Food & Nutrition Health Supplements

Common nutrient deficiencies and how to avoid them

We all lead busy lives and hence prioritize work, among other things, and neglect our health. Also, the convenience of ordering through various online apps and eating out frequently is to be blamed. According to a recent study, nutritional-deficiency diseases contribute to about 20% of deaths worldwide. Our diets lack the right nutrients and they are loaded with junk our body does not need. Our body requires several vitamins and minerals for optimal functioning and disease prevention. These vitamins and minerals are called micronutrients. A nutritional deficiency occurs when our body doesn’t receive or cannot absorb a specific nutrient in the amount required. If this is prolonged, it can be dangerous.

Micronutrients cannot be produced by our bodies. Hence, we must acquire them through diet. Some widespread nutrient deficiencies include vitamin A, iodine, folate, and iron deficiencies, which can have devastating consequences.

Therefore, it is important to prevent deficiencies before they lead to problems.

Here, we discuss the most common nutrient deficiencies and the best ways to prevent them.

What Are The Most Common Nutrient Deficiencies?

Iron deficiency 

Some of the salient features of iron deficiency anaemia include – pale skin, extreme fatigue, brittle nails, chest pain and shortness of breath (accompanied by fast heartbeat), cold hands and feet, tongue inflammation, unusual cravings for non-nutritive substances like ice or dirt ( pica), headache and dizziness

Iron is required to produce haemoglobin, which is important for transporting oxygen throughout the body.

Blood loss is one major cause of iron deficiency, a lack of iron in your diet can also lead to this deficiency. Celiac disease can result in iron deficiency. Vegetarians or vegans, menstruating and pregnant women, and individuals who donate blood more frequently are at an increased risk of iron deficiency.

Sources of iron: The richest sources of heme iron are lean meat and seafood. Sources of non-heme iron include nuts, beans, and vegetables (especially spinach).

Iodine deficiency

Iodine deficiency is characterised by goitre (enlarged thyroid gland), fatigue, constipation, puffy face, muscle weakness, dry skin, muscle aches and tenderness, thinning hair, depression, impaired memory, weight gain, increased sensitivity to cold, irregular menstrual periods.

Iodine deficiency happens when you don’t consume enough iodine in your diet. Also, those who have undergone surgery to correct their thyroid problem, and those with a family history of thyroid disease are susceptible.

Sources of iodine: Use salt and bread that has been fortified with iodine. Seaweed is one of the richest sources of iodine.

Vitamin A deficiency 

Vitamin A deficiency is characterised by the following symptoms – dry and scaly skin, dry eyes, a hazy cornea, inflamed eyes, and night blindness

Certain health conditions like celiac disease, chronic diarrhoea, cystic fibrosis, and cirrhosis can interfere with the absorption of vitamin A in the body.

Infants, children, and pregnant and lactating women are at a higher risk of developing vitamin A deficiency.

Sources of vitamin A: Sweet potato is the richest natural source of vitamin A. Beef liver is another great source. Spinach makes for a great addition to your breakfast sandwich.

Vitamin B-Complex deficiency

Vitamin B-complex constitutes of different B vitamins such as B1, B3, B7, and B12. A deficiency in any B vitamins can cause severe complications. Some are emotional disorders and nerve, heart, and muscle problems. Pregnant women and individuals with alcohol use disorder risk experiencing vitamin B-complex deficiency.

Sources of vitamin B-complex: Foods such as salmon, chicken, brown rice, avocado, and eggs, can help prevent such deficiency. Remember that your body can’t store B vitamins, so it has to be replenished through diet.

Vitamin C deficiency 

Vitamin C deficiency manifests with the following symptoms- depression, fatigue, rashes, impaired wound healing, gingivitis, weight loss, irritability, scurvy (characterized by bleeding gums and opening of previously healed wounds)

The primary cause of scurvy is the inadequate intake of vitamin C. Individuals at high risk include people who are addicted to alcohol and smoking, those on a poor diet, and those having severe mental illnesses. Even people undergoing dialysis are at risk as vitamin C is lost in the treatment process.

