Addressing Nutrient Deficiencies

We tend to think of being malnourished as something that happens if a person does not get enough food to eat. However, we can be a normal weight or even overweight and still be malnourished if we have a diet lacking in important nutrients. Nutrient deficiencies are becoming more common due to the quality and type of food that we eat. Processed food can be of little or low nutritional value, and we may not eat a wide variety of fruit or vegetables. The soils that produce grows in can be lacking in specific nutrients. It may also be due to following a specific diet such as vegan, vegetarian, paleo, or ketogenic.

Sometimes the symptoms of a deficiency are obvious, but other deficiencies can go unnoticed for a long period of time until the deficiency becomes more severe.

The most common dietary deficiency in the world, according to the World Health Organisation, is iron deficiency. WHO estimates that over 30% of the world population is lacking in iron – over two billion people! Iron is needed to make haemoglobin, the protein that transports oxygen in the blood. It is also needed for your immune system, brain development, and healthy skin, hair, and nails. If iron levels are too low, your body may have a deficiency in red blood cells. Symptoms include cold hands and feet, brittle nails, pale skin, fast heartbeat, fatigue, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Iron deficiency anemia is more common in women due to menstruation, and they have increased needs when pregnant. Growing children sometimes can’t get enough iron to meet their needs. Vegans, vegetarians, and athletes can also be more susceptible to iron deficiency. Increasing your intake of iron-rich foods such as lean meat, seafood, beans, vegetables, and dried fruit can help increase iron levels. Some people may need to take iron tablets or liquid that has been prescribed by their doctor.

Nutrients are only present in the plants we eat if they are first present in the soil. New Zealand soils as well as certain areas of Australia are deficient in selenium. This means that even if we eat lots of fruit and vegetables we might not be getting enough of this valuable nutrient.

Selenium is an antioxidant that prevents cell damage due to free radicals. It has an important role in regulating thyroid and sex hormones and is needed for healthy ovulation. It works with other antioxidants such as Vitamin C and E to keep your immune system healthy and slow cell degeneration. A selenium deficiency is not obvious but can cause hypothyroidism, weight gain, fatigue, fertility issues (including frequent miscarriage), and an increased susceptibility to infections. Foods rich in selenium are eggs, liver, tuna, and poultry. Eating two to four brazil nuts per day is the easiest way to maintain healthy selenium levels.

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about whether a supplement for one of these two nutrients is something to consider for you or your family. Follow these tips to get the most nutrients from your diet by eating:

  • wholegrains and cereals daily
  • at least two serves of fish per week
  • 100g to 200g of lean protein daily
  • two serves of fruit daily
  • three serves of vegetables daily.
  • three serves of dairy daily.

Disclaimer: This article provides general information only. It is not intended as medical or health advice and should not be relied on as a substitute for consultation with a qualified healthcare professional who understands your individual medical needs.