One of the best parts about being a nutritionist is being asked to diagnose peoples’ crazy ailments. I’m not a doctor, so I can’t actually diagnose or treat anything medical, but I still find it hilarious. Here’s a few that I’ve been asked over the years:

“I’m getting stretch marks when I work out, am I deficient in something?”

“My face is droopy and tingly. Do you think it could be something I’m eating?”

“I’m bruising really easily. Is that a vitamin deficiency?”

“My nails are weak and bendy; am I deficient in something?”

If you’re ever concerned about your health or have new symptoms, go see your doctor and get it checked out. Nutrient deficiency does eventually result in disease and certain parts of your diet could be causing your symptoms. But before you rush out for a supplement or eliminate foods, it’s important to know that it’s only worth popping a pill or cutting out food groups if that’s the actual root of the problem. Poor nutrition is not the only cause of disease. Play it safe and get everything checked by your doctor before making dietary changes or taking a supplement.

Understanding nutrition

Nutrients are what we call the different chemical components of food deemed essential for our health. Some of these nutrients are large (macro) and include protein, carbohydrates and fats. Others are small (micro) and include vitamins and minerals.

Micro-nutrients don’t offer the body energy or provide the building blocks for growth and repair like macro-nutrients do. They are, however, a key part of metabolism and without them, the body develops what’s called a deficiency disease.

We can meet our body’s needs for both macro and micro nutrients from diet alone. To meet your body’s needs for the nutrients listed below, consume a variety of nutritious foods, adequate serves of vegetables, fruits and other whole foods and eat according to your body’s daily energy needs.

The nutrients

There are hundreds of different health promoting chemicals present in food, these are the main ones that we know about.

Vitamins: A, C, D, E, K, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, B-6, folate, B-12, choline

Minerals: calcium, phosphorous, potassium, sulphur, sodium, chloride, magnesium, iron, manganese, copper, iodine

Essential Fatty Acids: omega 3s – ALA, EPA, DHA

Fibre: soluble and insoluble

Nutrient deficiency

You’d think that living in the wealthy abundance of western society and having access to nutritious foods would mean that nutrient deficiency would be rare.

For many nutrients, it is. Our food supply is abundant in a range of nutrients, vitamin C and B-group vitamins, in particular, and deficiency diseases associated with them rarely occur.

Other nutrients, however, like iron, calcium, vitamin D, folate and iodine may be lacking in the diets of some individuals for a variety of reasons. These deficiency diseases do have long term health consequences and it’s important to look at all the options, both dietary and medical, to treat them.

If you suspect that you may be deficient in a nutrient, definitely go see your GP. They can order a range of tests to check your status on a number of key nutrients. If they find a deficiency, book an appointment with one of our nutritionists or dietitians and we can show you how to rectify it. We can also analyse your diet and give you detailed information on whether your regular daily eating habits are meeting your body’s nutrient needs. Sometimes all you need are a few tweaks and you’ll be back on track with a diet that gives your body everything it needs.

How supplements can help

In western culture, we also find ourselves in a food environment that’s energy rich (high in fat and sugar) but nutrient poor (low in vitamins, minerals and fibre). This is mainly due to a poor fruit and vegetable consumption and a high dependence on processed/packaged foods that are high in energy but offer very little in the way of nutrition.

Including more vegetables in your diet and making swaps for more whole foods are the best steps for improving overall diet quality and reducing your risk of deficiency. For some individuals, however, a supplement may be necessary.

Upon walking into a pharmacy or supplement isle at your supermarket, it can be rather overwhelming. Many supplements on offer are unnecessary and you’d be better off spending your money on better quality food.

Choose a single nutrient supplement to treat a deficiency

If you’ve been diagnosed with iron, vitamin D, folate, or another deficiency, taking a specific supplement to combat this would be the best approach. You could also take a multi-vitamin as long as it contains a sufficient amount of the nutrient that you’re lacking.

Choose a multi-vitamin

Seen as an ‘insurance policy’, a multi-vitamin is there to fill the gaps that might be left from your diet. A stressful stage in your life, chronic poor eating habits or an excessively busy lifestyle may warrant a multi-vitamin if you feel that you don’t have the ability to make your diet work.

Too much of a good thing

Like many things in life, you can have too much of a good thing. Too much iron, vitamin C, vitamin A and some other nutrients can cause toxicity and disease if you consume too much. The risk of toxicity is increased if you’re taking the nutrient from a supplement as opposed to food. So be mindful of your intake, especially if you’re consuming a range of different supplements at the same time.

Book an appointment with one of our dietitians for a review of your nutrient supplements. We’d be happy to advise which ones are worth taking and which ones you’re better off leaving on the shelf.

Get advice regardless

This post should not be used as replacement for adequate professional advice from your GP or dietitian. Nutrition advice is highly individualised. What’s right for you is not necessarily right for someone else.

Use due diligence and common sense when it comes to taking any supplement, herb, powder or potion. Always seek professional advice and don’t forget that baby steps with your diet can lead to long lasting improvements with your health!

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