Nutritious Food

If you have a nutrient deficiency, odds are likely it’s one of these.

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Common Nutrient Deficiencies

1. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is critical to bone health and can help prevent diseases like cancer and Type 2 diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some studies also show that it can promote muscle strength.

According to the CDC, vitamin D is only naturally found in a few foods, including fish-liver oils, fatty fish, mushrooms, egg yolks, and liver, but it’s often added to milk or juices. Your body also produces vitamin D when you spend time in the sun, so if you live somewhere that gets little sunlight, you may be especially susceptible to a vitamin D deficiency.

2. Calcium

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, says the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It’s necessary for vascular contraction, muscle function, nerve transmission, hormone secretion, and other vital tasks. Most of the calcium in your body is stored in your bones and teeth.

According to the NIH, most adults between the ages of 19 and 70 years need 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams of calcium per day. You can meet these requirements by drinking milk and eating yogurt, cheese, and vegetables, such as Chinese cabbage, kale, and broccoli.

Taking calcium carbonate supplements may help postmenopausal women avoid osteoporosis (when bones become weak and brittle) and could help others restore calcium levels.

3. Iron

Iron helps you make hemoglobin, a substance in red blood cells that helps carry oxygen throughout your body. According to the CDC, almost 10% of women in the United States experience iron deficiency. People with low iron can develop iron-deficiency anemia, says the NIH, which may cause symptoms including fatigue, shortness of breath, or chest pain.

Iron deficiency can result from living in an unhealthy environment, such as a place with lead in the water. It can also be hereditary or tied to your diet. Women who have heavy periods are also susceptible.

“One of the most common causes of iron deficiency in the United States is bleeding from the gastrointestinal tract, which can be a sign of more serious gastrointestinal disease,” says Shane Eikenberry, MD, a primary care doctor at Greater Pittsburgh Medical Associates–UPMC. “Often the bleeding happens slowly enough that you may not notice any blood in your stool. If you have iron deficiency, your provider may recommend a colonoscopy.”

If you have low iron, your doctor may prescribe an iron supplement. The NIH says it may take up to six months for a supplement to replenish your stored iron, so you should also increase your daily intake of iron-rich foods, including dried beans, dried fruits, eggs, red meat, salmon, iron-fortified breads and cereals, peas, and tofu. Cooking in a cast-iron pan also can provide some iron benefits. Taking vitamin C can help you absorb iron more easily.

Should You Take a Multivitamin?

Doctors generally agree that it’s best to get your vitamins by eating a healthy, balanced diet rather than relying on multivitamins. Vitamin-rich foods, unlike vitamins, have the added benefit of containing fiber and other important substances.

However, multivitamins can act as a kind of insurance against nutrient deficiencies and provide a valuable supplement to those who need it. Vitamins can have interactions with some medicines. Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting a multivitamin regimen.

To learn more about nutrient deficiencies and to discover whether you’re getting all of the nutrients you need, contact UPMC Nutrition Services or call 412-692-4497 to make an appointment with one of our dietitians.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on . Refreshed 2/16/22.

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