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You eat a balanced diet (or you try to, at least!), you take note of how many servings of fruits, veggies, protein and key nutrients you’re getting – but are you really getting all of the vitamins you need? If you pop a multivitamin every morning, you probably think you’re covered. But vitamin deficiencies can sneak up on you, even when you think you’re doing everything right and take a toll on day-to-day signs of health you take for granted.
Eating a healthy, perfectly balanced diet is the best way to get all of the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients your body needs. Yet despite your best efforts, you could start to experience the symptoms of a vitamin deficiency. They’re often subtle and barely noticeable, but over time a lack of certain vitamins can leave you feeling worse for wear.
If you’re noticing any of the following signs, it’s time to do a vitamin check-in and see what your diet might be missing.
1. Cracked heels
Cracked heels are seriously unsightly. Quite a few different factors can cause them. You might notice your heels crack in the summer when you’re spending every day in flip flops, or you might have an infection that’s responsible.
But there’s another lesser-known cause, and it’s your diet – or rather, what isn’t in your diet.
Cracked heels can actually be a sign of a few vitamin deficiencies. If you’re lacking vitamins B3, C or E, you might start seeing cracks appear. All three of these particular vitamins play a role in keeping your skin healthy, so when they’re in low supply, your body will struggle to hydrate and smooth out the skin on your heels.
How can you tell which vitamin is causing your cracked heels? If you’re low in vitamin C, research shows you might have dry, dehydrated skin on your heels and elsewhere across your body. You might also have the symptoms of scurvy. That’s right – scurvy isn’t just for pirates and sailors of the past, but it’s the actual name for a vitamin C deficiency.
And if you’re lacking vitamin B3, you could develop a condition called pellagra that results in cracked heels. Pellagra only occurs when you have a severe B3 deficiency, but it can bring on other symptoms like a skin rash, nausea or mouth sores. A moderate lack of vitamin B3 can introduce dry, irritated or red skin.
Wondering if a vitamin E deficiency is what’s behind your cracked heels? If this is the case, you’ll want to keep an eye out for symptoms like muscle weakness, vision problems or changes and dry, dull skin.
To incorporate more vitamin C into your diet, you should seek out foods that contain a significant amount. Fruits like oranges, guava, cantaloupe and strawberries are all good sources, along with vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Citrus fruits can offer a great vitamin C punch, and you can try recipes like our Seven Citrus Salad with Mint or Grilled Fish Tacos with Spicy Citrus Slaw & Sriracha Crema.
2. Mood swings or changes
Are you having more bad days than usual? Maybe you’re noticing that your mood is rapidly swinging from low to high more than is typical. If you aren’t experiencing other issues, like stress, hormone shifts or PMS, then a vitamin deficiency could be the root of your sudden mood shifts.
A lack of certain vitamins, minerals and other nutrients can make you more likely to experience mood swings, mood changes or even mental health issues. A lack of omega-3 fatty acids can potentially increase your risk for depression or even worsen your symptoms if you’re already living with depression. Deficiencies in vitamin B (folate) and magnesium have also been linked to depression. And having low levels of these three key nutrients can even affect other mental disorders and your risk for changing, unpredictable moods.
Work towards correcting your deficiency and giving your mood a boost by choosing foods rich in omega-3s. Fatty fish like salmon, sardines and trout are all top options, but you can also try spinach, nut butters and even grass-fed beef.
3. Bleeding gums
If your gums bleed when you’re flossing or brushing your teeth, the most common culprit is usually gingivitis, or gum disease. But your issue might not necessarily be with your gums – in some cases, your gums might be bleeding due to a lack of vitamin C.
Vitamin C can start to affect your oral health if you’re experiencing a mild or serious deficiency. One of the main symptoms of scurvy is bleeding gums, but you do need to be pretty low in this vitamin for scurvy to kick in. However, even if you aren’t at scurvy-inducing levels, you might still experience bloody gums.
According to research, even a mild vitamin C deficiency can increase your risk for gum bleeding. Slightly low vitamin C levels in your bloodstream can lead to gums that bleed even when they’re gently probed. So the next time you leave your dentist feeling like you got a little bloody, it might be a good idea to consider how much vitamin C you’re getting.
You can get plenty of vitamin C from different food sources. Yellow bell peppers, broccoli, strawberries, kale and cherry tomatoes are just a few examples of vitamin C-rich sources. It’s even found in herbs like thyme, parsley and chili pepper, though you’ll want to opt for fresh herbs for the biggest nutritional impact.
