thing to remember is that calcium needs vitamin D for absorption. While consuming calcium-rich foods, one should also ensure enough vitamin D intake.

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Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis are major health concerns today, and magnesium helps to avoid and combat those conditions. Consuming this mineral also helps optimize blood sugar and pressure, as well as make protein, bone, and DNA.

Some people who often exhibit magnesium deficiency include those with Type 2 diabetes, people with chronic alcoholism, or older adults. Those with deficiencies also often exhibit digestive and neuromuscular symptoms, including vomiting, loss of appetite, tremors, and more.

Fortunately, magnesium is readily accessible in foods available via most diets: beans, grains, nuts, and leafy greens. Most adults need between 310 and 400 milligrams daily, but pregnancy and breastfeeding can boost the required level.

Prostock-studio // Shutterstock


Protein is necessary for muscle formation. It's also an important nutrient for many other physiological processes, including repairing muscles and shortening recovery periods after exercise—but not all proteins are created equal.

Plant proteins also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, while consuming more red meat (another good source of protein) has the opposite effect, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Other sources of dietary protein include fish, poultry, and dairy products.

Different sources suggest recommended daily amounts of protein, but the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends 7 grams per 20 pounds of body weight daily. Deficiencies of this macronutrient can cause health problems, including stunted growth, loss of muscle, decreased immunity, and weakening of the heart.


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