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Iron, iodine, and vitamin B deficiencies are among the three most common deficiencies in underdeveloped nations, but the US isn’t looking so great on fiber.
Sugar, salt, and fat have presided over the American food industry as a tyrannical threesome for some time now, and thanks to their massive success, they’re well-cemented into the infrastructure.
Now, we’re eating more than ever and simultaneously regressing into third-world levels of nutritional deficiencies that usually have nothing to do with food shortages or accessibility.
As a result of the food industry’s strong dependence on refined sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats, eating healthy in the US and other Western countries is now becoming a “niche” lifestyle, but it’s still possible.
First, we have to define the landscape in terms of which nutrients we most routinely under-consume and what problems these deficiencies cause, and then we’ll show you how to defy the status quo without upending your entire diet.
Even in high-performing economies, malnutrition and hunger are affecting millions.
According to a CDC report, more than 2 billion people and 50% of children globally suffer from one or more nutritional deficiencies, among which these are some of the most common:
*All RDA ranges are age- and gender-specific.
The answer is (at least) three-fold, and it involves the food industry’s processing, marketing, and cost-cutting approaches.
Processing: The American food industry and some of its Western contemporaries are pumping empty calories into food products, from fast food to “diet” food products and beverages.
Food processing strips away fiber and other important nutrients, which are swapped out with added sugars and cheap fillers.
While processing is important to extending a product’s shelf-life and removing contaminants, in many cases, big brands are using this as an opportunity to cut costs at the expense of nutritional density.
Marketing: Food companies market sugary products to kids, who then develop strong cravings at a young age and become lifelong customers.
Companies also spend millions of dollars suppressing objectors, squeezing the government for more lenient regulations, and funding studies that downplay the long-term health concerns tied to their products.
Cost-cutting: To turn the highest possible profit, the food industry dresses up government-subsidized crops like wheat and soy with artificial ingredients.
The result is a diet that provides far too many sugars, artificial ingredients, and unhealthy fats, a primary fuel source for the obesity epidemic, while at the same time falling short in terms of nutritional targets.
Hope is not lost, but before we get to the good news, it’s vital to understand what these nutrients do, how deficient we are on a national and/or global scale, and just how important they are to public health.
In building this list, we placed equal priority on both the extent of underconsumption and the severity of resulting health concerns.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but these six nutrients are among the most underconsumed in the United States and the rest of the world.
Function(s): Iron is essential for the formation of red blood cells, and assists with oxygen transport via hemoglobin.
It also helps with metabolism and immune function.
Sources: Red meat, poultry, fish, beans, spinach, and more.
Deficiency level: Per the CDC report, iron deficiency affects43% of children and 38%of pregnant women, who are at a higher risk for it.
Related health concerns: Anemia, which comes with fatigue, headaches, dizziness, and more.
Functions: Iodine is used in the production of thyroid hormones, which regulate metabolism, bone and brain development, and other highly important functions throughout the body.
Sources: Fish, shrimp, and other seafood; dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese; and iodized salt.
Deficiency level: Salt has helped keep US incidence fairly low, but it’s still at an epidemic level globally, affecting an estimated 2 billion people.
Related health concerns: Maternally transmitted issues, including stunted growth, intellectual and developmental delays. Goiter.
Functions: Food metabolism, brain function, infection prevention, oxygen and nutrient transport, and more.
Sources: Meat, beans, whole grains, eggs, dark and leafy vegetables, some fruits.
Deficiency level: Not known, but extrapolating from studies like this one, it’s highly likely that deficiencies are prevalent.
Related health concerns: Can vary because there are 8 types of B vitamins, but generally include weakness, fatigue, PNS irregularities (tingling extremities, etc.) balance issues, loss of appetite, and more.
Functions: Calcium uptake and regulation for bone health, possible immune support, mood improvements
Sources: Sunlight, eggs, red meat and organ meats, fish, fortified foods
Deficiency level: Per this finding from Qassim University in Saudi Arabia, more than a billion people are “vitamin D deficient or insufficient.”
Since such a large share of the RDA comes from the sun (50 to 90 percent per study), many people cycle in and out of deficiency
Related health concerns: increased risk of osteoporosis, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, chronic fatigue, and more.
Functions: Magnesium has a very broad range of uses throughout the body.
Per this government fact sheet, “Magnesium is a cofactor in more than 300 enzyme systems that regulate diverse biochemical reactions in the body, including protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation”
Sources: Spinach, beans, tuna, almonds, bananas, brown rice, avocados, and more
Deficiency level: Insufficiency is more common than deficiency in this case.
As much as 20% of the general population is in the insufficiency category, where two percent are classified as deficient per this finding from Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, MO.
