23/08/2016 10:58 AM AEST | Updated 23/08/2016 2:28 PM AEST

The Common Signs Of Vitamin And Mineral Deficiencies

Lethargy, acne and constantly getting sick can all be symptoms.

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If you're always feeling unusually tired, a nutrient deficiency may be the cause.

We always hear about how important it is to eat a wide range of vitamins and minerals, but it's only until we're not getting enough do we truly realise the effects.

Feeling tired for no reason, having low energy, looking pale and always getting sick can all be signs of certain nutrient deficiencies. Not getting enough vitamins and minerals can have long-term impacts on our health, too.

"Eating a well balanced diet is essential to get all the vitamins and minerals our body needs to function effectively," dietitian Kaitlyn Bruschi told The Huffington Post Australia.

"These essential nutrients have a range of roles in the body -- everything from synthesising body tissues such as our bones and muscles, to transferring nerve signals throughout the body, as precursors for thousands of enzymes in the body, to removing or neutralising waste products from the body."

As not all vitamins and minerals are produced naturally in the body, dietitian and sports nutritionist Robbie Clark highlights the importance of getting them from whole foods.

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The more variety the better.

"The body requires many different vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) that are crucial for growth, development and preventing chronic diseases," Clark told HuffPost Australia. "Not all are produced naturally in the body, so you have to get them from your diet.

"The amount of each nutrient you should consume depends on your age, stage of life, health (if you suffer a chronic health condition or not), pregnancy and breastfeeding, and the amount of physical activity you do and at what intensity and level."

If we don't eat enough vitamins and minerals, the potential risks of becoming, or being, nutrient deficient are far-reaching.

"Without these essential nutrients we can't grow or function properly," Bruschi said. "This is particularly important during the early years of life when we are developing rapidly. Deficiencies of nutrients during this period can be particularly detrimental."

According to Bruschi and Clark, nutrient deficiencies can manifest in a variety of ways, both physically and mentally.

We need to be eating a variety of foods daily to get everything our bodies need to keep us healthy and happy.

"When micronutrients are not consumed in adequate quantities, a variety of undesirable symptoms may develop," Clark told HuffPost Australia. "These can include problems with digestion, skin problems, stunted or defective bone growth, mood and mental health problems, and even dementia."

With many fad diets removing food groups such as grains (which provide B vitamins and iron), nutrient deficiencies are not a rare occurrence. The most accurate and safe way to check your nutrient levels is through your GP.

"A nutritional deficiency occurs when the body doesn't absorb the necessary amount of a nutrient," Clark explained. "It may also occur in people who are fussy eaters and don't have a lot of variety in their food choices, or in people who avoid certain food groups, whether it be for personal reasons or due to a specific health condition."

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Try smoothies, salads and juices to help boost your nutrient intake.

To ensure you're getting enough vitamins and minerals, Bruschi recommends eating a variety of foods daily and to not rely solely on nutrient supplements.

"Supplements are a great way to top up your nutrient intake if you are struggling with your diet or during periods where requirements are increased, such as pregnancy," Bruschi told HuffPost Australia.

"However, it is important to remember that this should be seen as a short-term solution and not an alternative to healthy eating.

"There is so much more in our food than just vitamins and minerals, which we are discovering every day. We need to be eating a variety of foods daily to get everything our bodies need to keep us healthy and happy."


According to Bruschi and Clark, these are some (but not all) of the common signs of nutrient deficiencies, and what we can eat more of to help.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is involved in immune function, skin health, vision, reproduction and cellular communication.

Signs and symptoms of deficiency:

  • Night blindness
  • Dry skin and hair
  • Red or white acne-like bumps (on cheeks, arms, thighs or buttocks)
  • Recurring conjunctivitis
  • Colour-blindness
  • Infected, ulcerated eyes
  • Macular degeneration
  • Acne
  • Ridges on nails

Foods high in vitamin A (beta-carotene):

  • Sweet potato
  • Carrots
  • Dark green leafy vegetables -- broccoli, spinach, lettuce, kale
  • Pumpkin
  • Rockmelon
  • Red, yellow and orange capsicum
  • Dried apricots
  • Peas
  • Broccoli
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Pumpkin and carrot soup is a delicious way to get in vitamin A.

