Eat to prevent these 5 common nutrient deficiencies
The body works as a holistic system, whereby one organ, process and nutrient influences another and a cascade of reactions. This is why eating a diet rich in nutrition, from real whole foods, is so critical for optimal wellbeing. As a nutritionist, I often work with clients to correct nutrient deficiencies that are negatively impacting their health. Food is fuel but it is also preventative medicine. Good health begins with the choices you make every day, three times (or more) a day. This is why I am so passionate about encouraging people to eat enough of the foods provided to us by mother earth. So let’s take a look at some common deficiencies and the best way we can use food to meet our requirements!
Firstly, we must distinguish between low in iron and a proper anaemia diagnosis, which will require different attention such as supplementation. Secondly, it has been shown that vegans/vegetarians are no more likely to suffer from anaemia than anybody else. Often meat-eaters are also iron-deficient, begging the question that perhaps it has more to do with absorption? Lastly, our digestive system cannot regulate heme (animal-derived) iron, the way it can non-heme (plant) iron, thereby creating a build-up. Too much iron can act as a pro-oxidant creating harmful free radicals.
Best Sources: Gluten-free whole-grains, legumes, dark leafy vegetables, raw nuts and seeds and dried figs and apricots, goji berries.
Tip: Consume these iron-rich plant foods with vitamin C from citrus and other fruits/veg to improve absorption and avoid drinking tea and coffee around food, as these inhibit absorption.
Calcium in milk is only present due to the fact that the cow ate plants, which obtained calcium from the soil. Even more shocking is the research that shows us that dairy and other animal-derived products actually increase our requirement for calcium. How can that be? Animal proteins are extremely acidic. Acidity in the body creates a need for self-correction i.e. the body “alkalises” itself. It is thought to do so by leaching calcium, and other alkalising minerals, from the bones, to neutralise the acidity. Therefore, consuming the calcium in dairy (and by consuming a high animal-protein diet in general) calcium stored in our body is lost at a greater rate, increasing our requirements to compensate. Plant-sources of calcium are abundant and well absorbed, and what’s more, the more plant-based you eat the more alkaline you naturally are, so requirements maybe less! Epidemiologic studies have shown us that populations with the highest dairy consumption have a higher risk of hip fractures than those with the lowest consumption.
Best Sources: Dark leafy greens (especially collards, kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts), starches (butternut squash, sweet potato) legumes (especially black beans, soybeans, navy beans), soy products like tofu, tempeh and soy milk (choose organic), nuts and seeds (especially tahini/sesame seeds) fruit (especially goji berries, dried figs, oranges).
Tip: it is important to keep sodium intake to 1-2g per day to prevent calcium loss. Exercise is also important to keep bones strong, as active people tend to hold on to the calcium in their bones more so than sedentary people. Bone health is not simply about calcium but also vitamin D status, hormone balance and exercise.
Incredibly important for female hormones, it promotes ovulation, assists period pain and has been shown to block excess androgens (important in PCOS). It has many other functions that include collagen production and overall skin health, immune function, thyroid synthesis (together with iodine and selenium) and regulating the stress response. The issue with zinc in a vegan diet hinge around absorption. Some plant-based foods (grains, legumes, nuts) contain phytates that can reduce the bioavailability of zinc. Yet a well-planned vegan diet can still meet zinc requirements, particularly important in pregnancy.
Best Sources: nutritional yeast, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, oats, wheat germ, tempeh, tofu, quinoa, sprouts and green leafy vegetables.
Tip: Enhance absorption by soaking grains and legumes prior to cooking, soaking and lightly toasting/dehydrating nuts and seeds, include sprouted beans in the diet, and consume citric acid found in fruits and vegetables with these phytate-rich foods i.e. a squeeze of lemon atop these foods, consuming them with lots of greens or cooking with bottled or canned tomatoes.
Usually associated with supporting thyroid function, and can often be low in hypothyroidism. Iodine is also important for promoting the healthy detoxification of oestrogen and making cells less sensitive to oestrogen. Many tissues need it including the immune system, brain and reproductive organs, playing a vital role in mitochondrial function, metabolism, detoxification pathways, immunity and ovulation.
Best Sources: Sea vegetables, especially nori, dulse and wakame.
Tip: Be careful not to over-consume it either, kelp can be too rich in iodine, and overconsumption can cause health issues too. If you consume soy food regularly, be sure to keep an eye on iodine levels as requirements may increase.
Over 300 enzymes rely on magnesium. It helps to relax blood vessels, calm the nervous system, improve muscular pains and cramps, hydrate cells, regulate bowel movements, induce sleep and keep the bones strong. Whilst it is in many foods, studies show we aren’t consuming the recommended daily amount of magnesium. Compounding this issue, modern life actually increases our requirements! This is because stress, exercise, caffeine, alcohol and processed foods actually deplete our stores.
Best Sources: Dark leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, raw cacao, buckwheat, oats, quinoa, legumes.
Tip: Stress management, moderate exercise, and a whole-food diet can help to keep requirements lower.
Written by Sami Bloom (@samibloom)- Nutritionist