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4 Signs That You Have A Hidden Nutrient Deficiency

Miriam Jacobson, M.S., R.D., CNS, CDN
Registered Dietitian & Nutritionist
By Miriam Jacobson, M.S., R.D., CNS, CDN
Registered Dietitian & Nutritionist
Miriam Jacobson is a registered dietitian, certified nutrition specialist, and certified dietitian nutritionist living in Los Angeles. She received her Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her Masters in Human Nutrition from University of Bridgeport.
Photo by iStock
March 9, 2017

Our bodies are constantly communicating with us, and sometimes the signs are subtle, but other times they aren't. It can be easy to pass off symptoms like a bloated stomach or mental fogginess as normal parts of life, but the truth is that these are the body's tiny cries for help—and it's time to listen up. Here are signs and symptoms that you may have a specific nutrient deficiency.

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1. Dry, flaky, and bumpy skin (or eczema)

Dry, flaky, and bumpy skin may be more than the product of chapped skin from dry, cold weather. And you have way more options than simply moisturizing with coconut oil because dry, flaky skin is related to a deficiency in essential fats. Omega-3 essential fats help reduce inflammation while also hydrating1 the skin, and we can get them from fatty fish (wild salmon, sardines, and tuna), hemp, chia, and flax seeds.

Need some omega-3 recipe inspiration? Get crafty and enjoy some cacao energy nibs, orange glazed ginger salmon, coconut chia pudding, or hempseed hummus.

2. Changes in mood and energy levels

If your energy is dragging throughout the day and you're struggling to improve your mood, you might need more B-complex vitamins. They're easily depleted because the body relies on them not only for energy production but also for metabolizing proteins and hormones. A randomized control trial found that four weeks of supplementing with a multivitamin complex helped replenish B-complex status and improve2 mood in young adults. Look for supplements that contain "methylated folate" because they are more compatible with the form our bodies use.

Want whole foods instead of supplements? Grains and peas are packed with B vitamins. Try this edamame and quinoa salad.

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3. Increased anxiety and restlessness

Feeling so anxious that you have headaches and can't sleep at night? Magnesium might be helpful because it's a natural relaxant and helps to improve blood flow to the brain and ease tension. Deficiencies are associated3 with changes to the gut microbiota and anxiety-like behaviors. Sources of magnesium include dark and leafy green vegetables, dark chocolate, nuts, and seeds. Enjoy some wilted kale with horseradish, or make a collard greens wrap. You can also absorb magnesium by taking an Epsom salt bath, which can also help soothe restless muscles.

*A note on magnesium supplements: Certain forms of magnesium can cause loose stools. If that's a concern, avoid magnesium citrate and supplement with magnesium buffered with glycinate or malate.

4. Over-the-top cravings

When one bite is never enough because you're constantly craving carbohydrate-rich foods like bread, pasta, and crackers, you might need additional chromium. Chromium helps the body process sugar, and lots of dietary carbs will deplete the body's chromium stores, which make you crave them even more. A randomized control trial found4 that supplementing with 600 mcg of chromium picolinate helped regulate appetite and reduce carbohydrate cravings in subjects with atypical depression.

Nutritional yeast is the richest source of dietary chromium, and it has a cheesy flavor. Try these kale chips with nutritional yeast or enjoy them sprinkled on soup or salad.

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Identify and correct the underlying problem.

Supplements are helpful in helping to restore balance, but they can also act as a Band-Aid and mask the problem. Look at why you're experiencing deficiency symptoms. Usually there's an underlying reason for the imbalances.

1. Evaluate the quality of your diet.

Is it more depleting than nourishing? Replace refined starches and carbohydrates with colorful vegetables, choose responsibly sourced protein, and enjoy a variety of seasonal fruits.

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2. Investigate your digestive health.

If you're not digesting your food and absorbing nutrients, it could be contributing to a nutrient deficiency. This could be anything from low stomach acid and digestive enzymes to a "leaky gut," which is why I recommend working with a digestive specialist to customize your approach.

3. Analyze your lifestyle and environmental exposures.

It's hard to escape the stress and environmental pollution of modern life, but limiting exposure when you can will reduce stress on the system and spare the body's antioxidant nutrients. To limit your environmental exposure, use water and air filters when you can, opt for organic manicures and dry cleaning, and avoid lotions and cosmetics that contain "PABA" and "phthalates." Include simple relaxation techniques like meditation or maybe a restorative yoga class. Remember, nourishing your body also means practicing self-care!

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Miriam Jacobson, M.S., R.D., CNS, CDN
Miriam Jacobson, M.S., R.D., CNS, CDN
Registered Dietitian & Nutritionist

Miriam Jacobson is a registered dietitian, certified nutrition specialist, and certified dietitian nutritionist living in Los Angeles. She received her Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her master's in Human Nutrition from the University of Bridgeport. She is also a registered yoga teacher. She works with clients suffering from digestive problems and mood and energy imbalances to help them regain balance through food and nutrients. It is her mission to help individuals find more balance in their bodies and a peaceful relationship with food.