If you are interested in health and wellness in any capacity, you have probably been bombarded with (sometimes conflicting) information about vitamins. Namely, vitamin supplements. From when to take them, how to take them, and if you should take them at all – to what dosage, brand, and type you should buy; there is a lot to be confused about. There is a TON of information out there about vitamin supplements and more research is being done all the time. Some people believe supplements are a waste of money and that we basically piss them out, while others are huge advocates and can attest to their healing powers. I think I land somewhere in the middle. I also operate on the mindset that every single person is different and will have different results from literally everything. So, the purpose of this post isn’t to tell you if, when, how, where, or why you should consider taking vitamin supplements. There are tons of books for that. This is the one we used for class. But I do want to tell you about a couple of the more common vitamin and nutrient deficiencies I’ve learned about and how to spot them. Bonus: foods high in them! If you already eat a truly balanced diet of all different types of SOUL foods, limiting sugar and processed crap as much as possible, you probably don’t have to worry too much about major deficiencies. But if you don’t, it’s worth talking to your doctor to get some labs drawn to find out if you should be eating more of certain foods or taking vitamin or mineral supplements.

So, wtf is up with nutrients and how might you tell if you have a deficiency? Let us journey.

Iron

Iron is the most common nutrient deficiency in the world. It mostly affects women and children in the US and can be due to a few different factors: like poor diet, pregnancy, and menstruation. Iron is a mineral necessary for healthy production and formation of red blood cells, which we need in order to get oxygen to our muscles and tissues. When we are deficient in iron, we have fewer red blood cells and therefore less oxygen getting where it needs to go. Signs of low iron include fatigue, inability to warm up in cold weather (thermoregulation), and a rapid heart rate or heart palpitations. Serious deficiencies can bring about brittle nails, loss of taste or a sore tongue. The good news is that iron is found in both plant and animal foods. Meat contains heme and non-heme iron and is generally better absorbed, however plant-foods (which contain non-heme) like beans and nuts can be better absorbed when eaten with vitamin C. Cooked spinach is a great plant-based source of iron. One cup contains 80% of the daily value for iron and 30% for vitamin C. Look at nature, having our backs.

The B Vitamins

First of all, there are a shit ton of B vitamins. I’ll list them in a sec. The B vitamins are a family and they all work together toward similar goals, so it makes sense to talk about them together. I won’t go into each and every one because that would take forever, but I’ll touch on a couple. As a whole, they’re known as the “stress vitamins” because they help produce important brain chemicals responsible for sleep and mood. So, we have B1 (Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), B5 (Pantothenic Acid), B6 (Pyridoxine), B7 (Biotin), B9 (Folate), and B12 (Cobalamin). Fun fact: there are gaps between the numbers because some B vitamins were “discovered” and then later found to not actually be vitamins. Whoops! B12 is the one you’ve probably heard the most about. It’s the one people are always scared to be deficient in if they decide to stop eating meat, which makes sense because it’s only found in animal products. Way back in the day, we could get a little from the soil plants were grown in, but because of pesticides and washing produce, that’s no longer a thing. Low B12 can be pretty serious because with a full on-deficiency you can develop pernicious anemia, which can cause irreversible tissue damage. B12 is another nutrient that is needed for red blood cell health, among other things. Unfortunately, there are no clear early signs of B12 deficiency that can’t be attributed to something else. Once symptoms like pale skin, dizziness, fatigue and neurological issues come on, there has probably been irreversible damage. If you don’t eat meat or fortified foods like cereals, you pretty much need to take a supplement. I also want to talk about folate (B9) because so many women don’t get enough and if you are pregnant or planning on it, you should know how important this vitamin is. Oh, btw this is another one that has to do with red blood cells. Folate deficiency can lead to megaloblastic anemia which results in large red blood cells with a short life span. Signs include headaches and fatigue, lack of concentration, and stomach pain, especially after eating. Blood work can also tell you if you have high homocysteine levels, which might be caused by low levels of folate. Folate is critically important for brain function, homocysteine regulation, and even protection against cancer. It’s also critically important for a healthy pregnancy. Low blood folate levels in pregnant women can lead to neural tube defects like spina bifida in the fetus. This revelation led to the mass fortification of cereals and grains, but the best sources are dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, and lettuce. Other green veggies and fruits like bananas and oranges are great, too. I personally take a B-Complex since I don’t eat a lot of animal products and I want to keep my stress under control.

Vitamin D

Pretty much everyone associates vitamin D with the sun. Which makes sense, because when the sun’s rays hit our skin, pre-vitamin D3 is formed and then turned into D3. Some other science-y stuff happens and we get the active form of vitamin D, calcitriol. You might notice that calcitriol sounds oddly like calcium. In fact, vitamin D controls calcium and phosphorus levels in the body (plus a lot of other functions). Going out in the sun for 10-15 minutes a day sans sunscreen will do the trick for most people, but that doesn’t happen a lot. People are terrified of the sun, but it literally gives us life. There are tons of heated (pun intended) arguments about the sun causing skin cancer and sunscreen being the solution. On the one hand, you have dermatologists and sunscreen manufacturers urging us to use the highest SPF to protect our skin. On the other hand, you have holistic practitioners and others saying that sunscreen may actually be causing skin cancer. After all, it is chemicals being baked into our skin. Regardless of where you land in the debate, it’s proven that vitamin D is synthesized in our skin by sunlight and SPF inhibits that. It’s also not naturally present in many foods, so back in the day before supplements and fortification were a thing, people had to get their vitamin D from the sun. Just something to ponder. Vitamin D deficiency leads to rickets in childhood and can cause osteomalacia (soft bones) in adults, plus increase the odds of developing osteoporosis. Again, this is a vitamin that has no clear early signs. Cod liver oil, salmon, and swordfish have the highest natural concentration of vitamin D, but other than that you’ll find it in fortified foods or up in the sky. This is getting quite lengthy, so I’ll stop here. Are there any other vitamins you want to know more about? If so, let me know. I also encourage you to check out other resources, especially if you suspect a deficiency.

The information presented above is not meant to replace medical advice or diagnose any medical issues. If you suspect you may have nutrient deficiencies or any other medical conditions, consult with your doctor.

Alissa