While delicious, french fries, pizza, chicken nuggets, pasta, ice cream and the vast majority of our favorite foods, fall short when it comes to our nutritional needs. In order to achieve our “ideal” bodies, many of us are willing to try intense cleanses, diets and programs. Yes, that juice cleanse might help you lose a couple pounds, but by the end you will probably be feeling physically and mentally fatigued. In order to feel (and look) your best, you need to give your body the proper vitamins and minerals.
Your body is constantly giving you signals about its health. In order to figure out what your body needs, many times you just need to pay attention! These are a few of the most common signs of vitamin deficiencies.
- Constant fatigue
- Brittle hair and nails
- Canker sores or cracks at the corners of your mouth
- Bleeding gums
- Poor night vision
- Dry skin and dandruff
- Red and white bumps on your skin
- Muscle cramps
- Prone to bruising
- Weight gain
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it may be due to a deficiency in one of these vitamin groups.
When your body does not receive an adequate amount of iron, it causes you to be tired, weak and have impaired brain function. It can also be the cause of canker sores and cracks around your mouth. Iron deficiencies are incredibly common, over 25% of people worldwide are affected. This number skyrockets to 47% for preschool aged children, 30% for women who are menstruating and 42% of pregnant women.
Though there are incredible benefits to a meat free lifestyle, vegans and vegetarians are also more likely to experience an iron deficiency because they do not get heme iron. There are actually two types of iron:
- Heme Iron: Only found in animals, well absorbed by the body
- Non-heme Iron: More common, found in plant and animal products, not as easily absorbed by the body
It is recommended that men get 8.7 mg and women get 14.8 mg per day to function properly. It is also important to note that if you take iron supplements you should not take substantially more than the recommended amount. Excess iron can have very bad side effects like stomach pain, nausea and vomiting.
B12 is another big component in animal products, thus making it a common deficiency. It is estimated that 80-90% of vegans and vegetarians do not get enough vitamin B12. As you age, the likelihood of developing a vitamin B12 deficiency also increases due to the fact that your body is less efficient at absorbing it.
Unlike iron, having too much B12 is not a problem as your body easily gets rid of any not being used. However, B12 does aid in the process of the absorption of iron which can lead to increased brain function and experiencing less fatigue. Some foods high in B12 are:
Increasing your intake of B12 has also been found to improve mood and reduce feelings of depression and anxiety.
If you’ve noticed yourself having thin nails or brittle hair you may be lacking biotin. Biotin is also known as B7. It has been found that 2.5 milligrams of biotin supplements taken daily strengthens nails and improves nail health. If you are taking it supplementally, you do not have to worry about getting too much because your body easily disposes of any excess. Yet, a deficiency in biotin can cause fatigue, muscle cramps and tingling in the hands and feet.
Pregnant women, heavy smokers and drinkers and people with digestive problems are more likely to develop a Biotin deficiency. Some foods rich in biotin are:
- Egg yolks
- Organ meats
- Sweet potatoes
If you’ve noticed your gums bleeding when you brush or floss, easy bruising, slow wound healing, dry skin or nose bleeds, a Vitamin C deficiency may be the cause. Vitamin C has a vital role in our immune system and helps prevent cell damage. It also is crucial to the production of collagen which gives strength and shape to many of our bodies tissues.
Your body does not produce Vitamin C so it must be included in your diet constantly. Fresh fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamin C but getting enough every day is the tricky part. 90 mg of vitamin C for men and 75 mg for women daily is recommended.
Having low amounts of vitamin A can cause difficulties seeing at night which can progress to the development of xerophthalmia. Xerophthalmia is a condition that can damage the cornea and lead to total blindness. Like iron, it is important to stay cautious if you are taking supplements because too much Vitamin A can cause nausea, headaches, skin irritation, joint and bone pain and in extremely rare cases coma and death. Some foods high in vitamin A are:
- Sweet potatoes
- Dark leafy greens
Niacin is also known as B3. It is another vitamin that needs to consistently be replaced as the body is very efficient at getting rid of any excess. Similar to B12, a deficiency in niacin can lead to fatigue, headache, and skin problems. Niacin acts as an antioxidant and helps with DNA repair. Some foods that are high in Niacin are:
- Organ meats (liver is a good one)
Iodine is key in improper thyroid function. Thyroid hormones are involved in many body processes like growth and brain development. They also function in the regulation of your metabolic rate which directly affects weight gain. In children, iodine deficiencies are incredibly more dangerous and can lead to developmental abnormalities and mental retardation. Great sources of iodine include:
It is always an option to visit your local physician and take a blood test in order to get an accurate read of where your specific body stands chemically. By obtaining these numbers you can lock down exactly what you are lacking in your diet and make changes as necessary. Always remember that your needs are unique. Certain amounts of vitamins and minerals will be the optimum level for you and not necessarily someone else. By tracking your diet and its side effects, you can determine which vitamins have a greater impact on you.