Vitamin deficiencies may seem like a problem we have overcome in the U.S. Surely, with the abundance of available food and the over-sized meals (and waistlines) so commonly found in our country, we must be getting adequate nutrition from our food? The Standard American Diet may be rich in calories, but that doesn't necessarily mean it is rich in nutrients. Many of us do not get the vitamins and minerals we need from the food we eat.
Even if you consume an ideal diet, full of organic fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, properly prepared nuts, legumes, and seeds, and fermented, probiotic rich foods - you may still be lacking in vital nutrients - though through no fault of your own. Today's modern farming practices have left our soils "starved," and the foods we eat today just aren't as mineral-rich as they were when our great grandparents ate them.
"Because of soil depletion, crops grown decades ago were much richer in vitamins and minerals than the varieties most of us get today. Modern intensive agricultural methods have stripped increasing amounts of nutrients from the soil in which the food we eat grows. Sadly, each successive generation of fast-growing, pest-resistant carrot is truly less good for you than the one before." - Scientific American
The prevalence of nutritional deficiencies was made clear when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the Second Nutrition Report, an assessment of diet and nutrition in the U.S. Which vitamins and minerals did the CDC find that we are lacking the most in our diets?
Top Five Nutrients Lacking in American Diets
Almost 15% of the population does not get enough vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble nutrient needed to form and regenerate red blood cells. B12 promotes growth in children, increases energy, and helps protect your brain from shrinking with age. B12 is needed to maintain a healthy nervous system, and to improve concentration, memory, and balance.
Foods that contain B12 naturally are animal foods like fish, meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy. This nutrient is not typically found in plant foods. Vegans can get B12 from fortified foods such as breakfast cereals and nutritional yeast.
B12 deficiencies can lead to anemia, canker sores, weakness, loss of appetite, weight loss, and numbness or tingling in the hands and feet. B12 deficiencies can also include depression, confusion, poor memory, difficulty maintaining balance, and has been linked to Alzheimer's disease.
We need to get vitamin C, another water-soluble nutrient, from the foods we eat. And the vitamin C levels in our fruits and vegetables have dropped 30% in the last 30 years, according to data compiled by a Kushi Institute analysis. Vitamin C plays a primary role in the production of collagen, needed for the growth and repair of body tissues.
Vitamin C is naturally present in fruits like camu camu, oranges, and acerola cherries, and vegetables like bell peppers and broccoli.
Scurvy may be the best known example of vitamin C deficiency, but it can also lead to inflammation and bleeding of the gums, loss of teeth, poor wound healing, and joint pain.
Vitamin D can be obtained through food sources, supplements, or can be synthesized in our bodies from direct sunlight. That's why vitamin D is also known as the "sunshine vitamin". However, during winter months, and year round for many people in different areas of the world, enough direct sun exposure can be hard to come by.
This fat-soluble nutrient is found in fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel and in fish liver oils. Cheese, egg yolks, and mushrooms can also be a source of vitamin D.
Vitamin D deficiencies can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), rickets in children, and bone pain and muscle weakness in adults.
Magnesium is a mineral needed for calcium and vitamin C metabolism, for effective nerve and muscle function, and to convert blood sugar into energy. Magnesium helps the body regulate more than 325 enzyme reactions.
Natural sources of magnesium include legumes, nuts, whole grains, very dark chocolate, and vegetables.
Magnesium deficiencies can include a loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and weakness. Numbness, tingling, cramps, muscle spasms, and abnormal heart rhythms are also signs of magnesium deficiences. Alcoholics are usually deficient in this mineral as well.
Your thyroid needs iodine to properly function. Proper iodine levels can help with a healthy metabolism and fat burn, promote proper growth, provide energy, and support healthy hair, nails, skin, and teeth.
Iodine is a mineral that is found in ocean fish, seaweed, shrimp, and seafood. Land sources of iodine can include dairy products and onions.
Deficiencies in iodine can range from hypothyroidism, goiter, weight gain, lack of energy, and a slow mental reaction.
A healthy diet featuring plenty of organic fruits and vegetables along with organically raised, grass-fed, pastured animal products can go a long way towards preventing nutritional deficiencies. A good daily plant-based vitamin and mineral supplement can also support healthy levels of these crucial and vital nutrients. If you think you may be deficient in a particular nutrient, your doctor can help you determine additional supplements that can restore your health.
Kelly Harrington, MS, RD
Registered Dietitian at Healthy Goods
Scientific American; Dirt Poor: Have Fruits and Vegetables Become Less Nutritious?