By Karen Eisenbraun, CHNC
Many common health ailments are linked to nutrient deficiencies. If you’re often tired, have dry skin, experience constipation, or suffer from irritability or depression, a change in your diet may help. In fact, many of the symptoms that we associate as a natural part of the aging process—such as higher risk of heart disease and osteoporosis—are often due, at least in part, to poor nutrition.
We all know we should eat our fruits and vegetables to be healthy, but a shockingly high number of Americans aren’t meeting the daily recommended intake of fresh fruits and vegetables. Only 13 percent of Americans meet the recommendations for fruit intake, and only 9 percent of Americans meet the recommendations for vegetables, according to a report by the CDC.
Continue reading to learn how nutrient deficiencies contribute to common health issues, and how you can improve your health by adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet.
Many of us rely on coffee and energy drinks just to get through the day. While getting enough sleep and managing stress are both essential for optimizing your energy levels, nutrition plays a role as well.
Multiple nutrient deficiencies can contribute to fatigue, including potassium, magnesium, protein, iron, vitamin C, and B vitamins.
Dehydration can also leave you feeling sluggish. If you tend to drink soda for the caffeine boost, try switching to coconut water. It’s lower in sugar and will help you stay hydrated.
Loss of height and curvature of the spine are common symptoms associated with aging. Loss of bone and a higher risk of osteoporosis is linked to low levels of calcium and vitamin D. Low calcium intake can lead to weak bones and an increased risk of fractures as you age.
Even if you’re making an effort to eat plenty of calcium, your body can’t absorb it without adequate levels of vitamin D, and vitamin D deficiency is very common. More than 40 percent of people in the United States have low levels of vitamin D, and the risk is even higher for African Americans and Hispanics.
Low levels of vitamin D can also weaken the immune system, cause fatigue, impair wound healing, and contribute to depression.
Vitamin D is unique in that it isn’t found in many foods. Your body produces it when your skin is exposed to the sun. Unless you live near the equator, it’s unlikely that you are getting enough sun exposure year-round to produce adequate levels of vitamin D. For this reason, you may want to consider a vitamin D supplement.
We often blame the weather and harsh soaps for dry skin, but dehydration and a lack of fatty acids can also contribute to dry skin.
Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Drink extra water to counteract the dehydrating effects of caffeine and alcohol, which are diuretics.
Also, make sure you’re getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. This essential nutrient is a structural component of the skin and is necessary for healthy cell membranes. Low levels of omega-3 can lead to dry skin and other skin issues, including wrinkles, acne, and small bumps on the skin.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in fish, especially fatty fish such as salmon, herring, and mackerel. If you don’t get enough fish in your diet, consider taking a fish oil supplement. Nuts, seeds, and dark leafy greens also provide small amounts of omega-3s.
Constipation is a widespread problem in the United States; Americans spend more than $700 million on laxatives every year.
A healthy diet can go a long way toward preventing constipation and other digestive disorders. Drinking plenty of water can help, as can eating more fiber.
Low levels of magnesium can also contribute to constipation. Magnesium is an important mineral that helps control many functions in the body. Without it, your nerves won’t send and receive signals, and your muscles don’t work properly. That includes the muscles in the digestive tract. Low levels of magnesium are also linked to muscle cramps and twitches, migraines, and mental disorders, including depression.
Try to get fresh plant foods in every meal, like leafy greens, green vegetables, and berries. Rather than grabbing toast or a bagel for breakfast, try making smoothies. You can use endless combinations of berries, fruit, coconut water, and even spinach and avocados to make a nutrient-packed breakfast.
Also, try to eat fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors. Plant foods get their nutrients from phytonutrients, the same compounds that give them their vibrant colors.
Orange foods such as oranges, carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots, and pumpkin are good sources of vitamin A, as are green foods such as spinach, kale, bell peppers, broccoli, and asparagus.
Citrus fruits, berries, and yellow foods such as lemons, yellow peppers, cherries, and strawberries are good sources of vitamin C.
Potassium-rich foods include bananas, avocados, cooked spinach, coconut water, cooked broccoli, and sweet potatoes. Spinach, fish, quinoa, beans, and nuts are all good sources of magnesium.
Try to do most of your grocery shopping in the outer aisles of the supermarket, where you’ll find produce, meat and fish, and bulk foods such as beans and nuts. Avoid the inner aisles, which are packed with unhealthy processed foods. When you do buy packaged foods, look for products that contain fewer ingredients and less added sugar. Try the ScriptSave WellRx Grocery Guidance app, which can help you find healthier alternatives to the foods you buy most often. Simply scan the barcode on your food package to reveal its WellRx Health Index and discover “better for you” alternatives. Download it on the App Store or Google Play today.
Karen Eisenbraun is a Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant. She holds an English degree from Knox College and has written extensively about topics related to holistic health, clinical nutrition, and weight management.