Nutrient deficiencies didn’t just plague pirates and medievalers; in fact, you probably have a deficiency and don’t even know it—especially if you’re a resident of a northern U.S. city hunkering down for yet another blizzard.
Nearly 50 percent of Buffalonians (yes, people from Buffalo) have insufficient levels of vitamin D, and 25 percent are considered deficient, a recent study from the University at Buffalo has found.
Our bodies create vitamin D, unlike other vitamins, when ultraviolet sunlight is absorbed into our skin; and since there aren’t too many of us sunbathing on snowdrifts, it’s difficult to maintain proper levels. Deficiency can lead to lower bone density, a weakened immune system, higher susceptibility to some cancers and even increased risk of death from cardiovascular diseases. What’s worse is you won’t see these health effects for years to come, and it can take up to months to get your levels back to normal.
The only way to protect yourself—other than shipping off to the southern hemisphere—is to eat foods rich in the vitamin source. Jim White, RD, ACSM HFS, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesman, owner and president of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios offers his diet tips for warding off the 7 most common nutrient deficiencies.
How Much You Need: 400 International Units (IU)/day Why You Need It: Vitamin D is important for skeletal growth and strong bones due to stimulating the absorption of calcium. What to Eat: Because so few foods contain vitamin D, many foods such as cereals, juices, and breads are now fortified with the vitamin. Eggs and salmon are great sources of vitamin D, and they’re easy to come by. You should also try to get vitamin D from other fishes (and the oils of these fishes), liver from beef, and a bit from cheese and butter. Who is Susceptible: The elderly, those with renal disease, those with fat malabsorption and individuals undergoing anticonvulsant therapy (and people in cold climates). Expert Tip: You can also get vitamin D by seeking 15 minutes of natural sun each day (even if it’s cold), as well as choosing dairies and enriched breakfast cereals that are fortified with vitamin D.
How Much You Need: 1,000 mg/day Why You Need It: Calcium-rich foods can help prevent common conditions like osteoporosis and ensure athletes recover properly after endurance events and high intensity exercise. What to Eat: Healthy calcium levels can be attained by several food groups—yes, it’s not just dairy. One cup of Greek yogurt, low-fat milk, or almond milk contains about one third of your daily allotment of calcium. If you can’t get these foods into your diet every day, you can add 1 ounce of almonds into oatmeal or 1 cup of kale into a smoothie, both of which add 150 mg of calcium. Salmon and navy beans are also great sources of calcium and should be in your diet at least once a week, anyway. Who is Susceptible: Those who have kidney disease, a disorder causing fat malabsorption, a lactose intolerance, an estrogen deficiency, are very inactive, or a high risk of osteoporosis. Expert Tip: In order to enhance the absorption of calcium be more aware of your vitamin D intake, as this will help calcium be better utilized in the body.
How Much You Need: 4,500-4,700 mg/day Why You Need It: Potassium is vital for its influence in smooth, skeletal and cardiac muscle contraction, and the effect it has on nerve tissue. As well as maintaining the proper electrolyte and pH balance in your body, diets high in potassium are associated with lower blood pressure. What to Eat: When following a balanced diet, potassium requirements can be reached without supplementation. Fruits high in potassium such as bananas, cantaloupe, melon, mango, and avocados contain about 300 mg per 1 cup serving. And just ½ of a small banana can attribute 150 mg of potassium to your daily value. Add this to your favorite plain Greek yogurt with a tablespoon of peanut butter and you have almost 700 mg of potassium! Having green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, and winter squash as part of your regular diet will ensure you’re getting enough potassium. Mushrooms, potatoes, okra, asparagus, nuts, seeds, and legumes help as well. Who is Susceptible: Deficiency can occur through electrolyte imbalances from severe illnesses, vomiting, diarrhea, or medications used to treat high blood pressure. Expert Tip: If you’re extremely active, you live in warm climate or your occupation is such that you sweat for majority of the day, you may need supplementation.
