6 Common Nutritional Deficiencies & Various Foods To Cure Them

Do you know that nutritional deficiency is responsible for more than 6 percent of the global morbidity and mortality rates? We have 88 percent of the countries facing a serious burden of nutritional deficiencies. Moreover, around 2 billion people lack micronutrients like vitamin A and iron.

Nutrient deficiencies contribute to the global disease and economic burden. These deficiencies result in poor growth, impaired immunity, reduced cognitive functions, anemia, decreased work capacity, acute respiratory infections, diarrhea, perinatal complications, and increased risk of morbidity.

6 Common Nutritional Deficiencies & Foods To Cure Them

6 common nutritional deficiencies and 18 foods to cure them..

As complicated as their consequences may seem, they are not that complicated to treat. Almost all nutritional deficiencies are caused by inadequate intake or poor absorption of nutrients. If you are aware of what foods to choose for which deficiencies, you can prevent the negative consequences of following 6 common nutritional deficiencies.

1. Iron deficiency

The most common nutritional deficiency in the world is iron deficiency. Over 30 percent of the world’s population is anemic – mostly due to iron deficiency. It is the only deficiency that is significantly prevalent in the developing countries as well.

The adverse consequences of having low iron are premature birth, low birth weight, slow growth, delayed infant activities, and low IQ.

Iron deficiency not only affects a person’s life but also results in severe economic consequences. Take a look at the risk factors and signs and symptoms of this deficiency. Mentioned below is also a list of foods that help prevent iron deficiencies.

Risk factors

Not all individuals are prone to similar deficiencies. While some may be at risk of developing calcium deficiency, others may be more likely to have iron deficiency. The risk factors for iron deficiency include

  • Pregnant women
  • Young children
  • Females who have heavy menstruation
  • Formal fed babies
  • Premature or low birth weight babies
  • Frequent blood donors
  • Individuals with cancer
  • People with heart failure

Signs and symptoms of iron deficiency

Having low iron is linked to decreased activity and performance. The resulting fatigue from iron deficiency makes it difficult to perform even the simple tasks like climbing stairs. Some of the warning signs of iron deficiency are given below.

  • Tiredness
  • Pale skin complexion
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hair loss
  • Poor nail health
  • Frequent infections
  • Pica (a desire to eat non-food substances like chalk and clay)
  • Restless legs

Related: 10 Warning Signs of Iron Deficiency (P.S. 15 Iron Rich Foods)

Recommended daily allowance (RDA)

According to National Institutes of Health (NIH), recommended daily allowance for iron is as given below.

Age group 19–50 years:

For men: 8mg/day

For women: 18mg/day

Pregnancy demands more iron. Therefore, such women should take up to 27mg of iron on a daily basis. For people older than 51 years, 8mg is the daily requirement for both men and women.

Food to treat iron deficiency

Following foods are a rich source of iron:

  • Spinach
  • Shellfish
  • Grass-fed beef
  • Liver
  • Tofu
  • Broccoli
  • Olives
  • Flaxseeds
  • Cashew

2. Calcium deficiency

There is a lack of data on the exact prevalence of calcium deficiency, but the World Health Organization reports that low calcium intake is a common issue with deficiencies most prevalent in the developing countries.

Calcium­­, the most abundant mineral in your body, is essential to overall health and nutrition. It is involved in supporting skeleton by keeping your bones strong. Other functions include:

  • Blood clotting
  • Cell signaling
  • Muscle contraction
  • Maintenance of heartbeat
  • Absorption of other nutrients

Presence of calcium can reduce the absorption of certain other nutrients such as iron and zinc. It is, therefore, recommended to take iron supplements before or after 2 hours of taking calcium.

Risk factors for calcium deficiency

You are prone to have insufficient calcium if you take fewer amounts of dairy products. Children under 2 years of age are specifically at risk for calcium deficiency due to increased demand. Premature babies and elderly population are also at risk.

Low levels of vitamin D and intake of certain medications result in low absorption of calcium, and thus a risk of deficiency.