4. Changes in hair quality or texture
Have you noticed your hair isn’t exactly the same as it’s always been? Maybe you’re seeing more breakage than usual or increased thinning. Or perhaps your always-straight hair is now turning wavy or curly – or vice versa.
If your hair is changing, there could be a few nutrients you’re missing. Often, hair changes mean you need to increase your folic acid (or vitamin B9), get more vitamins B12 or B6, or up your iron intake. All of these nutrients play a role in your bloody supply, helping your body deliver oxygen via red blood cells to your scalp. If your scalp isn’t getting enough oxygen, your hair can actually start to suffocate.
Additionally, if your hair is suddenly thinning, you might want to check your vitamin D and iron intake. A lack of these two nutrients can slow your hair growth down, which can result in an overall thinner head of hair.
Give your diet a boost of folate by incorporating radishes, a root veggie that’s rich in this particular B vitamin – our Roasted Radishes & Greens with Tahini Sauce is a great radish-centric choice. Collards are another great food that feature plenty of folate, and you can put our Collards with Turkey Sausage and Shrimp on your dinner menu.
5. Vision changes
No, you don’t need to eat a ton of carrots to keep your eyes in good shape. But you do need a certain group of nutrients in your diet in order to keep seeing clearly, especially in dark or dimly-lit settings.
Vitamins A, C and E are all key for healthy eyes and good vision. If you’re lacking any of these nutrients, the effects could manifest in sudden – or gradual – changes in your eyesight. A vitamin A deficiency, for example, can cause a condition called xerophthalmia that brings on difficulty seeing at night or in low lighting. If your vitamin A levels continue to stay low, it can also dry out your tear ducts and eyes.
When you’re low in vitamins C and E, you’re lacking protective antioxidants that can keep your eyes healthy throughout your lifetime. A deficiency in these vitamins can increase your risk for conditions like age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. While your vision might not change instantly as your vitamin C and E levels drop, you could see adverse effects over time.
Give yourself a healthy dose of vitamins A, C and E by incorporating foods that contain these nutrients into your everyday diet. Oranges, for example, contain both vitamin C and vitamin E – our Orange Ginger Smoothie is a great source. Nuts and seeds are rich in vitamin E too. Red bell peppers can deliver all three vitamins in a single food, so give recipes like our Spanish Chickpea & Red Bell Pepper Soup a try.
If there’s one sneaky sign of a vitamin deficiency that’s easy to confuse with other health concerns, it’s fatigue. Plenty of ailments and illnesses bring on fatigue, leaving you with less energy and constant feelings of tiredness and exhaustion. Fatigue can even be associated with a busy, stressful everyday life.
But you don’t want to brush fatigue aside if you’re experiencing it. It could be a serious sign of an underlying health issue. And if it is brought on by a nutrient deficiency, it’s likely you just need to increase your intake of iron.
An iron deficiency is also known as anemia (or iron-deficiency anemia). Iron is responsible for helping your body create hemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout your body and supplies it to your muscles, tissues and more. Without the right amount of hemoglobin, your heart has to work extra hard – which can leave you feeling extra tired.
To fight fatigue and an iron deficiency, you’ll want to incorporate foods like spinach, broccoli, tofu and legumes into your diet. You can try recipes like our Spinach Salad with Crispy Artichokes & Basil Dressing or Spinach Quinoa Bowl that highlight a few of these key ingredients.
7. Muscle spasms or cramps
Twitching, spasming muscles or painful, searing muscle cramps can both be signs of a nutritional deficiency in your diet. How can you tell if your muscle cramps or spasms are from a lack of nutrients instead of a too-tough workout or another health concern? These symptoms usually don’t appear alone – instead, they accompany other signs of a vitamin deficiency, like fatigue or tingling in the arms, legs or feet. And if you’re experiencing all of these, you’re likely getting too little calcium.
Calcium deficiencies can affect how your muscles function, along with your blood vessels and some hormones. And if you have too little of this mineral for too long, you could wind up with low bone density, which increases your risk for osteoporosis, broken bones and other health concerns.
If you need more calcium, you don’t have to turn to dairy. Sure, milk, cheese and yogurt are rich in calcium. But so are non-dairy foods like sardines, dark leafy greens and beans. Black beans are one option that offers a great amount of calcium.
Food is always the first step in feeding your body the vitamins, minerals and other key nutrients it needs. But you can also incorporate supplements into your diet if you discover you’re dealing with a serious deficiency. Keep reading to learn more about getting all of your vitamins: