Nutrition not only affects your body’s ability to maintain itself but also helps you manage your risk for developing a disease. An occasional lapse in eating foods of high nutritional quality is unlikely to cause problems, but consuming low-quality foods, especially when practiced over time, can impact both your short-term and long-term well-being.


Missing NutrientHow the Body Is Affected
ProteinPoor growth, diarrhea, weight loss, weakness
CarbohydratesPoor growth, lack of energy, weight loss
IronWeakness, dizziness, headache, drowsiness, fatigue, irritability
CalciumPoor growth, soft bones, and teeth
PhosphorusSoft bones and teeth
PotassiumWeakness, nausea, irregular heartbeat
Vitamin APoor night vision; dry and inflamed eyes, loss of appetite, diarrhea, lowered resistance to disease
Vitamin DSoftening of bones
Vitamin CWeakness, aches and pains, swollen gums, excessive bleeding
Vitamin B₁₂Numbness and tingling of arms and legs depression

Getting those missing nutrients through diet

Experts agree that the best way to get the nutrients we need is through food. A balanced diet — one containing plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — offers a mix of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients (some yet to be identified) that collectively meet the body's needs. Maybe what counts is the synergistic interactions of these nutrients — which might also help explain why trials of single nutrients often don't pan out.

Still, there are some reasons for certain people to take vitamins.

Women should take 400 micrograms of folic acid a day during their childbearing years. This is the amount in standard multiple vitamins. Taking in enough folic acid helps prevent pregnant women from having a baby born with spina bifida.

Also, people that aren't exposed to sunlight too often — which can cause a lack of vitamin D — may benefit from a multivitamin. We need sunlight to change the inactive form of vitamin D in our skin to the active form. Most people in the upper half of the northern hemisphere don't get enough sunlight during winter and most of spring and fall as well. Also, we have been told to avoid sunlight because it ages our skin and causes some types of skin cancers.

Here's another reason to take multivitamins: it may help slow down macular degeneration. This eye disease is seen mainly in older people. But it's not clear whether vitamins actually prevent the disease.

Strict vegetarians should take vitamin B₁₂. They may also need an iron supplement.

The doses in standard multivitamins are safe. If your diet has too little of any vitamin or mineral, multivitamins are still a very low-cost way to protect yourself against vitamin deficiencies.

For those trying to keep down the calories while making sure they get the vitamins and minerals they need, here are some nutrient-dense foods*:

  • Avocados

  • Chard, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, spinach

  • Bell peppers

  • Brussels sprouts

  • Mushrooms (crimini and shiitake)

  • Baked potatoes

  • Sweet potatoes

  • Cantaloupe, papaya, raspberries, strawberries

  • Low-fat yogurt

  • Eggs

  • Seeds (flax, pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower)

  • Dried beans (garbanzo, kidney, navy, pinto)

  • Lentils, peas

  • Almonds, cashews, peanuts

  • Barley, oats, quinoa, brown rice

  • Salmon, halibut, cod, scallops, shrimp, tuna

  • Lean beef, lamb, venison

  • Chicken, turkey

*Foods that have a lot of nutrients relative to the number of calories.
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