Signs and symptoms of calcium deficiency

Depending on the level of deficiency, symptoms can be as follows:

  • Weak nails
  • Slow hair growth
  • Fragile skin
  • Depression
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tingling in hands and feet
  • Confusion
  • Frequent and easy bone fractures
  • Seizures

Consequences of calcium deficiency

  • Soft and fragile bones
  • Insufficient skeletal growth
  • Rickets in children
  • Osteoporosis in elderly

Recommended daily allowance (RDA)

Daily intake of calcium varies among children, adults, and women. For individuals in the age group 19 to 50, 1000 mg/day is enough. For women over 50 years of age, 1200 mg/day is the recommended intake.

Foods to treat calcium deficiency

Following are top 3 richest sources of calcium:

  • Boned fish
  • Dairy products
  • Leafy greens like broccoli, spinach, kale, and bok choy.

3. Vitamin D deficiency

An estimate by Harvard University claims that 1 billion people have vitamin D deficiency. Essential for bone and cellular growth, vitamin D is found in every cell of a human body. It is responsible for keeping calcium and phosphorus levels in check.

The absorption of calcium is compromised in the absence of vitamin D. From bones to nerves vitamin D is essential for various bodily functions.

Risk factors for vitamin D deficiency

Following are the risk factors – some are modifiable and others are non-modifiable:

  • Dark skin
  • Antiepileptic drugs
  • Malabsorption secondary to inflammatory bowel disease and cystic fibrosis
  • Obesity
  • Female gender
  • Excessive sunscreen use
  • Indoor lifestyle
  • Low intake of milk
  • Living in areas that have less sun exposure

Signs and symptoms of vitamin D deficiency

  • Fatigue
  • Tiredness
  • Frequent infections
  • Bone pains
  • Backache
  • Hair loss
  • Impaired wound healing
  • Muscle pain
  • Depression

Consequences of vitamin D deficiency

The worst consequences are bone pains and depression. Low levels of vitamin D also result in impaired immunity, brittle bones, osteoporosis, insulin resistance, and rickets – a condition that causes softening of bones in children.

Recommended daily allowance (RDA)

From one year to 70 years of age, the daily intake needs are same, i.e., 600 International Units (IU). For people aged 71 years or older, 800 IU is the recommended dose.

Food to treat vitamin D deficiency

If you are deficient in vitamin D, it is best to increase your sun exposure. Take supplements and increase your intake of vitamin D rich foods. Here are 3 best foods that provide enough vitamin D.

foods to cure nutritional deficiencies

  • Salmon
  • Herring
  • Tuna

4. Iodine deficiency

Iodine is a crucial nutrient for healthy function of thyroid glands which use iodine to make thyroid hormones. These hormones are essential to brain development, growth, metabolism, and healing processes.

Related: 11 of the Best Foods for Your Brain

Nearly 40 percent of the global population is at the risk of iodine deficiency. It can start even before birth which may lead to mental health issues. A severe lack of iodine during pregnancy can result in stillbirths.

Iodine deficiency is usually common in mountain regions and in areas where people don’t eat marine food.

Risk factors for iodine deficiency

From the gender of a person to the intake of certain medications, different factors play a role in the possible predisposition of a person to iodine deficiency. Some of the risk factors are

  • Low intake of iodine
  • Radiation exposure
  • Female gender
  • Pregnancy
  • Selenium deficiency
  • Smoking
  • People living in countries that have low iodine content in the soil such as South Asia, New Zealand, and European regions.
  • Individuals who do NOT use iodized salt.

Signs and symptoms of iodine deficiency

A deficiency of iodine can lead to severe effects. Some of the signs & symptoms include

  • Neck swelling
  • Hair loss
  • Weight gain
  • Dry skin
  • Feeling cold
  • Slow heart rate
  • Learning difficulties
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Irregular menstruation
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Pregnancy-related issues

Recommended daily allowance (RDA)

For adult men and women, the RDA for iodine is 150 µg/day as per Institute of Medicine guidelines. For pregnant ladies, the demand rises to 220 µg/day, and for breastfeeding women, the RDA is 290 µg iodine/day. Iodized-salt is recommended for use in food preparation.

