The standard American diet, or “SAD” (quite fittingly), is loaded with unhealthy fats, refined carbohydrates, excess sodium, and added sugars. Moreover, the majority of public health research concludes that most Americans do not eat enough fruits, vegetables, dairy, healthy oils, or whole grains. This leads to many people becoming vitamin deficient
Poor dietary choices have had a staggering impact. Case in point: an estimated half of the U.S. population will rank as “obese” by 2025. That’s right. Fifty percent of the U.S. population will weigh 20 percent above normal weight for their age and gender – and in just over five years from now.
With statistics like these, is it really any surprise that most of us aren’t eating enough vitamins? Common sense tells us no. Vitamins are healthy, and the only way to make sure to get enough healthy stuff is to eat healthy foods.
In this article, we’re going to define and discuss vitamin deficiency. We’ll also reveal some simple things that you can do to treat and prevent vitamin deficiency. Let’s do this!
Are You Vitamin Deficient?
“Despite an abundant food supply, research indicates that Americans are significantly deficient in many critical nutrients.” – Chris Kresser (source)
First, let’s make the distinction between vitamin deficiency and vitamin insufficiency. Vitamin insufficiency comprises any shortage, or gap, between the recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamins and actual intake. Vitamin deficiency is a recognized medical term with predefined requirements. Most medical literature interchanges the two terms, but not all. For the most part, the two terms are interchangeable. Now that’s out of the way: what’s the scoop on vitamin deficiency?
For one thing, it’s easy to become vitamin deficient in the United States – and, presumably, many other Western countries. Why is this?
To answer this question, simply step into any American grocery store. Fresh foods, including many fruits, vegetables, and lean meats, are often more expensive and – as a result – not bought and consumed. Instead, many Americans choose to buy packaged (read: processed) foods. Per a report released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, packaged foods tend to be much higher in calories, fat, and sodium than their fresh counterparts.
Then there is the issue of choice. Most megastores, including Wal-Mart, offer a limited selection of fresh foods when compared with frozen and boxed foods. Healthy foods are, in essence, replaced by less nutritious, more convenient garbage.
Obesity and Being Vitamin Deficient
At first glance, the words “malnutrition” and “obesity” seem paradoxical. However, studies show a likely connection between overweightness, obesity, and vitamin deficiency. This is a significant finding as nearly 40 percent of Americans are obese, and even more are overweight. Some other statistics:
– An estimated 35 percent more obese people are vitamin D deficient compared to others.
– The percentage of obese people deficient in zinc and copper is estimated at 68 and 74 percent, respectively.
– Some obese people were found to be severely deficient in vitamins D, B1, B12, and B9 (folate).
Hidden Signs of Being Vitamin Deficient
Vitamin deficiency may affect the entire body; increasing our chances of accidents, disease, illness, or injury. Most signs of vitamin deficiency are subtle, if noticeable at all. Here are five of the more common, “hidden” signs of vitamin deficiency.
It is estimated that up to 98 percent of Americans are deficient in potassium. Fatigue, along with weakness, are the first signs of potassium deficiency.
Potassium plays many roles in ensuring the proper functioning of our bodies. It maintains proper fluid balance, keeps our millions of nerves healthy, and regulates muscle contractions. Concerning the last: when potassium levels are low, the muscles have a difficult time contracting. Moreover, suboptimal potassium levels may impact the body’s ability to absorb and efficiently use other vitamins and minerals. Fatigue is a common symptom of vitamin deficiency anemia – low blood cell counts.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for potassium is 4,700 to 5,100 milligrams (mg). Foods high in potassium include apricots, bananas, broccoli, grapefruit, mushrooms, peas, spinach, and sweet potatoes.
Low B12 levels may lead to low hemoglobin, a red blood cell component that provides oxygen to your body’s billions of cells. Lack of hemoglobin may manifest as burning sensations in your feet or tongue. Low B12 levels may cause other symptoms like constipation, diarrhea, dizziness, menstrual problems, and weight loss.
Vitamin B12 is crucial for proper brain function, nerve tissue health, and for the synthesis of red blood cells. Inadequate B12 intake may lead to adverse cognitive symptoms like confusion, depression, fatigue, and memory problems.
The RDA for vitamin B12 is 2.4 micrograms (mcg) for teens and adults, 2.6 mcg for pregnant women, and 2.8 mcg for women who are nursing. Sources of B12 include beef, fortified cereal, fatty fish, tuna, eggs, milk, and other dairy products.
Getting Sick More Often
Vitamins C and D are essential for proper immune system functioning. Lack of either can make it hard for your body to fight off bacteria and viruses, potentially leading to illness.
If you find yourself getting sick often, it may just be due to a lack of vitamin D. Studies show that over 40 percent of U.S. adults have this deficiency. This number rises to nearly 70 percent in Hispanics and over 80 percent for African Americans.
Vitamin C deficiency is less common but not altogether rare. Vitamin C is an important antioxidant – a substance that eliminates free radicals in the body.
Other symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include depression, muscle pain, and fatigue. Links have been found between people who are vitamin D deficient and an increased risk for cancer, cognitive impairment, cardiovascular disease, and severe asthma (in children.)
Other symptoms of vitamin C include fatigue and lethargy, bleeding gums and gum inflammation, joint pain, and slow wound healing. As with vitamin D, there is a possible correlation between vitamin C intake and cancer risk.
The RDA for vitamin D is between 400 to 800 mcg. The best source of vitamin D comes courtesy of the sun in the form of sunshine! Food sources of “D” include beef, cereals, cheese, dairy, fatty fish, soy milk, and orange juice.
The RDA for vitamin C is 75 mg and 90 mg for females and males over the age of 19, respectively; 85 mg for women pregnant woman, and 120 mg for women who are nursing. Smokers require an additional 35 mg of daily vitamin C. Good sources of “C” include red peppers, orange juice, grapefruit juice, broccoli, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, cabbage, and cauliflower.
Vitamin A deficiency, while not especially common in developed countries like the U.S., often causes skin problems. Demographics with a higher risk of “A” deficiency are women who are nursing or pregnant, infants, and pre-adolescent children. Vitamin A deficiency may also cause dry eyes, vision problems, infertility, stunted growth, acne and breakouts, and respiratory infections.
Food sources of vitamin A include dairy, eggs, meat, and plant foods. Vitamin A is listed as International Units (IUs) on most food and supplement labels. Read on for the RDA for vitamin A:
– 1 IU of alpha-carotene or beta-cryptoxanthin
– 2 IUs of beta-carotene (ideally, one from food and one from supplements)
– 1 IU of retinol
Irritability and Edginess
It is often difficult to pin down what’s making us irritable and edgy, given that there seems never to be a shortage of potential reasons! But, given that up to 75 percent of the U.S. adult population doesn’t get enough magnesium, a magnesium deficiency is a real possibility.
Magnesium, though not technically a vitamin (it is a mineral), is so important that it warrants inclusion here. Magnesium is involved in hundreds of reactions that take place in the body that we take for granted. For example, magnesium helps to ensure a regular heartbeat, dilates blood vessels, relaxes skeletal muscles, aids nerve transmission, and, of course, is critical for normal functioning of the nervous system.
Magnesium deficiency may produce other symptoms such as brain fog, fatigue, hypertension, irregular heartbeat, muscle weakness, and muscle twitches and cramps. The RDA for magnesium is 310 to 420 mg for adults. Children require significantly less – between 80 to 140 mg depending on age.
Food sources of magnesium include dark, leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Some bottled, mineral, and tap waters may also contain magnesium.