Maintaining a balanced diet is the best way to stay fit, have more energy, and most importantly stay healthy. Often times the reasoning behind a person’s desire to implement a healthier diet and more active lifestyle is to get into shape and feel better about they way they look. The importance of a balanced diet doesn’t stop at the mirror though. The ultimate reason to restructure your diet is to acquire proper nutrition, with adequate intake of vitamins and minerals.
Most adults in America do not get the recommended daily amounts of nutrients that are essential to their health. Many factors go into determining the amount of nutrients that you ingest and absorb into your body, including: where and how your food was grown and stored, as well as your age, individual health condition, and your own bodies personal ability to absorb the nutrients present in your foods.
The only way to give yourself a fighting chance of preventing nutrient and vitamin deficiencies, is by managing a balanced diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, dairy, and protein. American’s are all too often overfed and undernourished, eating all of the wrong types of foods, and depriving themselves of the nutrients and vitamins necessary to lead a healthy life.
Vitamins and Minerals: Most Common Nutrient Deficiencies
Calcium is necessary for many metabolic functions including: nerve transmission, hormonal secretion, muscle function, vascular contraction and vasodilation, and intracellular signaling. It is also important in the formation and strengthening of bones and teeth. Short term, calcium deficiencies do not produce significant symptoms or medical problems, but a long term deficiency can result in osteoporosis, and/or rickets.
Choline is especially important in the diets of pregnant and lactating women because a fetus requires 10 times the amount of choline than is present in the average female adult. Breast milk also has high levels of choline in it to keep the baby healthy, which increases the demand for it in the mother’s’ diet. Choline deficiency can result in higher risks of heart disease, breast cancer, and neural tube defects.
Iodine is a crucial contributor to a healthy metabolism, as well as fetal, and infant bone and brain development. Since iodine affects the production of the thyroid hormone, which controls brain development, a deficiency of this nutrient can cause stunted growth in fetuses, a lower than average IQ in children, and the inability to work and think clearly in adults.
Iron is essential to the transfer of oxygen from the lungs to various tissues in the body, including muscles, which affect metabolic function. In addition, iron is also needed for normal cellular functioning, growth, development, and synthesis of connective tissue and some hormones. An iron deficiency is the leading cause of anemia which can cause gastrointestinal complications, decreased function of the immune system, body temperature regulation, cognitive function, and performance during physical activities.
Magnesium is the workhorse of essential nutrients. It is needed in over 300 enzyme systems responsible for regulating protein synthesis, blood glucose levels, muscle and nerve function, energy production, and glycolysis. As if that wasn’t enough, it also helps with bone development and is necessary for the active transport of calcium and potassium ions across cell membranes, and through the body. A magnesium deficiency can result in mild symptoms such as: vomiting, fatigue, and muscle contractions/cramps to more severe complications such as: personality changes, seizures, coronary spasms, and hypocalcemia or hypokalemia.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 Fatty Acids are necessary for the proper function of your body. The two crucial omega-3 fatty acids are EPA and DHA, and they are found in in both leafy greens and fish. They have been found to aid in the development and healthy functioning of the brain. They also have a significant impact on decreasing triglyceride levels, which helps in the maintenance of a healthy heart. Omega-3 deficiencies can lead to symptoms of insomnia, attention disorders, depression, poor circulation, and most importantly heart problems.
Potassium is vital to muscle contraction, affecting normal digestive and muscular function. It supports healthy heart functions and decreases the risk of high blood pressure. The communication between muscles and nerves, to move waste out of cells while also moving other nutrients into cells, is also facilitated by potassium intake. Potassium deficiencies can cause a decrease in bone health, as well as an increased risk of strokes.
Vitamins and Minerals: Most Common Vitamin Deficiencies
Vitamin A is used in reproduction, immune function, cellular communication and is crucial for healthy vision. Although severe vitamin A deficiency is fairly rare in the United States, it is possible to have a slight deficiency that can negatively affect eye sight and fetal development. A lack of vitamin A can cause severe and chronic diarrhea, dehydration and eventual death in infants and young children. It is also one of the most prevalent causes of blindness, and night blindness.
Vitamin B1 is more commonly known as Thiamine, and is important to the growth, function, and development of cells. Since your body does not store Thiamine for future use it is important that it be regularly incorporated into your diet, to prevent a deficiency of vitamins. Thiamine deficiency has been found to cause short term memory loss, muscle weakness, and harmful cardiovascular symptoms.
Vitamin B3, also known as Niacin, is among many vitamins that are not stored within the body, but is important to the operation of the digestive system, and the nerves. Niacin also aids in the conversion of food to usable energy. A vitamin deficiency of Niacin is the leading cause of pellagra, which causes inflamed skin, digestive problems, mental instability.
Vitamin B6 is comprised of six different compounds that work together in the reactions of 100 different enzymes to aid in metabolic function, the biosynthesis of neurotransmitters, and maintaining a healthy immune system. Abnormal dermatitis, depression, and a weakened immune system are all common symptoms of a vitamin B6 deficiency.
Vitamin B9, or Folate, is a folic acid that is responsible for the synthesis of DNA and RNA as well as the metabolization of amino acids. These reactions are folate-dependent, and are required for proper cell division, which is why pregnant women are encouraged to keep an extra close eye on the amount of vitamins they are getting in their diets. Deficiency of folate can cause concentration loss, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations in adults; as well as neural tube defects in fetuses, and low birth weight, and preterm delivery in infants.
Vitamin B12 is required for neurological functioning, DNA synthesis, and the proper formation of red blood cells. A deficiency of vitamin B12 can cause symptoms similar to a vitamin B9 deficiency, in addition to neurological symptoms such as: depression, memory loss, and dementia. Since many of the symptoms mirror B9 deficiencies, an increase of vitamin B9 can mask a B12 deficiency before the neurological symptoms are discovered, which can lead to irreversible damage.
Vitamin C, also referred to as L-ascorbic acid, is necessary for protein metabolism, wound healing, antioxidant regeneration, and the biosynthesis of certain neurotransmitters. The most common side effect of a vitamin C deficiency is scurvy, which causes swollen and bleeding gums, loss of teeth and depression. Bone disease is also a common cause of vitamin C deficiency in children.
Vitamin D is a vital component in the body’s natural absorption of vitamin C. It plays many different roles within the body including: bone growth and remodeling, cellular growth, immune system functioning, and it also reduces inflammation. Vitamin D deficiency is responsible for thin and brittle bones that can result in rickets in children, and osteoporosis in adults.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that has been shown to prevent and delay chronic diseases that are associated with free radicals. It also works to regulate the immune system aiding to a multitude of intracellular functions. A vitamin E deficiency can cause muscle and nerve damage, loss of body control, muscle weakness, and complications with vision. Without vitamin E the immune system may also be compromised.
Vitamin K2 is also known as menaquinones, is both found in animal based products, and produced within the human gut by bacteria. It’s function is to regulate where calcium goes within the body by activating specific proteins. Infants are in the most danger of becoming deficient of vitamin K2 due to low levels within the placenta and/or low levels in the breast milk. Osteoporosis due to reduced bone mineralization could occur if K2 or other vitamins are not acquired in adequate levels.
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