Who is most at risk for nutrient deficiencies?
MegaFood | Jan. 2021
Proper nutrition ensures we are getting enough of the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients we need to support the many functions of our body and achieve optimal health. The biggest risk factor for sub-optimal nutrition is a poor diet, as food is the primary way we ensure we are getting our nutrients.
Even when we’re eating our best, however, we may be at risk for certain nutrient deficiencies due only to the makeup of our genes or our race. Identifying and understanding these risks help you support your well-being by tailoring your diet and lifestyle to ensure those gaps become a thing of the past.
So, what populations are at a higher risk of specific nutrient deficiencies? Let’s take a look:
Age & Gender
- Women have an increased risk for iron and vitamin B6 deficiency
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women have an increased risk of biotin, iron, selenium, and zinc deficiency
- Males are at increased risk for vitamin C deficiency
- Older individuals have an increased risk for vitamin B6 or B12 deficiency
- Children are at increased risk for iron and zinc deficiency
- Non-Hispanic Black Americans are at increased risk for vitamin B6, folate, and vitamin D deficiency
- Mexican Americans are at increased risk for vitamin B6 and vitamin D deficiency
- Mexican American and non-Hispanic black women are 2x more likely to be iron deficient than non-Hispanic white women
- Non-Hispanic white Americans have an increased risk for vitamin C and B12 deficiency
- Vegetarians or vegans are at increased risk for riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin B12, iron, and zinc deficiency
- Vegans are at a greater risk for iodine deficiency
While this is not an exhaustive list of all risk factors, it’s a helpful primer in the ways our demographic may impact our nutrition. The more we know about what puts us at risk of gaps in our diet, the more we can take control of our health and well-being.
Here are some resources to help you do just that (both of which informed the information up above)!
- The CDC’s Second National Report on Biochemical Indicators of Diet and Nutrition in the U.S. Population is a great resource if you want to learn more about your risks. Some risk factors not considered here include specific health concerns or diagnoses, prescription medications, as well as lifestyle factors such as exercise level or smoking.
- Fortify Your Life is a guide to vitamins, minerals, and more, written by our Chief Medical Advisor Doctor Tieraona Low Dog, and published by National Geographic. It details more of these risk factors and provides recommendations on how to address them.
Why is it important to address these risk factors?
Vitamins and minerals inform all of the processes that take place in our body and keep us not only alive, but thriving. Here are a few examples of the roles these nutrients play:
- Vitamin C is involved in maintaining a healthy immune response*
- Vitamin D is crucial for healthy bones, as well as supporting the immune system*
- Iron is essential for healthy hemoblogin, energy production, and more*
- Zinc plays an important role in our immune response and healing of wounds*
If all of this seems overwhelming, remember that it starts, always, with food.
Prioritizing a healthy diet will go a long way in ensuring you get the nutrition you need. Work with your healthcare practitioner if you are concerned about any of the risk factors to determine your nutrient levels. And if you find yourself needing a little help, supplements are there to help fill in those gaps.
Be your most authentic self! Remember food first, supplements second.
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U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Second National Report on Biochemical Indicators of Diet and Nutrition in the U.S. Population 2012. Atlanta (GA): National Center for Environmental Health; April 2012.