Medically reviewed by Amy Gorin, MS, RDN
Do you have a nutritional deficiency? A vitamin or mineral deficiency is pretty common. Read on to find the signs of vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
you've ever looked at the nutrition label on a jar of multivitamins, you know just how many nutrients are packed into those tiny capsules (or gummies!). But since you
need so many vitamins and minerals to keep us
strong and healthy, how are you supposed to know if and when you need to up your intake of any particular one? And is food first the way to go?
The good news: You don't need to have a blood test every few months to clue you in on if you're nutrient deficient. Your body is actually pretty darn good at alerting you by showing various signs.
The tricky part? Many of the symptoms of nutritional deficiencies may seem normal to you if your body has been running on lower fuel for awhile. Get the details about if feeling tired—or having an odd ache or tingling or having muscle weakness—is no biggie or is actually a sign of a larger health issue (like an iodine deficiency).
Plus, get recipe ideas to boost your intake of vitamins and minerals the natural way! And if you decide to go the supplement route, find out what vitamin brands dietitians recommend.
Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D?
Before I started eating seafood, it was difficult for me to get enough vitamin D through food—since the main dietary sources are fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel. Now, I eat seafood several times a week.
Other foods like dairy products (including cheese, fortified milk, and yogurt) and milk
contain small amounts, but when I was a vegetarian I would have to strategically plan what I would eat every day to get enough. Of course, you can take in vitamin D through the sun, but it’s hard
to absorb enough while also protecting your skin.
Vitamin D is important for keeping your bones strong—it helps you absorb calcium and keeps your body’s stores of this and other important bone minerals in check. And studies show it may also help boost your immunity. If you're wondering about vitamin D and weight control, science linking the two is very early and not yet proven.
I've had my vitamin D level tested several times through blood work to see if I was deficient in the vitamin. The results have always landed me in a healthy range—but to ensure they stay there, I make sure I eat vitamin-D-rich foods. And when I was a vegetarian, I took a daily supplement.
Researchers say the best way to absorb a vitamin D supplement is to take it with a meal
containing fat, per a study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
When volunteers in the United States paired a vitamin D supplement with a meal that had 30% of total calories as fat (so about 120 calories, or 13 grams of fat, for a 400-calorie meal), they
absorbed the vitamin D 32% better, versus folks eating a meal without fat.
If you decide to get tested and come up deficient, your doctor may prescribe a high-dose supplement. But if you land in a healthy range or aren't sure if you already get enough, pick a supplement with less than 1,000 IU vitamin D.
You can choose a capsule or try a liquid formula (such as Nature's Way Vitamin D3), which makes it very easy to control the dose. Most women and men need to take in 600 IU daily—or 800 IU if you’re older than 70.
There are actually two types of vitamin D. Yup! You should look for a supplement containing vitamin D3, which is absorbed more efficiently by the body than vitamin D2.
Because vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, it makes sense that a meal containing fat would enhance its absorption—although this is some of the first research to prove this. One caveat of the study: While scientists tested a supplement containing 50,000 IU vitamin D, a typical dose would contain much less than that. So it’s possible that a fat-containing meal affects the absorption of a smaller amount differently than found in the study findings.
Get a whole list of foods offering vitamin D in my FitnessMagazine.com article. While I always recommend food first, getting vitamin D from food isn't always easy.
Signs of a Vitamin K Deficiency
What nutrient is super important for bone health, cell growth, and blood clotting? Ding, ding ding! It's vitamin K! Vitamin K is a nutrient that goes hand in hand with vitamin D.
Because vitamin K plays so many roles in keeping your body running smoothly, you may feel some not-so-fun side effects if you're not getting enough.
Signs of a Thiamine Deficiency
Are you thinking, "What the heck is thiamine?" If so, you're not alone in wondering about this B vitamin. While thiamine isn't talked about much, that doesn't mean your body can do without it. About 80% of the thiamine in your body lives in your red blood cells.
Also known as vitamin B1, thiamine helps your body use carbohydrates and keeps your nerves functioning at their best. To help you recognize when you're not getting enough, I lay out the signs of a deficiency in my Reader's Digest article, including all the signs and symptoms.
Also find out more about methylated vitamins, including vitamin B-12. These vitamins may be helpful if your body's ability to absorb them is hindered or if you have a lack of intrinsic factor. This may be especially important for pregnant women, who need folate or folic acid.
Nutrients You Might be Missing on a Plant-Based Diet
While following a plant-based diet can have many benefits, you won't be a picture of good health if you're missing key nutrients. Plant-based eating can hinder your absorption of certain vitamins and minerals, and you may need to consume higher amounts of certain nutrients than someone who regularly eats meat.
Don't worry, though! I'm here to help. I'm explaining the science on two special nutrients to make sure you're covering your bases, and I'm even topping off the advice with something sweet! While you're reading, think about sipping my healthy avocado smoothie, full of plant-based nutrients.
You know that pumping iron is a great way to build muscle, and you may assume that getting enough protein is the main key for this. But did you know that eating iron does the heavy lifting outside of the gym? From proper blood flow to producing energy, iron is a key nutrient for anyone.
Plant-based eaters need a little extra know-how, mainly how much you need and how certain foods may help or hinder absorption. Get the details in my interview with WellandGood.com. Get dietitian tips to make vegetables taste better, including bell peppers, then learn how to embrace plant-based weight loss.
Should You Take a Vitamin Every Day?
It seems like there's a dietary supplement out there for everything these days. How do you know if you should be adding any of them to your day? If you're wondering, "Should I take vitamins every day?" read on.
As a plant-based dietitian, I try to get most of my nutrients from food. I won't ever tell you not to eat your fruits and vegetables, including your leafy greens!
But what if healthy eating isn't enough? Could a daily vitamin or two help you fill in the gaps if your body is unable to get everything it otherwise needs?
You may be surprised to hear what I have to say about taking dietary supplements. We've talked about a few common deficiencies here, but other ones include calcium deficiency and iron deficiency anemia. I'm breaking it all down in this HuffPost.com article! What about other top supplements, like probiotics?
Amy's Recipe to Try
Whip up this
recipe: Cauliflower Sweet Potato Flatbread!
Cauliflower is one powerful veggie, especially when it comes to providing your body with vital nutrients. It's loaded with vitamin C to boost your immune system, as well as vitamin K to help support your bone, joint, and heart health.
Plus, when the cruciferous veggie is placed atop a crispy crust and sweet potato purée, you end up with a delish flatbread that'll win over your entire family. Love pizza? Then add white bean pizza to your meal-prep list, too!
Bonus recipe to try: The Healthiest Vegan Chocolate Pudding
Love pudding but trying to eat vegan? Well, you can whip up a healthy chocolate pudding without dairy. And the bonus? This dessert has absolutely no added sugar.
You can satisfy that sweet tooth without forfeiting your health goals, and I'd say that's a win-win! Not a chocolate fan? Give this plant-based nice cream a try, and see sweet alternatives to lower your sugar intake.
This blog post was updated in June 2020. A version of this content originally appeared on WeightWatchers.com.
- Dietary Fat Increases Vitamin D-3 Absorption, Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
- Recipes to Help You Add More Vitamin D to Your Diet, FitnessMagazine.com
- 8 Silent Signs of a Vitamin K Deficiency, TheHealthy.com
- 11 Silent Signs of a Thiamine Deficiency, TheHealthy.com
- Your Guide to Iron When You’re Totally Plant-Based, WellandGood.com
- Should You Take A Vitamin Every Day?, HuffPost.com
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I'd love to hear from you! Are you worried about having a nutritional deficiency? How do you eat to get your vitamins and minerals?
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