Vitamin C

"Vitamin C is an antioxidant used to neutralise bad chemicals in the body," Bruschi said.

Unlike most animals, humans aren't able to synthesise vitamin C on our own, so it is essential to get it through diet.

Signs and symptoms of deficiency:

  • Dry skin
  • Coarse or splitting hair
  • Bleeding gums
  • Gingivitis
  • Poor wound healing
  • Poor immunity -- recurring colds and flu
  • Tooth loss
  • Anaemia
  • Nosebleeds
  • Bruising
  • Delayed wound healing
  • Muscle weakness
  • Fatigue

Foods high in vitamin C:

  • Citrus fruit -- orange, lemons, limes, grapefruit, etc.
  • Red and yellow capsicum
  • Guava
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Broccoli
  • Dark green leafy vegetables -- broccoli, spinach, lettuce, kale
  • Berries
  • Tomato
  • Cabbage
  • Brussel sprouts
Lew Robertson
Blood oranges, mandarins, lemons, limes, tangelo... There's a whole range of citrus you can enjoy.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D plays a role in immune function and promotes bone growth. According to Bruschi, getting your daily dose of vitamin D is incredibly easy.

"Only about 10 minutes of sun exposure per day is enough to produce your daily vitamin D requirements," Bruschi said.

Signs and symptoms of deficiency:

  • Overweight or obese
  • Depression
  • Aching bones
  • Low bone mineral density
  • Osteoporosis -- porous and brittle bones
  • Osteomalacia -- softening of bone
  • Rickets (a severe bone-deforming disease) -- bowing of legs, bending of spine, toneless muscles
  • Muscle weakness
  • Low blood levels of vitamin D

Foods high in vitamin D:

  • Fatty fish -- tuna, mackerel, sardines, salmon and trout
  • Liver and other organ meats
  • Eggs (yolk)
  • Mushrooms (which have been exposed to sunlight)
  • Cheese
  • Fortified food products
Sigrid Olsson
Use your lunch break for a little bit of sunshine time.

Vitamin E

"Vitamin E is an antioxidant that protects the body's cells from damage, muscle weakness and neurological issues," Bruschi said.

Signs and symptoms of deficiency:

  • Eye problems such as retinopathy and cataracts
  • Skin problems such as acne, blisters, scar tissue, stretch marks
  • Mild anaemia
  • Fertility issues
  • Brain function abnormalities

Foods high in vitamin E:

  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Avocado
  • Almonds
  • Shellfish
  • Plant-based vegetable oils
  • Broccoli
  • Kiwi fruit
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Delicious and nutritious.

Vitamin K

"Vitamin K helps with blood coagulation and prevents clotting issues," Bruschi said.

Signs and symptoms of deficiency:

  • Bruise easily
  • Bleed easily
  • Heavy menstrual periods
  • Blood in urine or stool
  • Osteoporosis
  • Low bone mineral density

Foods high in vitamin K:

  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Asparagus
  • Dried herbs -- basil, thyme, parsely, etc.
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Fennel
  • Leek
  • Olive oil
  • Soy beans
  • Cauliflower
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Try roasting brussel sprouts with chilli flakes, olive oil, salt and pepper. Delish.

Vitamin B12

This vitamin plays a key role in the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system, as well as the formation of red blood cells.

"Deficiencies typically present as anaemia but can also cause spinal cord degeneration and poor brain development," Bruschi explained.

Signs and symptoms of deficiency:

  • Numbness and tingling in hands, legs or feet
  • Staggering walk, balance problems
  • Anaemia
  • Swollen or inflamed tongue
  • Jaundice
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Paranoia and hallucinations
  • Cognitive difficulties or memory loss
  • Loss of vision

Foods high in vitamin B12:

  • Beef
  • Beef liver
  • Lamb
  • Shellfish
  • Poultry
  • Oily fish -- mackerel, salmon, tuna
  • Low fat dairy
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Fortified soy products -- tofu and soy milk
Brian Macdonald
Fortified tofu is a great vegetarian source of B12.