Related health concerns: like its many functions, the health concerns associated with magnesium deficiency are very broad, including migraine headaches, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and more.
Functions: Regulates digestion and elimination, lowers cholesterol, moderates blood sugar increases, assists with weight management.
Sources: Oats and grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, other unprocessed foods.
Deficiency level: A staggering 95 percent of Americans are deficient in fiber.
Related health concerns: Constipation, diverticulosis, high blood sugar, increased diabetes risk.
Nobody’s perfect, but with a combination of dietary habit reform and smart supplementation, anyone can improve their nutritional wellness.
Dietary changes that target the above nutrients will help you close the gap on any nutritional insufficiencies or even full-blown deficiencies that you’re experiencing, but in the case of trace minerals especially, a smart supplement will add a relieving mixture of consistency and flexibility to your new routine.
There’s no need to painstakingly revamp your diet from the ground up when you can simply swap in healthier alternatives to foods you already enjoy.
Audit your own eating habits over the period of at least a few days—preferably a week to account for possible changes in weekend eating habits—and highlight all the processed food, junk food, and otherwise unhealthy choices you can find.
After you’ve identified every problem item, it’s simply a matter of swapping it out with a minimally processed alternative.
Use this simple table as a guide and expand on it to suit your particular dieting habits:
|Unhealthy Food||More Nutritious Alternative|
|Soda||Orange/grapefruit juice, tea|
|Cheeseburger w/ fries||Grilled chicken/fish sandwich w/ salad|
|Potato chips||Nuts, raw vegetables|
|Sugary cereal||Plain yogurt with fruit/honey|
|Pizza||Homemade cauliflower or whole-wheat pizza|
|Store-bought salad dressing||Extra virgin olive oil and vinegar|
Supplement with Optim Nutrition Supreme Liquid Multivitamin
After an exhaustive search, we found a supplement that checks the most boxes in terms of overall safety and quality, nutrient density, and convenience: Optim Nutrition Supreme Liquid Multivitamin from Hi-Health.
Colloidal Minerals (from fulvic acid mineral water): Aluminum, Antimony, Barium, Beryllium, Bismuth, Boron, Bromine, Calcium, Cerium, Chloride, Cobalt, Copper, Dysprosium, Erbium, Gallium, Holmium, Iodine, Lanthanum, Lithium, Magnesium, Manganese, Molybdenum, Neodymium, Nickel, Niobium, Phosphorous, Potassium, Praseodymium, Rubidium, Scandium, Strontium, Terbium, Thorium, Titanium, Uranium, Vanadium, Yttrium, Zinc, Zirconium. Amino Acids (from gelatin): Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Valine, Histidine, Arginine, Aspartic Acid, Serine, Glutamic Acid, Proline, Glycine, Alanine, Tyrosine, Cystine, Citrulline, Cysteine, Glutamine, Ornithine, Taurine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan. Herbal Extract Blend: Alfalfa Extract (from leaves and stems), Dong Quai Extract (from root), American Ginseng (root), Chinese Ginseng (root), Grape Seed Extract, Uva Ursi Extract (from leaves), Juniper Berry Extract, Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) (from leaves), Corn Silk, Parsley (leaf), Bucha Leaf Powder, Solidago decurrens Flower Extract, Cubeb Berry Powder, Cranberry Extract, Watermelon Seed Powder, Pau d’Arco Bark. Quercetin (Citrus Bioflavonoids), Bioflavonoids (from Oranges), Aloe Vera Gel (200:1 Leaf Extract)
Herbal extract, amino acid, and mineral complex blend fortified with dozens of nutrients.
This vitamin is more readily absorbed into your system than pills, and its 16 herbal extracts are boosted by a robust profile of 39 trace minerals.
By including such a deep roster of not just vitamin extracts, but plant-based compounds like citrus bioflavonoids, cranberry extract, and dozens more, this supplement more closely mirrors the combinations of nutrients found in natural food sources, allowing for synergistic benefits to take hold.
Most of all, this gluten- and dairy-free product tastes great with the help of just five grams of plant-based sugar per serving.
Literally and figuratively, spreading your efforts evenly between smartly swapping in healthier foods and taking high-quality supplements will give you more breathing room than if you were to bridge the gap with diet alone.
We’re all human beings, and we’re going to partake in greasy, saccharine diversions from time to time.
As long as you’re locked into a routine that prioritizes nutrient-dense foods and supplements, the occasional treat won’t hurt.
Energy drinks and sugary snacks may be louder, sweeter, and faster-acting than natural sources of sugar, but rarely are those benefits conferred without some form of reckoning down the road.
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