It is common for people to be lacking in nutrients. This can happen if your body doesn’t get enough of one or more nutrients. You may have a nutrient insufficiency or inadequacy. An even lower level of lacking nutrients is as a deficiency.
There are two types of nutrients: macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients include fats, protein, and carbohydrates. Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals. These substances give your body energy and help prevent disease.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), many Americans don’t get enough potassium, calcium, and vitamin D. Many women who are menstruating or pregnant do not get enough iron and folate. Vegetarians, vegans, and older adults are at higher risk for not getting enough vitamin B12.
To find whether you are at risk for common nutrient shortfalls, download, print, and complete the questionnaire below. Discuss your answers with your family doctor.
Download the Nutrient Shortfall Questionnaire (1-page PDF file; both English and Spanish versions available)
Path to improved health
If your doctor determines you have a nutrient shortfall, they will work with you to improve your health. They also may refer you to a registered dietician.
You can get micronutrients through a variety of healthy foods. These include:
- Whole grains.
- Legumes (dried beans and peas).
- Nuts and seeds.
- Low-fat and fat-free dairy products.
- Lean meats and fish.
Aim to get vitamins and minerals from fresh foods that you prepare yourself. This ensures that your body is able to absorb them properly. Eating a diet of healthy, fresh foods is better than taking a lot of supplements.
If you have a nutrient deficiency, be sure to eat foods that are good sources of that nutrient. You can download charts from the USDA (3-page PDF file) to see a list of foods that are high in potassium, calcium, and vitamin D.
Iron and folate are especially important for menstruating or pregnant women. Good sources of iron are lean meats, poultry, and seafood. You can also get iron from foods such as white beans, lentils, and spinach. Good sources of folate are legumes, oranges, and spinach. If you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, your doctor may suggest you take a vitamin supplement that contains iron and at least 400 mcg of folate.
Vitamin B12 is mainly found in fish, shellfish, meat, and dairy products. Older adults may have trouble absorbing vitamin B12 from their food. If you are 50 years of age or older, ask your doctor if you should take a vitamin B12 supplement.
Questions to ask your doctor
- Are there certain things that put me more at risk of having a nutrient shortfall?
- What are the symptoms or signs of having a nutrient shortfall?
- How do I know if my body is absorbing nutrients properly or not?
- What nutrients do I have a shortage of?
- Are there diet and/or lifestyle changes I can make to correct my nutrient shortfall?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.