Other B vitamins

Other B vitamins include B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6, B7 (biotin) and folate.

Signs and symptoms of deficiency:

  • Problems with vision
  • Fatigue
  • Adrenal insufficiency
  • Oedema (fluid retention)
  • Athlete's foot
  • Pale skin
  • Dandruff

"Due to its role in brain development and function, folate requirements jump substantially during pregnancy. Without sufficient folate, neural tube defects can occur in the baby," Bruschi told HuffPost Australia.

"In the general population deficiencies can present as anaemia due to problems with red blood cell production, or mental health or neurological issues."

Foods high in folate:

  • Leafy greens
  • Legumes
  • Whole grains -- oats, brown rice, rye, etc.
  • Oranges
  • Bananas
  • Fortified products such as cereals, fruit juices and most breads
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Folate is super important for mums growing bubs.

Essential fatty acids (omega-3)

Omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in brain function, as well as normal growth and development.

Signs and symptoms of deficiency:

  • Dry or itchy skin
  • Scaly or flaky skin
  • Cracking or peeling of fingertips or skin
  • Small red bumps on back of upper arms
  • Mixed oily and dry skin
  • Eczema
  • Dry eyes
  • Poor wound healing
  • Lowered immunity

Foods high in omega-3:

  • Oily fish – sardines, mackerel, tuna, salmon, swordfish
  • Eggs (yolk)
  • Flaxseeds
  • Fish oil supplements
  • Chia seeds
  • Walnuts
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Chia pudding is a delicious dessert that doubles up as an omega-3 booster.


Your body needs calcium to keep your bones and teeth strong, and to support skeletal structure and function.

Signs and symptoms of deficiency:

  • Numbness and tingling around mouth and in fingers and toes
  • Muscle cramps
  • Fatigue
  • Coarse hair
  • Brittle nails and ridges on nails
  • Dry skin
  • Psoriasis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Low bone mineral density

Foods high in calcium:

  • Fish with edible bones e.g. anchovies, mackerel, sardines, salmon
  • Dairy products
  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Fortified soy products
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Broccoli
  • Almonds
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Dairy products provide a healthy dose of both calcium and B12.


Iron is required for the production of red blood cells and to optimise oxygen transfer throughout the body.

Signs and symptoms of deficiency:

  • Anaemia
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Pale skin
  • Coldness in hands and feet
  • Weakness
  • Heavy menstrual periods
  • Headaches

Foods high in iron:

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Liver
  • Seafood
  • Beef and lamb
  • Legumes
  • Whole grains
  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Dark chocolate or raw cacao
  • Tofu
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Red meat is one of the highest sources of iron.


Magnesium helps to maintain normal nerve and muscle function, supports a healthy immune system and keeps bones strong.

Signs and symptoms of deficiency:

  • Muscle contractions and cramps
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Numbness and tingling in fingers and feet
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Fatigue
  • Tics or spasms of eyelids
  • Hot flushes
  • Anxiety/stress
  • High blood pressure

Foods high in magnesium:

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Dark green leafy veg
  • Soy bean
  • Lentils and other legumes
  • Whole grains
  • Avocado
  • Banana
  • Dairy
  • Dark chocolate or raw cacao
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If that's not the best reason to eat dark chocolate, we don't know what is.


"Zinc deficiency can result in lethargy and mental health issues, reduced immune function, dermatitis and delayed wound healing, and delayed physical development and sexual maturation," Bruschi said.

Signs and symptoms of deficiency:

  • Low immunity
  • Recurring colds and flu
  • Diarrhoea
  • Coarse, brittle, thinning hair
  • Acne, eczema and other skin problems
  • Mouth ulcers
  • White spots on nails
  • Dandruff
  • Stretch marks
  • Tics and spasms of eyelids

Foods high in zinc:

  • Shellfish
  • Seafood
  • Beef and lamb
  • Spinach
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Raw cacao and dark chocolate
  • Legumes
  • Mushrooms
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Green leafy vegetables
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