For those of us who pay attention to our eating habits, monitoring calorie intake becomes second nature as we strive to master the art of weight management. While managing caloric consumption is definitely one of the more important aspects of healthy eating, we should never ignore the importance of consuming enough nutrients. After all, our nutritional intake has a huge effect on our overall health of our bodies. Nutrient deficiency actually is far more common than we think.
Photo: Active Health
The 7 signs of nutrient deficiency
1. Unexplained weight-loss
Persistent weight-loss that occurs even when you're not actively pursuing it is one of the more obvious signs that you aren’t getting enough nutrients. The body relies on both macronutrients and micronutrients for repair and restoration. Without them, the body will begin to break down its own stores (catabolism) for emergency fuel.
Frequent tiredness and weakness are often signs that your body is lacking in iron, resulting in a condition called anaemia which can be fatal. A deficiency in magnesium can also cause you to feel fatigued and lead to frequent migraines.
3. Weak and soft bones
Having fragile bones can be a sign of deficiency in vitamin D or calcium as these nutrients are responsible for promoting bone density. Magnesium has a synergistic relationship with calcium, so be sure that you're getting enough of the former to optimise the absorption of the latter.
4. Slow healing of wounds
When your wounds take longer than normal to heal, it could be a sign of zinc deficiency. Typically, most skin wounds shouldn't take more than two to three weeks to heal, although deeper and more severe cases may require a longer healing process.
5. Night blindness
Experiencing night blindness could be a sign of a deficiency in vitamin A, as one of the responsibilities of this vitamin is directed at eye health. Other symptoms include dry eyes, and throat and chest infections.
6. Impaired cognitive performance
Not getting enough nutrients can impair your brain’s functions and make it harder to concentrate and remember things. For example, a deficiency in iron or vitamin B12 can lead to slower response times and/or inaccurate recollections.
7. Stunted growth and development issues
An iodine deficiency can lead to thyroid-related issues which can lead to a host of medical conditions, one of the more well-known being goitre (abnormally enlarged thyroid gland). Other signs include hair-loss, changes in heart rate, and heavy or irregular periods in women.
Overcoming/preventing nutrient deficiency
Not getting enough nutrients can be detrimental to your health as it increases the risk of developing chronic health conditions, which aren't always easily treated. As such, it is important that you ensure that your diet remains as nutrient-dense as possible. Replacing nutrient-sparse food is one of the simplest ways to make an instant improvement. Common culprits in this area include snack foods such as chips and soda. Replacing them with alternatives such as baked sweet potato fries and coconut water provides your body with more nutrients while also making it easier to avoid over-consumption, as nutrient-dense foods have a more satiating effect.
If however, you're experiencing any of the aforementioned signs and symptoms, the first step would be to visit a doctor to get your condition properly diagnosed. You also need to check if there are any underlying medical conditions that could have led to malnutrition as these issues should be resolved first. If your nutrient deficiency is purely the result of poor eating habits, it’s time to learn how to eat more nutritiously! Even if you are not currently experiencing any symptoms of nutrient deficiency, it would still be a good idea to start improving your nutrient intake.
• Address the nutrient deficiency
Depending on the type of nutrient deficiency you are experiencing (if any), it is important to first replenish whatever it is your body missing. Eating a well-planned balanced diet is of utmost importance and this can also be supplemented with nutritional supplements. Talk to a nutritionist or health expert before introducing any changes to your diet so that you know you are doing the right thing; our Active Health experts at the Active Health Labs are well-equipped to advise you in these areas.
• Eat the rainbow (fruits and vegetables)
Fruits and vegetables offer a truckload of nutrients with each bite, so keeping your meals well-populated with them is always a good idea. While green is always a good place to start, try going with foods of other shades and colours such as blue, purple, yellow and red as well. Here's a tip: the deeper the colour, the more nutrient-dense it is!
• Keep track of your nutritional intake
Recording your food intake is a fool-proof way to ensure that you are getting enough nutrients to meet your health requirements. A food journal is the easiest way to go about doing this – you can easily jot down your daily meals and record the number of calories as well as the type and amount of nutrients. As long as you stay honest with what you put down, this hack makes it much easier to keep to your nutrition goals.
Photo: Active Health
How exactly do you plan for a nutritious diet? It all starts with selecting the right nutrient-rich foods to include in your daily meals – here is a list of the most nutritious foods that you can consider.