Food to treat iodine deficiency

Seaweed from iodine-rich soils such as that of Japan is an excellent source of iodine. Other sources are listed in descending order of the iodine content.

  • Cod
  • Plain yogurt
  • Iodized salt
  • Shrimps
  • Eggs

5. Vitamin A deficiency

A promoter of good vision, vitamin A helps and maintain many health functions. It is essential to the health of teeth, bones, skin, and soft tissue. Vitamin A is also required for the process of reproduction and breastfeeding.

Although vitamin A is widely available in the form of different foods, the deficiency remains a major public health issue in most countries. A lack of access to foods that contain vitamin A is the leading cause of this deficiency.

Risk factors for vitamin A deficiency

There is an increased risk of vitamin A deficiency in certain individuals. Some of the risk factors are as follows:

  • Crohn’s disease
  • Liver cirrhosis
  • Coeliac disease
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Pancreatic diseases
  • Giardiasis
  • Individuals who follow vegan diets
  • Excessive use of alcohol
  • Insufficient dietary intake (more prevalent in poverty-stricken areas)

Signs and symptoms of vitamin A deficiency

Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children. Most of the affected children suffer repeated infections and have an increased mortality risk. Also, in the case of pregnant women, vitamin A deficiency causes night blindness. Other clinical features include

  • Dry eyes
  • Bitot spots ­­– keratinized growth leading to hazy vision
  • Ulcerations in the eyes
  • Dry and scaly skin
  • Thick tongue
  • Dry Lips
  • Pruritus (itching)
  • Impaired immunity
  • Growth retardation in children

Recommended daily allowance (RDA)

Vitamin A requirements for individuals of age group 19-50 years is 900 mcg RAE in men and 700 mcg RAE in women. During pregnancy, the amount increases to 750 mcg RAE, while for the breastfeeding women, it is 1300 mcg RAE.

Food to treat vitamin A deficiency

Vitamin A is found in some of the tastiest foods in the world. At least, the deficiency should not be related to low intake secondary to less palatable food. Below is a short list of vitamin A rich foods.

  • Organ meat
  • Carrot juice
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Orange fruits
  • Mangoes
  • Leafy greens like spinach and kale

6. Magnesium deficiency

Magnesium is an abundant mineral in your body. It is crucial to many body processes and plays the role of a cofactor in more than 300 enzyme systems.

Magnesium contributes to protein synthesis, blood pressure regulation, control of blood sugar levels, normal heart rhythm, and muscular and nervous functions. It is also crucial for the synthesis of DNA and RNA.

Risk factors for magnesium deficiency

While magnesium deficiency is not that common owing to the kidneys that limit magnesium excretion based on the intake, magnesium inadequacy is more common. Chronic medical conditions often put a person at risk. Some risk factors are

  • Gastrointestinal diseases like Crohn’s disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Alcoholism
  • Old age
  • Poor diet

Signs and symptoms of magnesium deficiency

Magnesium deficiency does not produce noticeable symptoms at the start. In the case of healthy individuals, kidneys help restrict magnesium excretion when the intake is low. However, prolonged deficiency can lead to symptoms like

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Abnormal heartbeats
  • Seizures
  • A change in personality

Recommended daily allowance (RDA)

According to National Institutes of Health, magnesium requirements for individuals of age group 19-50 years are 400-420 mg for men and 310-320 mg for women.

Food to treat magnesium deficiency

Magnesium is the nutrient that is found naturally in various foods. Some fortified foods also contain magnesium as an added component. If you are looking to prevent magnesium deficiency, do buy the following items the next time you are out for a grocery shopping:

  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Leafy greens like spinach
  • Dairy products


Good nutrition provides personal and nationwide economic growth. It also brings peace and decreases the health burden on the already burdened health system. Although healthcare systems and other stakeholders have taken significant steps to reduce the nutritional deficiencies across the globe, we are still far away from the goal.

The best you can do to reduce the burden of nutritional deficiencies is to contribute to your own health. Since nature has distributed the nutrients in a variety of foods, what you need to do is create variety in what you eat.



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