LifeFood5 Nutrient Deficiencies Most Common Among Indian Women (& How To Treat...

5 Nutrient Deficiencies Most Common Among Indian Women (& How To Treat Them)

A balanced diet is the key to healthy living. However, due to a strenuous lifestyle, it gets difficult to maintain a healthy diet. Women often develop nutrient deficiencies due to an improper diet, hectic schedule and unawareness about what to and what not to eat to maintain a healthy diet. If you are also puzzled about how to maintain a nutrient-filled diet, fret not! This Indian Nutritional Week, learn from our experts and stay healthy!

TC46 connected with Dr Shweta Mahadik, Clinical Nutritionist, Fortis Hospital Kalyan to explain the most common nutritional deficiencies. Here she decodes why these occur and recommends foods to be added to your diet.

1. The Most Common Deficiency Among Women Is Iron & Vitamin B12 

The most common deficiency among women is iron (anaemia) and vitamin B12. Anaemia is a significant public health challenge in India. It has a devastating effect on both physical and mental productivity and affects a woman’s quality of life. The most common causes of anaemia in developing countries, particularly among the most vulnerable groups (pregnant women and preschool-age children), are nutritional disorders and infections. Hence, the causes of anaemia could be segregated as nutritional and non-nutritional, underscoring the aetiological importance of dietary deficiency as the major causative factor.

Traditionally, the Indian housewife eats last, after all the male members and children have eaten. And in many families, the women eat only the leftovers. Hence, even though the food prepared for the family is the same, women are more prone to develop Iron Deficiency Anaemia (IDA) than other members of the family. Blood loss during menstruation and increased iron requirements during pregnancy and lactation predispose women to poor iron stores.

Causes Of Nutritional Anaemia:

  • Insufficient quantity of iron-rich foods and “iron enhancers” in the diet (foods rich in vitamin C such as citrus fruits), and low bioavailability of dietary iron (for example foods containing only non-haem iron)
  • An excessive quantity of “iron inhibitors” in diet, especially during mealtimes (for example. tea, coffee; calcium-rich foods)
  • Iron loss during menstruation
  • Poor iron stores from infancy, childhood deficiencies and adolescent anaemia
  • Iron loss from post-partum haemorrhage
  • Increased iron requirement due to tissue, blood, and energy requirements during pregnancy
  • Teenage pregnancy
  • Repeated pregnancies with less than 2 years of interval
  • Iron loss due to parasite load (for example malaria, intestinal worms)
  • Poor environmental sanitation and unsafe drinking water

Signs You Have Iron & Vitamin B12 Deficiency:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Pale skin
  • Chest pain, fast heartbeat, or shortness of breath
  • Headache, dizziness or light-headedness
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Inflammation or soreness of your tongue
  • Brittle nails
  • Unusual cravings for non-nutritive substances, such as ice, dirt, or starch
  • Poor appetite, especially in infants and children with iron deficiency anaemia

Food Recommendations If You Have Iron Deficiency:

  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Sesame seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Black dates
  • Black raisins
  • Garden cress seeds
  • Chicken, liver, eggs, seafood 

Food Recommendations If You Have Vitamin B12 Deficiency:

  • Seafood
  • Chicken liver
  • Egg
  • Meat 
  • Cheese

2. Women Above 40 Suffer From Vitamin D Deficiency

Most women do not receive adequate exposure to sunlight, as modernised lifestyles have resulted in less time spent outdoors for work or leisure. Adult females, particularly those above the age of 40, are mostly affected because vitamin D determines the pattern of post-menopausal bone loss and age-related osteoporosis. Emphasis on promoting the consumption of vitamin D-rich food and vitamin D supplements, outdoor activities to increase sun exposure, maintaining optimum body weight, and strictly adhering to diabetes control will help alleviate the problem at large.

