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Good Eats

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Almost half of young adults in the US suffer from anxiety. In all age groups, depression is on the rise with nearly 30% of adults having been formally diagnosed at some time in their lives. Roughly 20% of Americans suffer from some form of mental illness. Many disorders that fall into these categories cause symptoms such as poor energy levels, irritability, difficulty sleeping, and many other forms of stress, increasing susceptibility to disease, and compromising your overall health.

Studies show that a healthy diet can help combat many forms of sub-standard mental health, and with the American diet typically falling short in several important nutrients, it might be worth being tested to check your levels of some of these crucial dietary needs. Correcting deficiencies could be a major factor in fortifying the body’s ability to withstand the stresses of modern life that seem to be dog-piling on us more and more.

We’ll look at six common deficiencies, how they manifest, how they are checked, and what you can do about them.

Vitamin D

Foods rich in Vitamin D include fortified dairy, cod liver oil, fatty fish, and egg yolks.

It is estimated that over 40% of Americans are deficient in Vitamin D. The body makes its own vitamin D with enough sun exposure, although dark-skinned people make less than light-skinned. In our modern indoor existence, most people will need to supplement this all-important vitamin whose many benefits include maintaining strong bones, staving off cancer, supporting the immune system, warding off infectious disease, and decreasing the likelihood of heart disease. With nearly every cell in the body having a receptor of Vitamin D, it’s no wonder that it has so many benefits. A simple blood test performed by your provider can check your levels. Your provider can also recommend what kind and amount of supplementation is right for you. Foods rich in Vitamin D include fortified dairy, cod liver oil, fatty fish, and egg yolks. Symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency include bone loss or brittleness, and muscle loss, but can develop undetected over time, except in children who experience soft bones, growth delays, and the disease rickets.


Up to 25% of Americans are estimated to be iron deficient, with menstruating women especially vulnerable because of monthly blood loss. Those who do not eat red meat can also be vulnerable. Iron is important to growth and development as well as oxygen delivery. Iron deficiency causes anemia, weakening the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body. The symptoms are fatigue, weakness, a depressed immune system, and brain fog. Your provider can do a blood test to check your iron levels and let you know what kind and amount of supplementation you need if they are low. Dietary sources of iron include red meat, organ meats, shellfish, sardines, dried beans, dried fruit, tofu, and leafy green vegetables.

Vitamin B12

Up to 90% of vegetarians and vegans may be low in Vitamin B12, and older adults can become deficient as absorption of the nutrient decreases with age. Some people who do not possess the protein necessary for absorption of B12 may require long-term supplementation.  This water-soluble vitamin is essential for nerve and brain function as well as blood formation. Your provider can check for levels of B12 in your blood and recommend supplementation if necessary. Deficiency can cause megaloblastic anemia, causing weakness and fatigue, as well as impaired brain function and a rise in homocysteine levels, a risk factor for heart disease. B12 is found in meat, organ meat, shellfish, eggs, nutritional yeast, and dairy products.


When calcium intake is sufficient, excess amounts are stored in the bones.

This mineral is needed in every cell in the body and is responsible for strengthening bones and teeth, as well as bone maintenance. Just as importantly, it serves as a signaling molecule, without which your heart, nerves, and muscles would not be able to function. When calcium intake is sufficient, excess amounts are stored in the bones. When calcium levels dip too low in the blood, the bone will release what is needed to continue vital functioning, resulting in osteoporosis when there is a deficiency. Up to 80% of Americans do not get enough calcium. Symptoms of low calcium levels include muscle cramps, numbness in the extremities, confusion and memory loss, brittle bones, and depression. A blood test will let you know your levels, and it’s wise to discuss supplementation with your provider because it is controversial. It is best to get your calcium in your diet whenever possible. Bony fish, dairy products, winter squash, edamame, and dark green veggies are good sources.

Vitamin A

Bugs Bunny’s favorite nutrient, Vitamin A helps to form cell membranes, skin, teeth, and bones. Plus, it produces eye pigments which are necessary for vision. Up to 25% of Americans are deficient in Vitamin A, but across the globe, more prevalent low levels of vitamin A are the world’s leading cause of blindness. Detected by a blood test, your provider can tell you if you are low in this nutrient, and most Americans will be able to achieve healthy levels through their diet by adding carrots and other orange and yellow veggies, sweet potatoes, leafy greens, cantaloupe, mango, fish liver oil, and organ meats.


This mineral is crucial to more than 300 enzyme reactions that keep the body going. It is also essential to the structure of teeth and bones. 70% of Americans, increasing to 80% of seniors, are deficient in magnesium which is associated with diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and osteoporosis. Those with severely low levels may experience restless legs syndrome, abnormal heart rhythm, migraines, fatigue, and muscle cramps. Your provider can check the level of magnesium in your blood and advise on supplementation. Good dietary sources of magnesium include nuts, whole grains, pumpkin seeds, black beans, soy products, dark chocolate, and dark green, leafy veggies.

Taking an active part in your wellness by shoring up your nutritional profile may give you a sense of self-determination and confidence that tends to be eroded with depression and anxiety. The nutrients themselves may give you a lift, but the feelings of hopelessness and lack of control that characterize mental health struggles may diminish as you take a more active role in your health.

Ann Constantino, submitted on behalf of the SoHum Health’s Outreach department.

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