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Nutritional Deficiency: Symptoms & Recommendations for 24 Common Nutritional Deficiencies

When the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion compiled their Healthy Eating Index for 1999-2000, they found only a slight reason to smile. Ten percent of the population had a good diet.

This was based on 10 aspects including how many servings of fruits, vegetables and meat were being consumed, along with how much sodium and cholesterol, and variety in a person's diet.

Most Americans' diets (74 percent) need improvement, according to the USDA.

The rest of their findings left something to be desired:

  • 16 percent of the population had a "poor" diet

  • The rest of the population (74 percent) had a diet that "needed improvement"

As the USDA pointed out, poor or inadequate diets are linked to four of the top 10 causes of death -- heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. And as it turns out, most of us have less-than-ideal diets that essentially leave our bodies starving for more nutrients.

Along with poor diets, studies have found that key nutrients in foods have declined from 1909 to 1994, likely because the soil is not as nutrient-dense as it once was and processing of foods degrades nutrients that do exist. So not only are we eating fewer healthy foods, but those we do eat contain fewer nutrients than they once did.

As a result, many Americans -- even those who think they are eating relatively healthy -- may be suffering from a nutritional deficiency. Some of the more common ones in the United States include:

  • Zinc
  • Iron
  • B vitamins
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium
  • Vitamins E and C
  • Phosphorus
  • Vitamin D
  • Fiber
  • Folic Acid
  • Essential Fatty Acids
  • Chromium

If you are experiencing any unusual health symptoms, a nutrient deficiency could be to blame. Below is a list of common and not-so-common nutrients, along with deficiency symptoms and foods you should eat if you think you need more.


  • Deficiency: Uncommon

  • Symptoms: Dermatitis, eye inflammation, hair loss, loss of muscle control, insomnia, muscle weakness

  • Recommended Foods: Swiss chard, cauliflower, liver, salmon, carrots, bananas, cereals, yeast


  • Deficiency: Average diet contains 40 to 50% of RDA

  • Symptoms: Brittle nails, cramps, delusions, depression, insomnia, irritability, osteoporosis, palpitations, peridontal disease, rickets, tooth decay

  • Recommended Foods: Spinach, turnip greens, mustard greens, collard greens, yogurt, milk, mozzarella cheese


  • Deficiency: 90% of diets deficient

  • Symptoms: Anxiety, fatigue, glucose intolerance, adult-onset diabetes

  • Recommended Foods: Romaine lettuce, onions, tomatoes, brewer's yeast, oysters, liver, whole grains, bran cereals, potatoes


  • Deficiency: 75% of diets deficient; average diet contains 50% of RDA

  • Anemia, arterial damage, depression, diarrhea, fatigue, fragile bones, hair loss, hyperthyroidism, weakness

  • Recommended Foods: Calf's liver, crimini mushrooms, turnip greens, blackstrap molasses, raw cashew nuts, sunflower seeds, spinach, asparagus

Essential fatty acids

  • Deficiency: Very common

  • Symptoms: Diarrhea, dry skin and hair, hair loss, immune impairment, infertility, poor wound healing, premenstrual syndrome, acne, eczema, gall stones, liver degeneration

  • Recommended Foods: Wild-caught salmon (avoid farm-raised salmon because of pollutants), flax seeds, walnuts

Folic acid

  • Deficiency: Average diet contains 60% of RDA; deficient in 100% of elderly in one study; deficient in 48% of adolescent girls; requirement doubles in pregnancy

  • Symptoms: Anemia, apathy, diarrhea, fatigue, headaches, insomnia, loss of appetite, neural tube defects in fetus, paranoia, shortness of breath, weakness

  • Recommended Foods: Romaine lettuce, spinach, asparagus, turnip greens, mustard greens, calf's liver, parsley, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, lentils


  • Deficiency: Uncommon since the supplementation of salt with iodine

  • Symptoms: Cretinism, fatigue, hypothyroidism, weight gain

  • Recommended Foods: Sea vegetables, yogurt, cow's milk, eggs, strawberries, mozzarella cheese


  • Deficiency: Most common mineral deficiency

  • Symptoms: Anemia, brittle nails, confusion, constipation, depression, dizziness, fatigue, headaches, inflamed tongue, mouth lesions

  • Recommended Foods: Chard, spinach, turmeric, thyme, shitake mushrooms, green beans


  • Deficiency: 75 to 85% of diets deficient: average diet contains 50 to 60% of RDA

  • Symptoms: Anxiety, confusion, heart attack, hyperactivity, insomnia, nervousness, muscular irritability, restlessness, weakness

  • Recommended Foods: Swiss chard, spinach, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, black beans, navy beans

Eating more fruits and veggies will help ensure that your body is getting all of the many nutrients it needs.