Signs You Have Vitamin D Deficiency:

  • Bone pain
  • Muscle weakness 
  • However, in some people, the symptoms are subtle. Yet, even without symptoms, too little vitamin D can pose health risks

Low blood Levels Of Vitamin D Have Been Associated With The Following:

  • Increased risk of death from cardiac disease
  • Cognitive impairment in older adults
  • Severe asthma in children
  • Cancer

Food Recommendations If You Have Vitamin D Deficiency:

  • Fatty fish, like tuna, mackerel and salmon
  • Foods fortified with vitamin D, like some dairy products, soy milk, and cereals
  • Beef liver
  • Cheese
  • Egg yolks

3. Hormonal Changes In Older Women & Insufficient Calcium In Diet Are Responsible For The Deficiency

Hormonal changes in older women and insufficient calcium in the diet are largely responsible. To elevate calcium levels there are medications that decrease calcium absorption like corticosteroids and drugs. Moreover, there are disorders caused due to too much magnesium or alternatively too little magnesium in the blood. Please note, calcium absorption is tied up with vitamin D levels and also levels of magnesium. Any shift in this delicate balance can cause a deficiency.

Severe Signs You Have Calcium Deficiency:

  • Confusion or memory loss
  • Muscle spasms
  • Numbness and tingling in the hands, feet, and face
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Muscle cramps
  • Weak and brittle nails
  • Easy fracturing of the bones
  • Calcium deficiencies can affect all parts of the body, resulting in weak nails, slower hair growth, and fragile, thin skin

Food Recommendations If You Have Calcium Deficiency: 

  • Milk and milk products
  • Nuts and oilseeds
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Til (Sesame) seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pulses, lentils, beans, cherry

4. Zinc Deficiency Can Be Acquired Or Inherited

Zinc is an essential micronutrient for humans and is extensively involved in protein, lipid, nucleic acid metabolism, and gene transcription. Its role within the human body is extensive in reproductive function, immune function, wound repair, and at the microcellular level on macrophage, neutrophil, and complement activity. Zinc deficiency can be acquired or inherited. Acquired deficiency can occur from decreased intake, inability to absorb the micronutrient, increased metabolic demand, or excessive loss. The requirement is higher in pregnant and lactating women because of foetus growth and development. Zinc plays a role in immune function, protein synthesis, wound healing, DNA synthesis and cell division. Zinc also supports normal growth and development during pregnancy, childhood, and adolescence and is required for a proper sense of taste and smell.

Signs You Have Zinc Deficiency:

  • Slowed growth
  • Low insulin levels
  • Loss of appetite
  • Irritability
  • Generalized hair loss
  • Rough and dry skin 
  • Slow wound healing
  • Poor sense of taste and smell
  • Diarrhoea, and nausea

Food Recommendations If You Have Zinc Deficiency:

  • Whole grains and milk products are good sources of zinc
  • Many ready-to-eat kinds of breakfast cereal are fortified with zinc
  • Include a variety of protein foods such as lean meats, poultry, eggs, seafood, beans, peas, and lentils, nuts, seeds, and soy products
  • Oysters, red meat, and poultry are excellent sources of zinc
  • Baked beans, chickpeas, and nuts (such as cashews and almonds) 

Nutrition-Rich Recipes By Health Coach Simrun Chopra

TC46 connected with Simrun Chopra, Deep Health Coach and founder of ‘Nourish With Sim’ to share a few exquisite recipes that help tackle nutritional deficiencies and side by side are finger-licking good.

1. Pumpkin Karela Sabzi For Iron Deficiency

All my posts and meal plans stress the importance of vegetables. Ideally, we should be eating as many different vegetables as we can. If you think it is additional work then do what I do and put the vegetables in your rice, dals or curries. This is one of my favourite recipes that will give you a chance to eat bitter gourd or karela, which I know most people avoid. This recipe was handed down from my nani to my mom and then me. It uses an unusual combination of blending a sweet vegetable with a bitter one. It’s quick, it’s nutritious and you will love it. Even if you are a beginner, you can try this. Our traditional foods and recipes are healthy and wholesome and we are blessed with a rich culture with unlimited recipes. You don’t need special recipes or fat loss recipes to be healthy. 


  • 300 grams of pumpkin chop small with skin 
  • 1 medium karela
  • 1/4 tsp of haldi 
  • 1/4 tsp of mirchi powder 
  • 2 whole green chillies, slit lengthwise 
  • 1 tsp of black jeera (onion seeds/kalonji
  • 2 tsp of mustard oil 


  1. Cut and wash the pumpkin.
  2. Scrape off some of the skin of the karela with a knife. Then cut it through the middle and make slices. 
  3. Add the oil to a pan and heat till it releases its smell, let it cool a bit.
  4. Add the black jeera and green chillies to the oil, once it starts to splutter add the pumpkin and karela. 
  5. Add the remaining ingredients, cover and cook till the pumpkin is cooked through.