The best food for getting more nutrients
This fatty fish is pretty much unanimously known as one of the healthiest delicacies ever to populate our waters, and this is mainly because of its high omega-3 content. The omega-3 fatty acid does wonders for your cardiovascular health and help to reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases. Getting a weekly dose of salmon is definitely a good way to eat more nutritiously!
Shellfish are not the most common type of meat we serve at the dinner table but they well should be, considering what a good source of micronutrients they are. For example, clams are one of the richest foods in vitamin B12, while oysters contain high amounts of the minerals zinc and copper.
The idea of eating organ meat may be repulsive to some, but you really can't dispute the wonderful health benefits that come with eating offal. The liver, especially, is nutritiously rich in various vitamins, including B vitamins and vitamin A, as well as minerals such as copper and iron. Say “yes” to kidney pie and liver soup!
Here’s a good excuse to eat more sushi – seaweed is one of the most nutritious vegetables you can find. Seaweed is rich in minerals, contains numerous inflammation-fighting antioxidants and is also rich in iodine that helps to manage thyroid hormones.
All leafy green vegetables are excellent sources of fibre and vitamin C, and kale is one of the best out of them all. A single serving of kale provides you with a generous amount of vitamin C, A and K1, as well as fibre and protein. Another great thing about kale is that is also low in calories, making it the perfect addition to your diet if calorie-watching is called for.
It’s a great thing we Singaporeans love using garlic as a cooking ingredient, because garlic is an excellent source of nutrients. Not only does it provide many essential vitamins and minerals, it also contains sulphur compounds that help to regulate blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Potatoes are not only tasty and good at keeping us full, they are also rich in vitamin C, B vitamins and a number of minerals including potassium, magnesium and manganese. Remember that the method by which you prepare them will affect their GI value: boiling keeps it low but baking/frying sends it skyrocketing.
All fruits are high in vitamin and mineral content, but blueberries pack a lot more anti-oxidants than other fruits. Blueberries are also an excellent brain food and have been found to improve memory in elderly people.
• Egg yolks
Egg yolks are often condemned for being unhealthy due to their cholesterol content, but the truth is that egg yolks are so abundant in nutrients that they definitely deserve a place in your diet. Furthermore, dietary cholesterol only has a small effect on blood cholesterol in healthy individuals. Some of the nutrients found in egg yolks include lutein and zeaxanthin, which promote good eye health. Eggs are also a wonderful source of protein and best of all, make a great addition to any meal!
• Dark chocolate
Desserts are not always a bad thing, especially when it comes to dark chocolate. The cocoa in dark chocolate is an excellent source of fibre and essential minerals such as copper, magnesium, iron. Dark chocolate is also rich in anti-oxidants, making it a great supplement to your diet. Just remember to keep your portions reasonable!
Apart from just selecting the right kinds of nutritious foods, it’s also important to practice healthy eating habits.
Healthy eating habits to live by
• Choose whole foods over excessively processed foods
You could be selecting all the right kinds of meats and veggies, but you won’t be getting much nutrients if you are always going for preserved or microwaveable food. It’s important to pick whole foods that contain minimal amounts of additives and to make sure that you are choosing the freshest food in the stores. When it comes to selecting sauces or condiments, most store-bought brands utilise preservatives and artificial colourings. Instead, try to make your own sauces or opt for natural herbs and spices instead.
• Don’t skip meals before working out
It may sound like a good idea to skip meals before or after workouts in order to burn more fat and lose weight, but this means depriving your body of essential nutrients that it needs to power you through your workout and also to recover from it. If you're physically active, you may actually need to eat more in order to remain in good health. The more intense and demanding the activity, the more your body needs to bounce back from it.
• Be creative with your meals
Eating the same food all the time can get really boring and dissuade you from staying on course. There's no need for healthy eating to be bland and boring! There are plenty of recipes to be found that encourage mindful eating habits and nutrient-dense food selection. Eating nutritiously can be fun and tasty too, so be creative with your recipes and help yourself fall in love with nutritious eating!
Photo: Active Health
Nutrient deficiencies are a serious problem that should not be ignored. As always, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Before you settle on a meal, always ask yourself this: does the food provide my body with what it truly needs, or am I just feeding my appetite? Give your body the nutritious food that it deserves, and you will surely be rewarded with better health!
Nutrition Expert-Led Clinic