How do you know If you have a nutrient deficiency? Do you have cracked lips? You may be deficient in vitamin B2, B3 and B6! Swollen ankles? Unexplained hair loss? Dry skin? Perhaps something is missing. We need vitamins, minerals and other compounds such as phytonutrients (we get this from plants) to be healthy. Since we need much less of these compared to the Macronutrients protein, carbs and fats these are called Micronutrients.
This is the leading deficiency in the world and directly impacts our immunity levels. Women need more iron during menstruation and pregnancy. Dietary iron comes from 2 sources Heme iron – from meat-based sources. This form is absorbed easier. Non-heme iron – from plant-based sources. Vegetarian women whose diet is predominantly grain-based may not absorb iron even when eating iron-rich plant foods!
Majority of Indians are vitamin B deficient while the most common is a vitamin B12 and folate deficiency, this also might be because the others aren’t checked as much. Think of the human body as a cog of wheels working hand in hand, cog to cog forever. Something as simple as folate (folic acid is the synthetic version) is required to break down and use vitamin B12 and C. Most of our vitamin B12 comes from non-plant based sources like meats, eggs and dairy making vegetarians and vegans more susceptible to deficiencies. There are some people who are unable to absorb Vitamin B12 from food sources.
Nearly all the vitamin D we need comes from the sun. It is one of the key nutrients, the body cannot make. It helps regulate glucose tolerance, the immune system, blood pressure, and is also essential for bone health. However, external supplementation must be prescribed to you by a doctor, post testing your levels. This is one of those vitamins you don’t want to self prescribe as it can interfere with certain medicines and toxicity (overconsumption from supplements) can cause a number of other health issues. Very few food sources provide vitamin D and you will need to eat them regularly.
The most important mineral but do we get enough? Calcium levels are regulated by complex interactions with other hormones, vitamin D and bone cells to name a few. We need it for muscle contractions, hormone secretion, forming teeth, bones, and more. Try getting in dark leafy greens at least 3 times a week, dairy even in the form of curd, legumes (kidney beans, soybeans, chickpeas), sesame seeds, okra (bhindi), tofu, fish (sardines, perch, trout, etc.), and calcium-fortified foods. Again like everything, opt for natural food sources. If you are post-menopause or over 40, it’s recommended to discuss this with your doctor.