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Getting enough nutrition from a healthy diet is essential for maintaining well-being and preventing disease. Depending on a series of factors, including diet, age, lifestyle habits and the use of medications, it is possible to be well-nourished and thriving. It is also possible to be deficient in some vitamins and minerals or to be only consuming just enough to meet recommended daily allowances.
Deficiencies are not as common in some areas of the world as they are in others, but even in the modern world where it is assumed such problems do not exist, deficiencies of some vitamins and minerals are prevalent. Learn about the most common nutrient deficiencies and what many people may be having trouble getting enough of from their diet.
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More people are deficient in iron then almost any other nutrient. Females in particular are more likely to have an iron deficiency. According to London University nutritionist, Dr. Mike Nelson, in the west it is possible that as many as ten to twenty percent of young girls are lacking. Eight percent of women are deficient. People who are on a vegetarian or vegan diet are also at risk.
A lack of iron can cause low energy levels and difficulty concentrating. A deficiency may lead to symptoms such as digestive trouble, nervousness, dizziness, brittle hair and pallor. Making sure there is enough iron in the diet is essential for growth, immune health, enzyme activity and the production of hemoglobin.
Where can iron be found in the diet? Excellent sources include meat, fish, poultry and eggs. This mineral is also found in green leafy vegetables, sea greens, whole grains, soybeans, lima beans, blackstrap molasses, sesame seeds and raisins.
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According to the National Institutes of Health, many Americans do not get enough magnesium from food sources and many do not have adequate stores of this mineral, which are important for preventing cardiovascular disease and immune problems. Magnesium is just as important as calcium for bone health, it helps to maintain a normal heart rhythm and proper muscle and nerve function.
Signs of a deficiency include irritability, trouble sleeping, poor digestion and confusion. On a more serious level a deficiency may be behind many cardiovascular problems. It may also be a contributing factor of insomnia, chronic fatigue, hypertension and kidney stones.
How to get enough magnesium in your diet? Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. This mineral is found in many foods, including seafood and dairy products, nuts, green leafy vegetables, bananas, apples, figs, tofu and whole grains.
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A vitamin D deficiency is fairly common among both young adults and older adults. In a 2004 study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 74 of 307 patients had a deficiency. 129 had insufficient levels. All participants were healthy adolescents. Older adults may have trouble making enough vitamin D in the skin, putting them at a higher risk for weaker bones, heart disease, diabetes and even cognitive impairment.
This nutrient can be found in several foods but sunlight is also an important source. The sun's ultraviolet rays cause a cholesterol compound in the skin to turn into a precursor for vitamin D. Darker-skinned people and those who spend most of their time indoors may be more likely to have low levels in the body. Also, people who live in areas with little sunlight may experience a deficiency if there isn't a rich supply of vitamin D in the diet.
Plenty of vitamin D ensures healthy bone and teeth development for children, better muscle strength and coordination and a reduced risk for heart disease and certain cancers. Deficiencies can lead to bone problems and chronic disease. This nutrient is found in fatty fish, dairy products, eggs, dandelion greens, oatmeal and sweet potatoes.
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Folate, one of the B vitamins, is so important for well-being and is vitally important for pregnant women. Having a deficiency or simply not having enough of this nutrient is not that difficult as there are many factors that can increase the need for folate and not that many foods that are good sources. People who drink alcohol regularly, pregnant and breastfeeding women and those with kidney or liver problems and malabsorption have an increased need for folate. Also, those who use prescription medications, including metformin, sulfasalzine, trimterene, methotrexate and barbiturates are at a higher risk for a deficiency. To prevent folate deficiency the Food and Drug Administration set standards for fortification in 1996 for some food products including cereals and grains products.
This nutrient is important for regulating homocysteine levels (high levels of this amino acid are associated with a higher risk for atherosclerosis). It is also important for energy production, immune function, mental well-being and for a healthy pregnancy. Aside from fortified cereals and juice, spinach, asparagus, green leafy vegetables, peanuts, northern beans, peas and brown rice are all good sources. Bananas, papaya and cantaloupe all contain a small amount.
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Diet and Supplements
Eating a balanced diet that is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and healthy sources of protein is so important for maintaining nutrient stores and for supplying the body with plenty of the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that it requires to thrive. Iron, magnesium, vitamin D and folate are some of the more common nutrient deficiencies but many people have low levels of many other nutrients as well. Be sure nutrition is a priority, not only to prevent deficiency symptoms but also to help prevent disease. Talk to your doctor about taking a multivitamin to ensure adequate nutrition.
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Iron. The European Food Information Council. http://www.eufic.org/article/en/diet-related-diseases/deficiencies/artid/iron-common-deficiency/
Magnesium. Office of Dietary Supplements. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/magnesium/#h4
Prevalence of vitamin D deficiency among healthy adolescents. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (National Institutes of Health Archives) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15184215
Vitamin D and older adults. Neurology. http://www.neurology.org/content/74/1/e2.full
Folate. Office of Dietary Supplements. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/folate/
Balch, Phyllis A. " Prescription for Nutritional Healing." Fourth Edition (Penguin Books, 2006).
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