2. Buttermilk Dosa​ For Vitamin B12

Buttermilk adds a slight tanginess to dosas and makes them soft, white and light. Buttermilk dosa is kid-friendly too, they will definitely like the texture and taste. I am sure they will even come back for more than one. Buttermilk dosa can be served with any kind of chutney, here I have served them with tomato-onion chutney. Perfect combo!

Beauty Tip: Try this homemade facepack made from curd and see how curd for skin works miagically on your skin.


  • 2 cups of raw rice (can use any normal rice) 
  • 2 cups of curd (dahi)
  • 1 onion, chopped small
  • 1 tbsp of coriander (dhaniya), chopped small
  • Few chopped green chillies 
  • 1 tsp of ajwain 
  • Salt to taste 
  • Pinch of cooking soda 


  1. Start by washing the rice nicely. Drain all the water and spread it on a paper or cloth to dry, when it is completely dry, grind it in a grinder to look like a very fine rawa (suji).
  2. Now mix the ground rice with the curd, chopped onions, chopped coriander, ajwain and salt. 
  3. Keep it aside for 20-30 minutes. 
  4. Just before cooking add in the cooking soda and mix well.
  5. Take a small kadhai or anything that has a dip in the centre. 
  6. Heat the kadhai and add 1 1/2 tsp of oil.
  7. Once the oil is slightly warm add 1/2 cup of the mixture in the centre of the kadhai, with a ladle. 
  8. Add the chopped green chillies on top.
  9. Cover and cook on medium flame. 
  10. When the dosa starts leaving the kadhai on the sides, gently flip it and cook the other side.
  11. When slightly brown, it’s done.
  12. Important: Gently slide the dosa off the pan onto a plate as the dosa easily. 
  13. Serve hot with a curry or chutney, I love having it the way it is.

Pro Tip: Apart from providing essential nutrients to the body, curd is equally beneficial for common skin care concerns. Explore 8 simple DIYs on how to use curd for skin here.

3. Bottle Gourd Kadhi For Iron Deficiency

A light, quick and simple kadhi. This is a thin and light consistency compared to the Punjabi version. It is traditionally made with vegetables in the south over pakoras. 


  • 1 1/2-2 tbsp of refined oil
  • 1/2 kg curd (used homemade curd)
  • 1 1/2 tsp of besan (chickpeas flour)
  • 1/2 of a big bottle gourd (cut into big cubes with the skin)
  • 1 onion (chopped into big cubes)
  • 1 tsp finely chopped ginger
  • Few slit green chillies to taste
  • 6-10 curry leaves (kadipatta)
  • 1 tbsp of chopped coriander leaves
  • Salt to taste
  • Red chilli powder to taste
  • 1/2 tsp of coriander powder
  • 1/2 tsp of turmeric powder (haldi)
  • 1/4 tsp of black mustard seeds
  • 1/4 tsp of whole cumin (jeera)


For The Curd:
  1. Add salt, red chilli powder, coriander powder and besan to the curd and whip it in a mixer grinder or juicer to get a smooth consistency and keep aside.
For The Bottle Gourd:
  1. Put the cut bottle gourd in a pressure cooker with 1 cup of water and a pinch of salt.
  2. Place the lid and weight of the pressure cooker and cook on medium heat for 1 whistle then lower the flame completely and cook for 5 minutes.
  3. Switch off the heat and set it aside to allow the pressure cooker to release pressure.
  4. Carefully open once all the pressure has been released.
  5. Keep aside and do not drain the water.
For The Kadhi:
  1. Warm the oil in a kadhai or pan.
  2. Add the mustard seeds and whole cumin.
  3. When it starts spluttering, add the chopped ginger, slit green chillies and the chopped onions cubes and stir for a few minutes.
  4. Lower the heat and slowly add the curd to the kadhai, stirring continuously to prevent lumps from forming.
  5. Mix in the 1/2 tsp of turmeric powder followed by 6-10 curry patta leaves.
  6. Add 1/2 cup of water slowly while continuously stirring the curry.
  7. Add the cooked bottle gourd and the remaining water in the cooker to the kadhi
  8. Taste the kadhi for salt and add as desired.
  9. Let the kadhi cook for 5 minutes.
  10. Switch off the flame and serve with rice! 