Sources of vitamin C: Include oranges, gooseberry, broccoli, potatoes, and cauliflower.

Vitamin D deficiency 

Patients with Vitamin D deficiency have the following symptoms-

  • Bone pain
  • Generalized weakness
  • Myalgia (pain in a group of muscles)

The causes of vitamin D deficiency include limited exposure to sunlight, having dark skin, having inflammatory bowel disease or other conditions that cause malabsorption of the nutrient.

Vegans and vegetarians may also be at high risk as most of the natural food sources of vitamin D include fish, dairy, and poultry.

Adding the right foods to your diet (apart from regular exposure to morning sun) is the best way to prevent vitamin D deficiency.

Sources of Vitamin D: Salmon and tuna are good sources of vitamin D. Other good sources include milk, yoghurt, eggs, and beef liver. If you are a vegan, go for orange juice fortified with vitamin D.

Calcium deficiency 

Calcium deficiency causes the following symptoms- confusion, fatigue, anxiety, brittle nails, impaired concentration, poor memory, dry skin, coarse hair, muscle cramps and muscle weakness

Hypocalcaemia may be caused by several factors including inadequate calcium in the diet, lack of sunlight exposure, chronic kidney disease, liver disease or liver cirrhosis, and reduced intestinal absorption of calcium. Vitamin D deficiency can also lead to hypocalcaemia.

Sources of calcium: Plain, low-fat yoghurt is the richest source of calcium. Cheese, paneer, and almonds are among the other sources of calcium.

Magnesium deficiency

Magnesium deficiency causes the following symptoms – vomiting, nausea, fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite, numbness, seizures, abnormal heart rhythms, tingling, and muscle cramps.

The primary cause of magnesium is dietary inadequacy. Malabsorption could also be another cause. Excess alcohol intake and prolonged diarrhoea may also cause magnesium deficiency.

Sources of magnesium: Nuts are among the richest sources of magnesium. Other sources include spinach, peanuts, and brown rice.

Zinc deficiency

You may have zinc deficiency if you experience the following symptoms – loss of appetite, weakened immune system, hair loss, diarrhoea, lethargy, slow wound healing, and unexplained weight loss.

Alcoholism is one major cause of zinc deficiency. Other causes include chronic kidney disease, diabetes, liver or pancreas disorders, and sickle cell disease

Sources of zinc: Oysters are the richest sources of zinc. Baked beans and pumpkin seeds are also good sources of zinc.

Who are at risk of nutritional deficiency?

Following are groups of individuals that may be at a higher risk of nutritional deficiencies and are recommended to consult their doctors to take supplements.

  • Exclusively breastfed infants
  • Adolescents
  • Individuals with dark-coloured skin
  • Premenopausal women
  • Pregnant women
  • Older adults
  • Individuals addicted to alcohol
  • Individuals on restrictive diets (like a vegan or gluten-free diet)
  • People addicted to smoking
  • Obese individuals
  • Patients who have undergone bariatric surgery
  • Individuals with inflammatory bowel disease
  • Patients who have undergone kidney dialysis
  • Individuals taking antibiotics, anticoagulants, anticonvulsants, and diuretics, among others

It is important to note that supplements cannot replace the variety of foods that are important for a healthy.

Do keep in mind that certain dietary supplements may cause some side effects.

Overnutrition!! – is it even a thing?

Apparently, yes! Overnutrition happens when the intake of nutrients is oversupplied. The amount of nutrients ingested exceeds that which is required for normal health and metabolism. In a way, overnutrition is the opposite of undernutrition or nutritional deficiencies.

Micronutrient overnutrition happens when there is an overzealous consumption of health supplements. Getting an excess of micronutrients from food is rare. But it may happen through supplements if you are not careful. Micronutrient overnutrition can lead to acute poisoning or chronic issues.


Lifestyle changes are the best way to prevent health complications. It is important to spend some time and energy on the food that is our building block. Always opt for home-cooked, well-balanced, and made-with-fresh ingredients over packaged, ready-to-eat, and fast foods available at every road corner. Make sure to include fresh fruits and vegetables that are a powerhouse of many micronutrients. Also, use diet supplements judiciously.

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