Common signs of nutritional deficiencies are dark circles, reddened cheeks and chapped lips. And while these symptoms can easily be ignored or attributed to something else, they can be an indicator that you are missing essential vitamins.
A diet that is lacking certain nutrients can have a huge impact on your health, especially over time. Nutritional deficiencies are linked to an increased risk of dementia, depression, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Even if you think you are eating well, you are still at risk. “Nutritional deficiencies can often occur even when women eat a nutrient-rich diet,” says registered nutritionist Jenna Hope.
But there is good news as there are some general visual cues to look out for that can help you turn things around – all you have to do is look in the mirror. “It can take a few weeks to a few months for defects to show up. So if you tune in to your body, you can tell when something is wrong, ”says Jenna.
Additionally, tackling nutritional deficiencies can be as simple as investing in one of the best blenders to make a vitamin-rich smoothie or a food processor to help you make more homemade meals.
11 common visual signs of nutrient deficiency – and how to fix them
Here are the most common visual nutritional deficiency signs, what they mean, and the simple changes you can make to your diet.
1. Dark circles
Immediately aging dark circles are one of the most common signs of nutritional deficiency and are easy to spot. “While dark circles can indicate tiredness and dehydration, it can also be a deficiency in micronutrients like iron, vitamins B12, E, or K,” says Jenna.
How to fix it: It’s time to stop relying on the foundation when it comes to dark circles and eat more red meat, nuts, dried fruits, and whole grains instead. Also, consider switching to organic meats – a US study found that some organic purchases contain higher levels of iron than non-organic items. Avocado is a great source of vitamin E, while both kale and spinach contain vitamin K.
A flaky scalp can tell you about your health, not just about the shampoo you use. “Dandruff can indicate that you are low in the mineral selenium and also low in vitamin B6,” says clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer. “This is often caused by yeast overgrowth. A selenium deficiency can therefore make you generally more susceptible to fungal infections such as thick, discolored nails and thrush. “
How to fix it: Nibble on foods rich in selenium like Brazil nuts (three per day) and sunflower seeds. Brown rice is a great source of selenium. Not only are sachet varieties ready in minutes, but microwaves can also help preserve nutrients.
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3. Dry eyes
Never attribute eye problems to simply being tired – this is one of the lesser-known signs of nutritional deficiency to look out for. “If you have dry eyes, this can help increase your vitamin D intake,” says consultant eye surgeon Dr. Elizabeth Hawkes. The eyes can also feel grainy and sore, and vision can be blurred.
How to fix it: “The most bioavailable form of vitamin D – that is, the one that is most efficiently absorbed – likely comes from animal foods,” says Dr. Carrie Ruxton. “It’s not about how quickly it is absorbed, but the percentage that is absorbed. Try oily fish like mackerel, tuna, or salmon, as well as eggs. “Look for“ super ”mushrooms fortified with vitamin D in the supermarket. If symptoms persist, contact your optician for further advice.
4. Pale skin
“This can be a sign of low iron status,” says Jenna. Your tongue and lower eyelids may also look pale. See a doctor who will do blood tests, especially if you feel tired or have other symptoms that affect you, such as palpitations or shortness of breath. “Heavy periods, especially those leading up to menopause, can also play a role,” says Dr. Ruxton.
How to fix it: Eat more iron-rich foods like red meat to reverse this common sign of nutritional deficiency. Plant sources of iron include leafy green vegetables, dried fruits, fortified breakfast cereals, and whole grains. The iron is better absorbed if you drink a glass of orange juice rich in vitamin C at the same time. And avoid drinking tea or coffee after you eat, as these contain phenols that hinder iron absorption.
(Credit: Getty Images / Karen Kaspar / EyeEm)
5. Red cheeks
Blushed, red cheeks that appear not only after drinking wine or exercising should not be ignored. “This symptom is often a sign of selenium and magnesium deficiency,” says Dr. Shirin Lakhani.
How to fix it: Magnesium is often overlooked and is vital for normal nerve and muscle function. The benefits of magnesium are virtually limitless and have been shown to decrease water retention, improve mood, and cause other PMS-related symptoms. Boost your intake with dark chocolate and bananas. Women need about 270 mg of magnesium per day, which is about 50 g of pumpkin seeds.
