Rickets, scurvy, goiter… When we hear the phrase “nutritional deficiencies,” our minds often wander to these dramatic, distant seeming maladies. While it’s doubtful that you’re currently struggling with any of these clinical and aggressively symptomatic deficits, did you know that most of us have sub-optimal levels of many key nutrients?
As a result, many or most of us struggle with varying baseline levels of fatigue, moodiness, fat loss difficulties, and cravings that become our relative state of normality. (Do we remember anything else?) Even if you feel “fine,” what would it be like to feel even better?
The fact is, our nutrient status is very much the foundation of our metabolism and performance. What would be possible in your health, fitness and fat loss if you were running on all cylinders? Read on to learn which key nutrients you’re most likely lacking – and how you can best boost your body’s supply.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
While it’s widely known that omega-3 fatty acids are good for heart health, did you know they can also be beneficial for your hair, skin, nails, and joints – not to mention overall health? Research is even revealing a relationship between omega-3 levels and risks for cancer, autoimmune disease, diabetes and more.
The ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6, another type of essential fatty acid, is important to understand. Many of us have way too much omega-6 in relation to omega-3 in our diets.
Optimize your omega-3 intake and overall omega balance by minimizing omega-6 laden processed vegetable oils such as corn, soybean, and canola oils, and focus on omega-3 sources such as wild-caught salmon and grass-fed beef. Non-animal sources of omega-3 fatty acids such as flax seeds and walnuts are great choices as well; however, they’re only partially converted into their most beneficial forms, EPA and DHA, which are found in animal sources such as fatty fish.
With this trace mineral, we see negative impacts on both ends of the scale – if we don’t have enough (related to goiter) or if we have too much (related to some autoimmune conditions). Iodine is most prominently linked to thyroid function, which is often considered the master switch of metabolism.
As you clean up your diet, your intake of artificially-iodized salt decreases, and your risk for sub-optimal iodine levels increases, particularly because most of us don’t eat many naturally iodine-rich foods, such as sea vegetables. While I do encourage you to avoid processed salt, ensure that you’re eating well-sourced fish and shellfish on a regular basis. If you’re not exactly a seafood (or seaweed) fan, considering supplementing with Thyro-Mend and making sure your eggs are pastured.
A very powerful mineral, zinc is found in every organ and tissue and heavily influences the health of our immune systems, the production of testosterone (lean body mass and healthy libido, anyone?), our production of thyroid hormones, and the mitigation of wound healing. We tend to be more at risk for sub-optimal levels when we’re under chronic stress. (I’m guessing this includes most of us!)
While many over-the-counter multivitamins contain a modest 15 mg, most of us will benefit from a multivitamin supplement with 30-40 mg. Word of caution: more is not necessarily better! Any more than that in supplement form can cause concerns with copper deficiency. Make sure to take in zinc-rich foods such as grass fed beef and lamb, sustainably harvested oysters, spinach, and pumpkin seeds.
Chromium actually decreases with stress and age, meaning at some point we’re all at risk for deficiency. Sub-optimal levels of this nutrient pack a double whammy by triggering blood sugar imbalances and food cravings. Additionally, if you take antacids or proton-pump inhibitors, your absorption could be further hindered – not a good combo! Amp up your intake of broccoli, basil, garlic and turkey for more of this essential nutrient that helps improve insulin sensitivity and keep sugar cravings at bay.
Relatively depleted in much of our agricultural soil today, selenium is an important trace element with roles in thyroid function, pancreatic function, immune system activity and detoxification. For those who struggle with thyroid conditions or have been told that they have “borderline” thyroid issues, know that selenium is critical for your body to make the more active form of thyroid hormone called T3.
Organ meat (not a major part of most peoples’ diets) and Brazil nuts (as few as 1-3 or so per day) are both good sources. Mushrooms and seafood such as tuna, sardines, and shrimp also contain relatively ample amounts of selenium.
Magnesium is critical for hundreds of functions and processes in the body, including blood sugar regulation, muscle function, nerve function, detoxification, and energy utilization. It might be surprising to note that most of us are deficient in magnesium – especially if we exercise regularly!
To date, all my clients who struggled with restless leg syndrome or muscle cramping, particularly in the evening, have found partial or total alleviation after about two weeks of taking 500 mg of magnesium in the evening. Other potential benefits of magnesium include alleviation of constipation, prevention of migraines, and strengthening of bones. Not a bad deal!
Make sure to take in ample amounts of magnesium-rich foods, including spinach, chard, and kale (yet another reason to focus on those leafy greens – with vitamin K as an added bonus), as well as almonds, pumpkin seeds, wild-caught mackerel, black beans, and avocado.
While it’s easy to keep your focus on macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat, and protein), remember that optimal changes will only occur when your micronutrients (vitamins, minerals) are in order! Our complex metabolic systems needs macro- and micro-nourishment to feel, function, and perform at our best. While there are even more specific nutrients of concern we could talk about, always remember to support yourself with lots of whole, natural, unprocessed foods, and be sure to supplement strategically to give your body the foundation it needs to be its absolute best – inside and out. You deserve it!
Consult a registered dietitian about your nutritional status and the best dietary and supplement strategies for your needs. Thanks for reading.