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Nutrient Awareness: Understanding Nutrient Deficiencies in Popular Diets

Anytime you adhere to a specific diet regimen, you are likely eliminating a vast number of foods. Sure, you may miss the taste of those foods. But maybe you aren’t just missing a taste. You might be missing vital nutrients too, typically important micronutrients.

Micronutrients are needed in smaller (trace) amounts for the body to function properly. Micronutrients interact at a cellular level with deficiencies causing larger systematic side effects, including fatigue, digestive discomfort, physical side effects from hair loss to cavities, physiological abnormalities such as irregular heartbeat, impaired cognitive function and more.

With March being nutrition awareness month, let’s look at some of the most common diets today and outline the most common nutrient deficiencies and how to keep these deficiencies from messing with your health. (X)

Ketogenic and Low Carb Diets

Ketogenic diets and other forms of low carbohydrate diets cause the body to shed water, especially during the initial implementation of the diet. As a result of the diuretic effect, the body also loses sodium.  Sodium functions as an electrolyte in the body helping to regulate blood pressure. In addition, sodium is essential in the cellular function of all muscle tissue (from skeletal muscle to the muscles of the digestive tract). Active people and athletes are at a higher risk of sodium deficiency lost through sweat in addition to diuretic loss. Recommended daily sodium intake is 3,000-5,000mg on a low carb diet.

Potassium levels within the body have a direct correlation with sodium levels. As sodium levels decline within the body, potassium is also lost to maintain homeostasis within the cells (this back the cellular sodium-potassium pumps of Biology 101). Recommended daily intake is 4,700mg.

Magnesium is another micronutrient that ketogenic dieters (as well as most other diets) are frequently deficient in. The primary source of magnesium in the most absorbable form comes from fruits and vegetables. In addition, increased fat intake may reduce the absorption rate of magnesium in the large intestine. Required for over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body from blood pressure regulation to muscle contractions, the synthesis of protein to nerve function, and more.

Similar to sodium and potassium, calcium levels within the body have a direct correlation with magnesium levels at a rate of 2:1 (calcium:magnesium). Significant magnesium deficiency can cause calcium to also become deficient.

Vegan & Vegetarian

It is no surprise, that Vegetarians are at a higher risk of nutrient deficiency of the two micronutrients most abundantly found in animal protein – zinc and iron. These minerals are essential in metabolism and cellular development.

Vegans are also at a higher risk of calcium deficiency. Similar to the issue with Ketogenic dieters, vegans may experience magnesium deficiency in correlation to calcium deficiency, even if they are consuming foods high in magnesium. Without the optimal 2:1 ratio magnesium levels may also deplete.

Gluten Free

Gluten free diets often begin with the removal of a large number of foods initially. A comprehensive report from 21 studies found that strict gluten free diets are often deficient in calcium, magnesium, zinc and iron, as well as vitamin D, vitamin B12 and folate.

In addition, to the elimination of a large number of foods, gluten free alternative foods (pastas, breads, cookies, etc) are often fortified with highly refined gluten free alternatives. More often than not, these gluten free alternatives are not enhanced with vitamins and minerals that would be otherwise found in grain based foods. This can cause a higher propensity of nutrient deficiency.

Lastly, those with gluten intolerance have a much higher likelihood of also having lactose intolerance.

Lactose Free

As with vegans, diets that eliminate dairy often experience a deficiency in calcium. Dairy has the highest amount of easily absorbable calcium. As with the other diets, the calcium-to-magnesium ratio comes into play for nutrient deficiencies.

Solving Nutrient Deficiencies

Despite these common nutrient pitfalls with the most popular diets today, there are options for reducing deficiencies and the unpleasant side effects.

First, consider opting for high quality, organic or naturally grown foods. Yes, we often hear statistics such as an Avocado has 80-100mg of magnesium. If you are eating 4 a day how can you still be deficient in magnesium? Unfortunately, modern farming practices deplete the soils of valuable nutrients causing the food sources grown in these soils to be nutrient deficient as well. Consuming foods grown in nutrient rich soil or fed nutrient rich diets can improve your subsequent uptake in these nutrients.

Second, consider supplementation. When choosing a supplement, opt for a high bioavailability and absorption potential. Liquid nutrient supplements typically have a higher absorption rate and bioavailability than most pill forms. Also be aware of dosage recommendation to meet your daily recommended intake value.

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