Vitamins and minerals are crucial for many essential bodily functions. However, deficiencies are common – often due to poor diet, use of certain medications, chronic illness, poor digestion or not spending enough time outdoors. Infants, the elderly, pregnant women and menstruating women are particularly vulnerable.
Helpfully, the way you look and feel can often help demonstrate exactly what you might be deficient in and what you’d benefit from eating a little more of:
- If you feel a rundown and want more energy
Feeling rundown or low in energy can often be due to low iron levels, particularly in women. However, it’s important to have iron levels checked by a GP before supplementing with high dose iron supplements, as an excess of iron can be toxic.
A natural way to boost iron levels is to load up on lean meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, nuts, seeds, lentils, beans, pulses and soya products. Eating iron-rich foods with a food or drink high in vitamin C (such as a glass of fresh orange juice) will help enhance iron absorption.
- If you suffer from skin breakouts
Vitamin C is needed for radiant skin and to help blemishes heal properly. The best sources
are blackcurrants, blueberries, broccoli, guava, kiwi fruit, oranges, papaya, strawberries and sweet potatoes. These all help to produce collagen that strengthens the capillaries that supply the skin.
Zinc is involved in the normal functioning of the sebaceous glands in the skin and helps to repair skin damage and keep skin soft and supple. Zinc-rich foods include fish, lean red meat, wholegrains, poultry, nuts, seeds and shellfish.
- If you’re worried about the effects of ageing
Studies suggest that a selenium-rich diet can help to protect against skin cancer, sun damage and age spots. One way to boost your intake is to eat Brazil nuts – just four nuts will provide the recommended daily amount.
Vitamin E is often a key ingredient in skin creams, but the best way to get your dose is to eat it. Yellow and orange fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, sweet potato, mango and peppers (orange and yellow ones) all contain carotenoids, antioxidants that the body converts to Vitamin E, which nourish the layers of skin under the surface.
- If you struggle to sleep
You may be low in magnesium, a mineral needed for quality sleep. Almonds are a great natural source.
Fish such as tuna, halibut, and salmon are high in vitamin B6, which your body needs to make melatonin (a hormone to aid sleep). Other foods high in B6 include raw garlic and pistachio nuts.
Kale and spinach are loaded with calcium, which helps the brain use tryptophan to manufacture melatonin, so it’s also worth upping your intake of green leafy vegetables.
- If you’re vegetarian
Vegetarians are often deficient in omega-3 fats. There are two types of omega-3’s – the long chain versions found in oily fish – (DHA and EPA) and the short chain versions from vegetable oils, particularly flaxseed, walnut, rapeseed and soya oils – (ALA).
Vegetarians are often particularly deficient in long chain fatty acids as although our bodies can convert some ALA into EPA and DHA, the conversion isn’t very efficient. It is therefore advisable for vegetarians to consider a supplement made from algae derived DHA if you don’t eat fish, or to include sea vegetables in your diet.
- If you’ve switched to a vegan diet
Everybody needs regular, reliable sources of vitamin B12, which is found naturally only in animal sources. It is therefore imperative that you supplement B12 or include B12 fortified foods (such as fortified soya, yeast extract and nutritional yeast) if you’re a vegan.
When avoiding dairy foods, you may also be low in calcium. This can be found in tofu, fortified foods such as soya, rice or oat milks and green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, sesame seeds and tahini.
- If you’re pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant
When trying to improve your fertility it is worth setting aside a 3 month period to make positive changes to your vitamin and mineral status. If using the contraceptive pill, this can deplete many vitamins and minerals (including vitamin B2, B6, C, A and zinc) and may have a detrimental effect.
Folic acid is the most essential pregnancy nutrient (both before and during pregnancy), working together with vitamin B12 to ensure that the baby’s genetic materials are fully developed. It is difficult to get sufficient quantities from food alone, so is the only supplement that all women must take before conception.
400mcg per day is recommended from 3 months prior to conception until the end of the first trimester of pregnancy, plus a further 200mcg from food (found in beans, peanuts, avocado and green leafy vegetables).
Retinol (the animal form of vitamin A found in many supplements) should be avoided during pregnancy, as it can cause developmental and birth defects in excess. It is therefore important to be cautious when taking multi vitamin supplements or Cod Liver Oil which can contain high levels of Vitamin A in retinol form.
© Sarah West Nutrition