Most of us know that eating a healthy, balanced diet is important. However, according to the CDC, around 10% of the population continues to have vitamin deficiencies.1 Not getting the vitamins you need can lead to health problems, such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, skin problems, and fatigue.
Most people never realize they have a vitamin deficiency. And even if you’re working on eating a healthy diet, it still doesn’t guarantee you’re getting all the essential vitamins and minerals you need. Certain demographic factors, medical conditions, special diets, and life stages can increase your risk for a deficiency.
Are you getting all the vitamins your body needs to remain healthy? Here’s a look at the top three essential vitamins you could be missing.
1 – Vitamin D
Vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin, is an essential vitamin produced from cholesterol in the skin when exposed to sunlight. This means that people who live farther away from the equator are more likely to be deficient in vitamin D if they don’t get enough in their diet or they’re not taking a supplement. Studies show that around 42% of Americans may be deficient in vitamin D.2
Some of the risk factors for having low levels of vitamin D include:
- High levels of smog or air pollution
- Living at high latitudes
- Living in areas with dense cloud covering
- Liberal sunscreen use (although it’s essential for protecting skin from sun damage)
- Wearing clothing that covers your skin
- Darker skin pigmentations
Why It’s Important:
Vitamin D is important for many reasons. It’s critical for helping the body absorb calcium for healthy teeth and bones. Along with supporting bone health, vitamin D also plays a role in immune function, heart health, and testosterone production.
How to Get More Vitamin D:
Many foods have been fortified with vitamin D, such as breakfast cereals, milk, and orange juice. Some of the best natural sources of vitamin D include:
- Whole eggs
If you don’t eat these foods regularly, you may want to discuss a vitamin D supplement with your physician. It is possible to get too much vitamin D, so don’t add a supplement to your diet without consulting with your healthcare provider.
2 – Vitamin B12
Every cell in the body needs vitamin B12, a water-soluble vitamin critical for blood formation, nerve function, and brain function. Since the body cannot produce this vitamin, you have to get it from supplements or foods. Signs that you could be deficient include pale skin, mood changes, weakness, and shortness of breath.
Some of the risk factors for a vitamin B12 deficiency include:
- Taking certain medicines, such as proton pump inhibitors, metformin, or H2 blockers
- Crohn’s disease
- Aging (absorption decreases with age)
- Eating a vegan or vegetarian diet
Why It’s Important:
This vitamin keeps the blood and nerve cells healthy. It also helps in the body’s energy production. If you don’t get enough vitamin B12, you may feel fatigued all the time. Vitamin B12 also helps provide the building blocks for DNA.
How to Get More Vitamin B12:
If you’re at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency or you’re over the age of 50, ask your doctor if you need a supplement. However, you can get more of this important vitamin from foods, including:
- Clams, oysters, and other types of shellfish
- Fish like trout, tuna, and salmon
- Fortified soy milk
- Milk and milk products like Greek yogurt and cheese
- Organ meat (like liver)
- For vegans, add nutritional yeast to your meals
3 – Folate/Folic Acid (Vitamin B9)
Folate, a term that describes the multiple forms of vitamin B9 (including folic acid), is one of the essential B vitamins needed to maintain healthy red blood cells. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, and it’s used in fortified foods and supplements. Some of the symptoms of a deficiency include hair loss, shortness of breath, lethargy, and fatigue.
Some of the risk factors for a folate deficiency include:
- Not eating enough vegetables and fruits
- Taking certain medicines like barbiturates, phenytoin, sulfasalazine, methotrexate, and others
- Consuming high levels of alcohol
Why It’s Important:
Folate is essential for preventing anemia and heart disease, and it’s especially important during pregnancy. Studies show that women who have low stores of folic acid are more likely to have babies with birth defects. This vitamin is also essential for healthy cell growth and function and red blood cell formation.
How to Get More Folate:
Some individuals find it challenging to get their daily recommended amount of folate through diet alone. Many people aren’t getting enough legumes, fruits, and veggies. But you can increase the amount of folate you’re getting naturally by eating more of these foods:
- Fruits, particularly strawberries, citrus fruits, and melons
- Legumes, such as lentils, peas, and dried beans
- Leafy green veggies
- Fruit juices (just beware of added sugar)
- Enriched foods
- Some cereals
- Some breads
If you don’t think you’re getting enough folate from diet alone, talk to your doctor about a supplement. Women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant should discuss a folate supplement with their healthcare professional since it’s essential for a healthy pregnancy.
The Bottom Line
The best way to prevent vitamin deficiencies is to ensure you’re eating a nutritious diet based on plenty of protein and lots of fruits and veggies. If you’re worried about a deficiency, there are a few things you can do. First, talk to your doctor about being tested to check your essential nutrient levels, especially if you have deficiency symptoms. Second, evaluate your diet and read things like health magazines for ways to include healthier foods while eliminating fast foods, sugars, and processed items.
Last, supplements can be a great part of a healthy nutrition plan, too. Even if you’re eating a healthy diet, it can still be tough to get the right balance of nutrients. Your physician can help you determine which supplements are right for you.