If the old adage that food is medicine holds true, then a trip to the grocery store can give us exactly what we need to live our healthiest lives: Whole, unprocessed foods naturally filled with the vitamins and minerals our bodies need to survive and thrive.
Unfortunately, we're bombarded daily with the idea that food is convenience: Processed, packaged foods with alarmingly low vitamin content levels line store shelves. It's only a matter of time before eating for convenience turns into a vitamin deficiency health crisis.
While it can feel overwhelming to replace convenience foods with whole ones, it might be easier than you think. Listed here are several common signs of vitamin deficiencies—and if you look closely enough, you'll see that the same foods keep popping up as ways to help stave off or improve deficiencies.
Sign: Your hair and nails break easily.
Potential deficiency: This could be a biotin deficiency. Biotin helps your body turn food into energy. If you're falling short in this vitamin, you might also experience muscle fatigue or pain, cramps, or tingling extremities.
How to improve it: Add biotin-rich foods to your diet, including meat and fish, dairy, egg yolks, nuts and seeds, sweet potatoes, spinach, whole grains, broccoli, and bananas.
Sign: You have canker sores around your mouth.
Potential deficiency: A lack of iron and B vitamins like thiamine, riboflavin, and pyridoxine may be to blame here if you're experiencing extreme dryness or canker sores.
How to improve it: Make sure you're eating enough leafy greens, whole grains, nuts and seeds, legumes, fish, meat, and poultry.
Sign: Your gums bleed.
Potential deficiency: You could be low in vitamin C, which plays a significant role in healing the body. It's also a natural immunity booster and helps prevent cell damage. If you're low on this essential vitamin, you might also experience tooth loss, frequent nosebleeds, easy bruising, and slow wound healing.
How to improve it: Make a colorful array of fruits and vegetables a regular part of your diet. Foods rich in vitamin C include oranges, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, kale, and strawberries.
Sign: You have trouble seeing at night.
Potential deficiency: This could be caused by a lack of vitamin A, which is crucial for healthy vision.
How to improve it: Incorporate foods rich in vitamin A into your diet, including yellow and orange vegetables, leafy greens, dairy, eggs, and fish.
Sign: You have scaly skin.
Potential deficiency: You could be low in zinc or B vitamins like niacin, riboflavin, and pyridoxine.
How to improve it: Eat foods like starchy and green vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, eggs, dairy, poultry, fish, and meat.
Sign: You have restless legs.
Potential deficiency: You might be low in iron or magnesium.
How to improve it: Eat iron-rich foods like poultry and fish, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and leafy greens. To boost magnesium intake, eat almonds, black beans, edamame, peanuts, and spinach. For better absorption, pair these foods with those high in vitamin C, like fruits and vegetables.
Sign: Your limbs are numb or tingly.
Potential deficiency: A lower-than-normal calcium intake may be to blame. Aside from supporting bone health, calcium plays a role in controlling nerve and muscle function. If you're low on calcium, you might also experience irregular heartbeats.
How to improve it: Eat calcium-rich foods like broccoli, kale, cheese, and yogurt.
Sign: You're frequently fatigued or have muscle weakness.
Potential deficiency: While fatigue and muscle weakness can be symptoms of dozens of conditions, they could be caused by a lack of potassium or vitamin D. This deficiency could also lead to bone pain, constipation, and mood swings.
How to improve it: Eat potassium-rich foods like bananas and legumes like lentils and kidney beans. To get more vitamin D, incorporate more fatty fish like salmon and tuna into your diet. Also make sure you're getting at least a few minutes of natural, direct sunlight exposure daily.
To confirm whether you're deficient in one or more vitamins, you can request a full-spectrum blood test from your health care practitioner. Either way, adding these nutritious whole foods to your diet can be all you need for optimal, natural health—not to mention all the vitamins your body needs.