4. Thukpa – Darjeeling Style For Iron Deficiency

In the cold of Darjeeling, the Thukpa is a bowl of comfort. Served in restaurants and roadside shacks alike. Like a dal, this clear soup has many variations. This recipe is a traditional simple household recipe. Authentic and not made just to suit a tourist’s palate.  The soup is a complete meal on its own when served with noodles or momos. I personally like to add more chilli sauce, a little soya and lots more of the vinegar-soaked green chillies to my bowl. That’s the beauty of this dish, make a big batch and let everyone decide what they would like to add. 


  • 4 cups of vegetables per person (cut into strips) – carrots, capsicum, beans and bok choy, and spinach
  • Few green chillies chopped 
  • 10-12 cloves of garlic chopped
  • 2 pieces of ginger chopped
  • Chicken stock or vegetable stock 
  • 1 tsp of soya sauce
  • 2 tsp of vinegar
  • 2 tsp of green chilli sauce
  • Salt to taste 
  • Fresh ground pepper to taste 
  • 1 tbsp of oil
  • Cooked protein (chicken/paneer/tofu/prawn) 


  1. Add the oil to a wok or kadhai.
  2. Add the chopped garlic to warm oil and stir fry for a minute.
  3. Add in the chopped ginger and green chillies and stir till light brown.
  4. Add the carrots and stir fry for a minute.
  5. Add the beans, followed by the capsicum then the cabbage. 
  6. At the end add the bok choy or spinach.
  7. Pour in the hot stock.
  8. Add the salt, pepper, soya sauce, green chilli sauce and vinegar.
  9. Taste to adjust.
  10. Add in your cooked protein (chicken here). 
  11. Serve on its own or with noodles or momos.

This clear soup has a subtle flavour and is served with soya sauce, vinegar-soaked green chillies and any red chilli sauce (or try my chilli sauce) on the side. Allowing everyone to tweak it to their own preference. 

5. Spinach Broccoli Soup Iron Deficiency

I love soups. There is something so comforting in a big bowl of soup. I personally love having a thick vegetable soup with croutons. 


  • 1 cup of chopped and cleaned broccoli 
  • 1 cup of cleaned and chopped spinach 
  • 1 tsp of super seed powder or nut powder 
  • 1/4 cup of milk 
  • Salt and pepper to taste 


  1. Place the spinach and broccoli in a deep pan with 1/4 cup of water and bring to a boil.
  2. Boil for 10 minutes or until the broccoli is soft and you can squash the stems with your fingers.
  3. Let it cool down.
  4. Blend in a mixer grinder with the milk and my seed or nut powder to get a smooth consistency.
  5. Transfer it back into the pan and add salt and pepper to taste. You can increase the milk if you want it to be thinner and creamier. 
  6. Serve with toasted bread and some toasted sesame seeds on top. 

Note: The seed or nut powder is optional however they add a lovely creamy consistency. All greens should be eaten with a fat source to ensure we can absorb the Vitamin K they offer. Here the fat comes from the milk and seed or nut mix. So if you eliminate these you will need to add an alternate fat source to get the true benefits of the soup. 

6. Apple Pie Oats For B12 & Calcium Deficiency

This is a simple yet nutritious recipe. Using the apple as a natural sweetener reduces the number of sweeteners needed.


  • 2 tbsp of quick oats
  • 1 small apple, chopped
  • 1 small banana, sliced
  • ½ tsp of cinnamon powder
  • 2 chopped walnuts
  • 1 tsp of chopped raisins
  • 3/4th to 1 cup of water


  1. Place the apples in the water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 mins.
  2. Add the oats to the apple mixture.
  3. Stir in the cinnamon powder.
  4. Cook for 2 minutes or to the consistency you prefer.
  5. Pour into a bowl, top with the banana slices, chopped walnuts and raisins.
  6. Dust with some cinnamon powder.
  7. Serve warm.

Note: For a creamier texture you can substitute half the water for a milk of your choice. Use low-fat milk or choose from soy, almond or coconut milk for non-dairy options. Boiling the apple first will give the oats a lovely apple sauce sweetness.

  • Coconut and toasted almonds
  • Kesar badam oats
  • Blueberries and sliced almonds

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