5 of the Most Common Nutrient Deficiencies in Canada
Nowadays, in Canada, macronutrients can be generally considered common knowledge; protein, carbohydrates and fats form the foundational components for all our diets and provide the calories that we need to, well, live.
Macronutrients, though necessary, form only part of the picture when it comes to nutrition. Each gram of those essential macronutrients contains essential micronutrients—the vitamins and minerals that maintain our good health and help us to live our absolute best lives. One massive study performed by Health Canada demonstrates that many Canadians are lacking in these essential vitamins and minerals. This depletion can result from restrictive dieting, consuming too much processed and nutritionally-lacking foods, exercise type and intensity, or food allergies or intolerance.
It’s very possible that you too are suffering from a lack of one or many of these vitamins and minerals. Below, I investigate five of the most common nutritional deficiencies found in the Canadian population, how they can be identified, and the best means for getting back on track with your nutrition!
As the analysis performed by Health Canada reports: “more than 34% of Canadians over the age of 19 consumed magnesium in quantities below the Estimated Average Requirement, with the prevalence of inadequate intakes rising to greater than 40% in half the adult age and sex groups”. While actual magnesium deficiency is pretty rare (about 2% of the population), studies suggest that a great number of us are falling below recommended intakes. Magnesium, which is primarily found in bone, muscle, soft tissue and bodily fluids is important for a whole host of functions in the body, including bone mineralization, protein production, nerve conduction, muscle contraction, enzyme function, and dental health. Some symptoms of a lack or deficiency of magnesium are muscle twitches and weakness, fatigue, decreased bone mass, heartbeat irregularities, and increased insulin resistance. Nuts, legumes, leafy greens, milk and whole grains are all excellent sources of magnesium.
If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, you may be at an increased risk for a B12 deficiency. The richest sources of B12 are eggs, oysters, muscle meat, milk, cheese, fish, liver, and kidney (ACE Fitness nutrition manual). Other conditions that may put you at risk for depleted levels of B12 are diseases that interfere with nutrient absorption, such as Celiac and Crohn’s disease, and, interestingly, being post-weight loss surgery. B12 is essential for the healthy functioning of the cells of the gastrointestinal tract, nervous tissue, bone marrow, and deficiency has been shown as a cause of megoblastic anemia and has been implicated in many neuro-psychiatric disorders. So, how do you ensure that you have adequate vitamin B12 Oral vitamin B12 supplements are common and inexpensive and pose very little risk for toxicity, even when consumed in large doses (not that anyone would recommend consuming vitamin B12 in large doses).
The study reports that “both males and females over 19 years [have] a prevalence of inadequate intakes [of calcium] ranging from 26.5% to 80.1 % and 47.5% to 86.9%, respectively”. While true calcium deficiency is relatively uncommon in the Canadian population (which is a major cause of rickets), long-term depletion of the mineral can lead to osteoporosis, cataracts, dental deterioration, and even neurological changes. Calcium is typically associated with bone strength, but it promotes a whole host of essential functions in the body, such as blood clotting, muscle contraction, blood pressure control, immune function, and possible colon cancer prevention. Dairy products possess the most naturally-occurring calcium, along with some leafy greens and legumes. With the prevalence of lactose intolerance and veganism and just generally poor diets, supplementation is recommended for most people. A note of caution though: there is some evidence to suggest that excessive calcium supplementation can negatively interfere with the absorption of other minerals, such as zinc, iron, and manganese.
Of all of the nutrients measured by the Canadian government, vitamin D was shown to possess the highest prevalence of inadequate intakes in the Canadian population. That being said, it is difficult to measure vitamin D intake, as most people don’t receive their vitamin D through food, but through exposure to sunlight (which is why it is commonly referred to as the ‘sunshine vitamin’). It is intimately linked to calcium, as vitamin D promotes the body’s absorption of the mineral—so if your vitamin D levels are low, you’re at greater risk for health issues related to calcium deficiency. Besides sunshine, seafood such as salmon, herring, tuna, oysters, shrimp, and sardines, all possess some vitamin D. If you, like me, are not the hugest fan of seafood, vitamin D can also be found in egg yolks, mushrooms, and some fortified foods, such as cow’s milk, orange juice, cereal, and soy milk.
Why do we need vitamin A? Well, what most people know about the vitamin is that a) it is found in carrots, and 2) it is good for our eyes. And this is true! It is also involved in immune function, reproduction, and growth and maintenance of epithelial tissue. The Canadian government reports that “more than 35% of Canadians age 19 and over consumed vitamin A in quantities below the [estimated average requirements], with the prevalence of inadequate intakes rising to greater than 40% in most adult age and sex groups”. Vitamin A deficiency is one of the leading causes of blindness in the developing world—it is responsible for one to two million deaths and half a million new cases of blindness each year. Some symptoms of vitamin A deficiency are dry skin, dry eyes, night blindness, infertility and trouble conceiving, acne, and poor wound healing. Dark, leafy vegetables and orange-red fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of vitamin A—a good rule of thumb is the darker the fruit or vegetable, the greater the amount of vitamin A carotenoids.
When it comes to nutrients, there are many factors that will affect absorption–genetic inheritance, the presence of other nutrients and bacteria that may interfere, and one’s environment and lifestyle. If you are concerned about whether or not you’re getting enough essential vitamins and minerals, and if you’re absorbing them probably, I would recommend consulting with a qualified physician, nutritionist or dietician.
Wishing you all the best on your journey to optimum health!
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Nadler, J. L., Buchanan, T., Natarajan, R., Antonipillai, I., Bergman, R., & Rude, R. (1993). Magnesium deficiency produces insulin resistance and increased thromboxane synthesis. Hypertension,21(6_pt_2), 1024-1029. doi:10.1161/01.hyp.21.6.1024
Office of Dietary Supplements – Vitamin A. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-HealthProfessional/
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