Nutrient Deficiencies: Why Nearly Everyone Has Them

Health Canada advises, along with many nutrition professionals, “that a healthy and balanced diet can provide most people with the nutrients essential for good health.” [1]

Does that mean that if we eat a “healthy and balanced diet”, that we’ll be meeting all the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) and we’ll be safe from nutritional deficiency?

Or do some of us follow this recommendation and still have a nutrient deficiency – and not even know it?

According to the latest Health Canada Community Survey (June 2017), Canadians as a population are not as well nourished as we may think.

Fruit and vegetables contain a range of beneficial nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, fibre, antioxidants and other phytochemicals. Consumption of at least 5 servings per day is linked with a reduced risk of various diseases, including cancers and heart disease. [2]

Therefore, fruit and vegetable consumption is considered a healthy behaviour, and a good indication of the overall diet and nutritional quality of a population.

However, in data from the 2017 survey, less than a third (30.0%) of Canadians aged 12 and older reported that they ate the recommended number of servings.

Given the rather significant shortfall in Canadians reaching their “5-a-day”, it’s not surprising that there are a number of nutrients reported to be lacking in our diets.

With the overall lack of adequate fruit and vegetable servings, along with soil depletion, over-processing of food, and treated water…well, it’s no wonder that many of us are lacking in a number of key nutrients that we once attained easily and ought to supplement.

For example, today you would have to eat 4 carrots to get the full amount of Magnesium available that was in just one carrot 80 years ago. Unfortunately, you’re not eating your grandmother’s carrots anymore!

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps maintain normal vision and keeps your immune system, skin, and eyes functioning at their best.

More than 35% of Canadians age 19 and over consumed vitamin A in quantities below the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR). [3]

Carotenoids, such a beta carotene, are converted into vitamin A in the body, and it gives fruits and vegetables their orange, red and yellow colour (such as pumpkin, carrots and bell peppers).

It is also found in dark green leafy vegetables; with liver, dairy, eggs, and fatty fish also being good sources of Vitamin A.

Magnesium

A nutrient that is commonly found in plant foods, but also commonly lacking in our diets, is Magnesium.

This multi-tasking mineral is involved as a cofactor for a range of biochemical reactions in the body including nerve and muscle function, protein synthesis and blood glucose control.

It is also involved in the structural development of bone and plays a role in nerve impulse conduction, maintaining a normal heart rhythm and muscle contraction.

Evidence suggests that 34% of Canadians over the age of 19 consumed magnesium in quantities below the EAR. [3]

Magnesium is found mostly in whole grains, legumes, nuts, and dark green leafy vegetables. Milk and yogurt contain some magnesium as well.

Calcium

Calcium, the most abundant mineral in the body, provides the structure and rigidity of bones and teeth. It is also important for proper muscle function, hormone secretion, and nerve transmission. [4]

It was reported that there’s an increasing prevalence of calcium inadequacy with older age.

Calcium is found in dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables, fish with soft bones and fortified products.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for the absorption of Calcium from the gut, and for supporting optimal bone health. It is also thought to play a role in immune function, healthy skin, and muscle strength.

While our bodies can make vitamin D from exposure to sunlight, during the fall and winter months, and in northern climates, where sunlight hours are limited, it can be hard to get enough of this critical nutrient, and vitamin D deficiency can become (and is becoming) more prominent.

While about 80% of the adult Canadian population are not getting the vitamin D they need from dietary sources [3], available clinical measures do not suggest widespread Vitamin D deficiency in the Canadian population. [5] [6]

The major food sources of Vitamin D are foods that have been fortified or through supplementation.

So, how do we get all the nutrients we need?

We’ve always recommended, first and foremost, that people strive to meet their nutritional requirements through eating a varied diet with a foundation of whole and unprocessed foods.

But, as we’ve established, for various reasons it’s apparent that many of us may not be getting all the nutrients we need for optimal health.

Lack of nutrient bioavailability, poor dietary choices, restricted diets, food sensitivities, various health conditions (such as gastrointestinal disorders and poor absorption), some medications and age can all play a part in an individual’s ability to meet their recommended dietary intakes.

To determine whether or not you are at risk of a nutritional deficiency, it is important to discuss your concerns with a naturopathic doctor, a qualified nutrition professional or another healthcare provider.

In many situations, as we’ve discussed here, where diet alone is unable to meet your recommended nutrient requirements, therapeutic supplementation may be a good option.

 

Referenced Studies & Content

[1] Statistics Canada: Canadian Community Health Survey, June 2017 – Nutrition: Nutrient intakes from food and nutritional supplements
[2] Statistics Canada: Health Fact Sheets. Fruit and Vegetable consumption
[3] Health Canada: Do Canadian Adults Meet Their Nutrient Requirements Through Food Intake Alone?
[4] Health Canada: Vitamin D and Calcium: Updated Dietary Reference Intakes
[5] Health Reports, March 2010: Vitamin D status of Canadians as measured in the 2007 to 2009 Canadian Health Measures Survey
[6] American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2011: The vitamin D status of Canadians relative to the 2011 Dietary Reference Intakes: An examination in children and adults with and without supplement use