Because of fortified breads, cereals, milk products, and the common use of vitamin supplements in the United States, major mineral and vitamin deficiencies are rare. However, they do happen. And even deficiencies that aren’t severe can cause health problems.
• A moderate iron deficiency can cause anemia, as can a deficiency in some B vitamins, such as folate and B 12.
• A mild vitamin D deficiency can cause a loss of appetite, weight loss, diarrhea, insomnia and vision problems.
• A mild vitamin C deficiency can cause weakness, poor or slow wound healing, nosebleeds, anemia, water retention, a lack of energy and poor digestion.
In the United States, severe deficiencies usually occur in people who have malabsorption problems related to serious health issues like cystic fibrosis, Chrohn’s disease, or the removal of a section of the small intestine. Serious deficiencies must be diagnosed and properly treated by a physician.
Some people with vitamin deficiencies may unknowingly attribute health problems to other causes. If you have any unexplained symptoms, It’s important to get thoroughly evaluated by your physician and to raise the question of a deficiency, especially if you know that your diet is less-than-balanced.
The question remains: how do you prevent and treat vitamin and mineral deficiencies?
You might be tempted to go out and buy the latest multivitamin to make sure all of your bases are covered. But it’s important to note that while vitamins aren’t necessarily harmful, they may not be the best option when it comes to making sure your vitamin and mineral intake is well-rounded.
Unless you know you have a specific deficiency, or you know you are at risk for a deficiency, today’s medical experts suggest that the best method for preventing and even treating mild deficiencies is through a balanced diet.
In addition to the fact that the right foods can supply all of your vitamin and mineral needs, foods offer many other benefits that vitamins don’t, including protein, essential fats, fiber and water.
To give you a better idea of what foods you should be eating and why, here’s a general overview of which foods contain which vitamins and minerals:
• If you are otherwise healthy, a diet high in brightly colored vegetables, leafy green vegetables and fruits will give you most or all of the vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K and folate you need, as well as important minerals like potassium, manganese and iron.
• A diet rich in meats, dairy products and eggs will give you the iron, calcium, vitamin D, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, vitamin B 12, vitamin B6, niacin and sodium you need. Keep in mind that iron from plant sources is not as readily absorbed as iron from meat sources. If you are a vegetarian, eat iron-rich vegetables with a source of vitamin C, such as citrus fruit, for better absorption.
• Healthy fats such as olive oil and fish oil are an excellent source of vitamin E. Nuts and seeds also contain high amounts of vitamin E, along with manganese, iron, copper and magnesium.
• Beans are filling, high in fiber, and contain high amounts of calcium, potassium, folate and iron.
• Whole grains contain high amounts of selenium, potassium, magnesium and B vitamins.