How Much You Need: Men, 8-11 mg/day; women, 5-8 mg/day (27 mg/day if pregnant); 19- 50-year-olds, 18 mg/day, and between 8-15 mg/day at younger and older ages Why You Need It: Iron is essential for the growth and development of our bodies. It plays a role in producing red blood cells, helps fight fatigue and strengthens the immune system. What to Eat: Organ meats have a great amount of heme iron containing about 5 mg of iron for each 3 ounces. However, most Americans don’t consume organ meats typically, if ever. Clams and oysters luckily provide approximately 12 mg and 8 mg of iron for a 3-ounce serving; the same serving of chicken will provide 1 mg of iron, and most beef cuts and dark turkey can contribute 2 mg of iron. If you don’t consume too much beef or iron in general try the darker turkey meats, these can still be bought in lower fat versions such as 93% lean. Although most proteins will contain iron, milk is a poor choice. Who is Susceptible: Iron-deficiency anemia is most common in women; though individuals who have had gastric bypass surgery, have undergone kidney dialysis treatment and individuals with poor eating habits are also at a high risk. Expert Tip: To increase non-heme iron sources (plant foods) combine things such as sliced oranges on top of iron enriched cold cereals or rolled oat cereal. Pairing vitamin C rich foods (ascorbic, citric, lactic, and tartaric acid) like fruits and vegetables with other iron rich plant-based foods like pasta, beans, bread, dried fruit, and green leafy vegetables can enhance absorption by 6 percent. If you’re deficient in iron, your body actually responds better and may absorb up to 20 percent more iron if you use these pairing principles.
How Much You Need: 2.4 ug/day and 6-9 ug/day for the elderly. Why You Need It: Vitamin B12 is required by the body for enzymatic reactions that create energy in the body. What to Eat: Animal products are the best source for vitamin B12; for instance, steak and beef contain 1.35 ug per 3 ounces. Fish such as salmon and cod, poultry, eggs, milk (soy, almond, coconut), fortified plant-derived foods and ready-to-eat cereal are also great sources. Who is Susceptible: Elderly are at risk for deficiency due to a natural decrease in the production of HCL (hydrochloric acid) in the stomach, which helps with the absorption process of vitamin B12. Expert Tip: Supplementation is only going to help if you don’t have enough B12, otherwise you’re wasting your money.
How Much You Need: 310 mg to 420 mg/day depending on age and gender Why You Need It: Although our body is only 1 percent magnesium, it is second to potassium intracellularly, which means without it our bodies would not function properly. What to Eat: When foods grown and picked from the soil are processed, magnesium can be removed substantially through the removal of outer layers like in refined wheat flour or white breads. Choose minimally processed whole foods like nuts, legumes, whole grains and leafy green vegetables. Try 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, ½ cup black eyed peas, or 1 slice of whole grain bread, which can account for 50 mg of magnesium. Larger amounts of magnesium can be found in sources such as hailbut and smaller amounts are found in milk, brown rice, chocolate and coffee. Who is Susceptible: Deficiency is somewhat rare, but those with diseases related to fat malabsorption such as inflammatory bowel or pancreatic disease have increased magnesium losses because it’s absorbed through the small intestine, as well as the colon. Expert Tip: Poor magnesium status or low intakes have been linked to hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes mellitus, which means these diseases can be accelerated if magnesium is not controlled. In pharmacological doses, vitamin D and protein have been shown to increase the retention of magnesium; however, excessive fiber can interfere with the absorption so be careful of consuming too much if you’re at risk.
What to Eat: Several foods such as rice, sweet potato, quinoa, buckwheat, even popcorn are naturally gluten-free and are far more beneficial to your body than cornmeal and sugar-laden food products. Most whole grains have vitamin B, vitamin E, minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, potassium, fiber, protein, carbohydrates and unsaturated fats. I suggest getting most of your carbohydrates from whole grains whether you’re following a gluten-free diet or not. This way you can save the extra calories from sugar and fat from the pre-made products labeled gluten-free, and you’ll save money. You Should Know: Gluten takes the form of wheat (includes farro, spelt), oat, rye, triticale (rye/wheat) and barley. Because it comes in contact with packaged food items, it can be difficult to stay away from. Now that the public is very aware of celiac disease (1-2 percent of the American population have it) food manufacturers have made a point to have ‘gluten-free’ on food packaging. This makes things easier for some packaged foods, but make sure to read the ingredient list and know what to avoid. For those who may have an allergy or sensitivity, the same rules apply by prioritizing eating whole foods before packaged foods. Expert Tip: If you follow a diet of pre-packaged gluten-free foods like granola, cookies, and snacks, you won’t be having any issues like malabsorption that come with gluten intolerances, allergies, and sensitivities; however, you will miss out on several nutrients your body needs to properly function. Also, if you do have reason to believe you have an allergy or sensitivity to gluten, get the proper blood work done to see if your reactions are severe, treatable, and/or manageable before diagnosing yourself.