If you had spots on your skin, spongy gums that led to the loss of teeth, jaundice and general lethargy, you likely had scurvy from lack of vitamin C. The disease often impacted sailors whose fresh fruit perished long before they made it to the next port. And if you lost weight fast and had weakness of the limbs that made walking difficult, you probably had beriberi from not getting enough thiamine in your diet.
These days, we’re still facing problems with nutrient deficiencies in third-world countries, but would it surprise you to learn that there are lots of people who are living with nutrient deficiencies, even in industrialized nations where there is so much food that the dumpsters behind stores have led to a new food movement called freeganism?
Freegans scavenge dumpsters to “harvest” food that is still fresh and edible, making a political statement about food waste. And they – in many cases – are less lacking in key nutrients than those of us whose diets are made up of primarily drive-through dinners as we struggle to get through our days.
That’s because much of the foods that get tossed in the dumpster are fruits and veggies, which could suggest that the rest of us aren’t buying enough of the nutrient-dense foods.
Are you feeling down?
A study that appeared in the journal Public Health Nutrition, found that people who ate more fast food were more depressed than those who didn’t. (Ref. 1)
And while doctors are quick to provide Prozac for those of us who aren’t feeling our best, suggesting we revamp our diets could be a smarter option.
It’s no coincidence that most fast-food diets or diets high in junk food are also really low in fruits and veggies, which provide most of the nutrients our bodies need for good health.
According to the National Institutes of Health, about 21 million American adults suffer from either depression or anxiety, and nutrients missing in the diet could easily be to blame.
Some nutrient deficiencies linked to these two mood disorders include:
- Omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish andf fish oils);
- Vitamin D, a deficiency of which has also been linked to other health conditions;
- Selenium, which helps regulate thyroid hormones, and is found in abundance in Brazil nuts;
- Vitamin C (depression was also a common symptom of scurvy);
- Iron (low levels cause anemia, which leads to lethargy and feelings of depression);
- Magnesium (this mineral found in beans and greens naturally soothes anxiety);
- Folate (found at high levels in spinach);
- B vitamins (poultry and seafood are good sources); and
- Amino acids, which are found in proteins including meats, beans and the ancient grain quinoa. (Ref. 2)
Do your hair and nails seem brittle?
We all want to look our best, and strong hair and nails are two of the first things we present to the world when we step out of the house.
If they are not looking as good as they could, it’s possible you’re lacking a few key nutrients in your diet, and your hair and nails are offering you a friendly warning that it’s time to change up your diet plan.
“Just like every other part of your body, the cells and processes that support strong, vibrant hair depend on a balanced diet,” New York nutritionist Lisa Drayer, author of “The Beauty Diet,” told WebMD.
And while it can take a few months to notice the damage – as well as a few months to recover – eating the right foods, including those rich in B vitamins, vitamin C, biotin, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and zinc, can make all the difference.
Drayer recommends salmon, walnuts, oysters, fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, Greek yogurt and blueberries as dietary staples. (Ref. 3)
Are you exhausted?
You might be walking around thinking you have chronic fatigue syndrome – or perpetual laziness – but it could be your diet that’s causing you to feel fatigued.
Country singer Leann Rimes carries vitamin B12 shots with her on long trips to keep her energy up, but you can get the same effects from eating the right foods.
Foods rich in vitamin B12 include shellfish – especially, clams, oysters and mussels, liver, fish including mackerel, smoked herring, salmon, tuna and trout, crustaceans including crab and shrimp, tofu and soy milk, beef, low-fat dairy products, cheese and eggs. (Ref. 4)
Do you tend to get sick?
If your immune system isn’t warding off illness, you could be deficient in some key nutrients.
Without them, your immune system can’t fight off invaders as well as it should, and you may find yourself calling in sick more often than you should need to.
In addition to eating more immune-boosting onions and garlic, consider adding vitamins A, C, D and E, chromium, selenium, magnesium or zinc to your diet. (Ref. 5)
Do you have skin troubles?
Our skin is our body’s largest organ, and nutritional deficiencies will show themselves from the inside out.
According to Dr. Mehmet Oz, acne could be a sign of a zinc deficiency (eat more pumpkin seeds), while dry skin could be the result of low levels of fatty acids (salmon and walnuts), vitamin A (milk, orange fruits and green veggies), vitamin E (wheat germ, toasted almonds), potassium (bananas, zucchini and star fruit) or vitamin D (sunshine). (Ref. 6)
Are you feeling forgetful?
You might not be getting enough folate. A key nutrient found in spinach, folate helps support not only our memories, but also the functions of our brain.
If we don’t get enough, we may have a hard time concentrating on important tasks, may feel anxious and suffer from a low mood, may be forgetful and could be at a higher risk of cognitive decline. (Ref. 7)
Foods rich in folate include leafy greens, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, citrus fruits, avocado, legumes, nuts and seeds and cauliflower.
AVOIDING NUTRIENT DEFICIENCIES: Taking a supplement such as Total Balance – which offers a broad range of valuable nutrient your body needs including vitamins, minerals, amino acids and other nutrients, and makes up for those days when you can’t eat the best foods – can help fill the gaps. Learn more here.