  • Deficiency: Unknown, may be common in women

  • Symptoms: Atherosclerosis, dizziness, elevated cholesterol, glucose intolerance, hearing loss, loss of muscle control, ringing in ears

  • Recommended Foods: Mustard greens, kale, chard, raspberries, pineapple, romaine lettuce, collard greens, maple syrup

Niacin (B3)

  • Deficiency: Commonly deficient in elderly

  • Symptoms: Bad breath, canker sores, confusion, depression, dermatitis, diarrhea, emotional instability, fatigue, irritability, loss of appetite, memory impairment, muscle weakness, nausea, skin eruptions, inflammation

  • Recommended Foods: Crimini mushrooms, tuna (be cautious of mercury and other pollutants that can be found in fish), wild-caught salmon, chicken breast, asparagus

Pantothenic acid (B5)

  • Deficiency: Average elderly diet contains 60% of RDA

  • Symptoms: Abdominal pains, burning feet, depression, eczema, fatigue, hair loss, immune impairment, insomnia, irritability, low blood pressure, muscle spasms, nausea, poor coordination

  • Recommended Foods: Calf's liver, mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, turnip greens, sunflower seeds


  • Deficiency: Commonly deficient in elderly

  • Symptoms: Acne, constipation, depression, edema, excessive water consumption, fatigue, glucose intolerance, high cholesterol levels, insomnia, mental impairment, muscle weakness, nervousness, poor reflexes

  • Recommended Foods: Chard, button mushrooms, spinach, avocado, papaya, lima beans, lentil beans

Pyridoxine (B6)

  • Deficiency: 71% of male and 90% of female diets deficient

  • Symptoms: Acne, anemia, arthritis, eye inflammation, depression, dizziness, facial oiliness, fatigue, impaired wound healing, irritability, loss of appetite, loss of hair, mouth lesions, nausea

  • Recommended Foods: Bell peppers, turnip greens, spinach, tuna, banana, chicken breast, turkey breast


  • Deficiency: Deficient in 30% of elderly Britons

  • Symptoms: Blurred vision, cataracts, depression, dermatitis, dizziness, hair loss, inflamed eyes, mouth lesions, nervousness, neurological symptoms (numbness, loss of sensation, "electric shock" sensations), seizures, sensitivity to light, sleepiness, weakness

  • Recommended Foods: Mushrooms, calf's liver, spinach, spelt


  • Deficiency: Average diet contains 50% of RDA

  • Symptoms: Growth impairment, high cholesterol levels, increased incidence of cancer, pancreatic insufficiency (inability to secrete adequate amounts of digestive enzymes), immune impairment, liver impairment, male sterility

  • Recommended Foods: Button mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, cod, shrimp, snapper, tuna, halibut, calf's liver, wild-caught salmon (again, be wary of pollutants like mercury and PCBs in seafood)


  • Deficiency: Commonly deficient in elderly

  • Symptoms: Confusion, constipation, digestive problems, irritability, loss of appetite, memory loss, nervousness, numbness of hands and feet, pain sensitivity, poor coordination, weakness

  • Recommended Foods: Asparagus, romaine lettuce, mushrooms, spinach, sunflower seeds, tuna, green peas, tomatoes, eggplant, Brussels sprouts

Vitamin A

  • Deficiency: 20% of diets deficient

  • Symptoms: Acne, dry hair, fatigue, growth impairment, insomnia, hyperkeratosis (thickening and roughness of skin), immune impairment, night blindness, weight loss

  • Recommended Foods: Calf's liver, milk, eggs, carrots, spinach, sweet potato, kale, collard greens, chard, red bell peppers

Vitamin B-12

  • Deficiency: Serum levels low in 25% of hospital patients

  • Symptoms: Anemia, constipation, depression, dizziness, fatigue, intestinal disturbances, headaches, irritability, loss of vibration sensation, low stomach acid, mental disturbances, moodiness, mouth lesions, numbness, spinal cord degeneration

  • Recommended Foods: Calf's liver, snapper, venison, salmon, beef tenderloin, lamb, scallops

Vitamin C

  • Deficiency: 20 to 50% of diets deficient

  • Symptoms: Bleeding gums, depression, easy bruising, impaired wound healing, irritability, joint pains, loose teeth, malaise, tiredness

  • Recommended Foods: Parsley, broccoli, bell pepper, strawberries, oranges, lemon juice, papaya, cauliflower, kale, mustard greens, Brussels sprouts

Vitamin D

  • Deficiency: 62% of elderly women's diets deficient

  • Symptoms: Burning sensation in mouth, diarrhea, insomnia, myopia, nervousness, osteomalacia, osteoporosis, rickets, scalp sweating

  • Recommended Foods: Shrimp, milk, cod liver oil, eggs (you can also get vitamin D from sensible sun exposure)

Vitamin E

  • Deficiency: 23% of male and 15% of female diets deficient

  • Symptoms: Gait disturbances, poor reflexes, loss of position sense, loss of vibration sense, shortened red blood cell life

  • Recommended Foods: Mustard greens, chard, sunflower seeds, turnip greens, almonds, spinach

Vitamin K

  • Deficiency: Deficiency in pregnant women and newborns common

  • Symptoms: Bleeding disorders

  • Recommended Foods: Spinach, Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard, carrots, green string beans, asparagus, red bell peppers, strawberries, eggs, tomatoes, green peas


  • Deficiency: 68% of diets deficient

  • Symptoms: Acne, amnesia, apathy, brittle nails, delayed sexual maturity, depression, diarrhea, eczema, fatigue, growth impairment, hair loss, high cholesterol levels, immune impairment, impotence, irritability, lethargy, loss of appetite, loss of sense of taste, low stomach acid, male infertility, memory impairment, night blindness, paranoia, white spots on nails, wound healing impairment

  • Recommended Foods: Calf's liver, mushrooms, spinach, beef tenderloin, pumpkin seeds, green peas

Recommended Reading

14 Fruits and Vegetables That Provide the Best Protection Against Arthritis

What are Salicylates? Could Salicylates be Zapping Your Energy and Making You Feel Ill?


Nutritional Deficiency and Its Symptoms

USDA's Healthy Eating Index 1999-2000

The World's Healthiest Foods

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