6. Broken heels
Broken heels can mean you are missing essential omega-3 fatty acids. “These polyunsaturated fats contribute to the formation of the skin’s natural oil barrier,” explains Dr. Lakhani. “If you don’t have enough EFAs in your diet, your skin may be dry, inflamed, and also prone to whiteheads and blackheads.” Eczema and acne are also signs that you may be deficient.
How to fix it: “Oily fish is the best way to include omega-3s in your diet,” says Jenna. “These include salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, herring, walnuts, seaweed, and flax seeds.” Store olive oil in a cool, dark place to avoid nutrient starvation.
(Image credit: Getty Images)
7. Bleeding gums
Bleeding gums and fatigue are easy to spot signs of nutrient deficiency. “However, this is rare. Always seek advice from a dentist, ”says Jenna.
How to fix it: Women need around 40 mg per day for healthy tissues (skin, cartilage, bones and blood vessels). Good sources of food are citrus fruits, acerola cherry juice, red peppers, black currants, watercress, broccoli, and tomatoes. Note, however, that the amount of vitamin C in vegetables that are not as fresh tends to decrease. So choose Frozen to keep freshness if you don’t eat it right away.
8. Lip pain
Forget about lip balms, dry and chapped lips can actually indicate that you are lacking in vitamin B2. “A dry mouth with cracks around the corners of the lips and an inflamed tongue are classic signs,” says Suzi. Other symptoms that may indicate a deficiency in other B vitamins include irritability, skin problems, trouble sleeping, and diarrhea.
How to fix it: “B vitamins are water-soluble so they’re easily excreted,” says Suzie. “You also use more B vitamin when you’re stressed, so you’ll need to replenish your supplies regularly.” Good sources are meat, dairy products, green vegetables, legumes (like beans and lentils), wheat germ and whole grains, nuts, seeds, and fruits. However, avoid tea, coffee, and alcohol as they all deplete B vitamins.
9. Slow healing wounds
If wounds take a long time to heal, this may indicate a zinc deficiency. You may also notice rough skin and decreased appetite and taste.
How to fix it: You need 7 mg of zinc per day to make new cells and enzymes and to process carbohydrates, fat and protein in food. Go for meat, shellfish, dairy products, and grains if you think they might be deficient. You should also seek additional medical advice for slow healing wounds.
(Image credit: Getty Images)
10. Hair loss
A common cause of hair thinning can be poor diet. “Vitamin B12 can affect the health of the red blood cells that carry oxygen to your tissues, while an iron deficiency causes the body to not make enough essential protein for the hair cells,” explains Dr. Lakhani.
How to fix it: It can take three to six months for texture and volume to improve. However, eat 5-10 (80g) servings of fruits and vegetables daily, eat fatty fish twice a week, and opt for avocados, nuts and seeds are especially beneficial for healthy hair. Steaming vegetables instead of cooking them can help maintain nutrients, especially B vitamins.
11. Discolored nails
“Hands can reveal a significant amount about your overall health,” says Dr. Judith Holmes. White spots on your nails can indicate a slight lack of zinc, while pale nails can mean you’re lacking iron – they can also become thin and concave. “A deficiency in vitamin B12 can lead to a brownish-gray discoloration of the nails,” says Dr. Holmes. While brittle nails can indicate a lack of calcium.
How to fix it: Having healthy nails is easier than you might think. Opt for foods rich in calcium like green leafy vegetables, milk, and cheese.
Is it better to get nutrients from foods or supplements?
If you’ve found you are nutritionally deficient, supplementing seems like an easier solution to making a change in diet. However, you should always try to increase your dietary intake of vitamins and nutrients first.
“You don’t need nutritional supplements if you have a healthy, balanced diet,” says Dr. Ruxton. “But the reality is that our diets are sometimes unbalanced, especially for women at certain ages or stages in their life.” Because of this, nutritional supplements can be particularly useful during menopause.
When considering a supplement, it is best to take one multivitamin instead of many individually to avoid “doubling up” as some may be fortified with others (e.g., an iron-added vitamin C supplement). “You should see a difference within the first month,” adds Jenna.
If you are concerned about your diet or nutritional deficiencies, contact a doctor or nutritionist for more advice.