Lucky for us, unlike our ancestors we typically don’t have be as concerned about serious vitamin deficiency disorders. We’re more informed about what’s good for us. With improved distribution, we have more accessibility to healthy foods. We’ve figured out ways to add vitamins to foods if they aren’t naturally found there. And if we partake in a balanced diet, we generally get a healthier dose of the vitamins we need.
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“But that still doesn’t guarantee everyone will get all the essential vitamins and minerals needed to protect against chronic health problems,” says dietitian Mira llic, RD, LD. “Certain medical conditions, economic or demographic factors that influence access to food, life stages and special diets can increase the risk for vitamin insufficiencies that can compromise your health.”
Here Ilic explains vitamins with increased risk for inadequate intake, and if you’re missing them how you can add them to your diet.
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
Why you need it — Vitamin B12 helps keep your nerve and blood cells healthy, and it aids in your body’s energy production and DNA. You need to be able to absorb it properly to get these benefits. As you age, you have less acid in your stomach to break down protein and release vitamin B12 from food. Also, conditions like Crohn’s disease or medications such as proton pump inhibitors, H2 blockers and the diabetes drug metformin can interfere with absorption.
How to get it — People over age 50 or others at risk for having less than sufficient amounts of vitamin B12 should ask a doctor about whether they should take a supplement. But usually you can get B12 through foods such as:
- Fish such as tuna, salmon and trout.
- Milk products like cheese or nonfat plain Greek yogurt.
- Fortified soy milk.
“For vegetarians and vegans — you may be more at risk for having too little B12 in your diet,” Ilic says. “ Fortified foods can be good sources. Just make sure to avoid the sugary stuff.”
Folate and Folic Acid
Why you need it — Folate is a general term that’s used to describe the many different forms of vitamin B9. Vitamin B9 is one of the eight B vitamins. It’s important in red blood cell formation and for healthy cell growth and function. And it’s particularly important for women to ingest folate during the first three weeks of pregnancy to prevent birth defects.
Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate that is used in supplements and in fortified foods. (Fortification is the process by which vitamins and minerals are added to food.)
How to get it — It can be difficult for some to get the daily recommended amount of folate through foods alone. “Keep in mind that many of us are still not getting enough fruits, vegetables and legumes — our best sources for folate,” Ilic says. “Increasing your daily consumption can be easier than you think, though.”
You can get more folate naturally simply by increasing your intake of these foods:
- Leafy green vegetables.
- Fruits — especially citrus fruits, melons and strawberries.
- Fruit juice (Remember: The less sugar, the better).
- Legumes such as dried beans, lentils and peas.
Because we needed extra help in getting the full amount of folate and folic acid in our diets, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also requires that folic acid be added to enrich the following foods (if it’s fortified, it will be listed on the label).
- Certain breads.
- Assorted cereals.
- Corn meal.
- Other grain products (read labels to see if they include folic acid).
Why you need it — Getting enough vitamin D is crucial for your body to absorb the calcium it needs for healthy bones and teeth. Vitamin D deficiency also has been linked to certain cancers and heart disease. But unlike other vitamins, our main source of vitamin D isn’t food — it’s the sun. So risk factors for low levels of vitamin D include living at high latitudes, high levels of air pollution or city smog, dense cloud covering, clothing that always covers your skin and liberal sunscreen use (although both are very important to protect skin from sun damage) and darker skin pigmentation.
How to get it — Many foods today are fortified with vitamin D, including orange juice, milk and breakfast cereals. Natural sources of vitamin D include fatty fishes such as:
- Whole eggs.
If you don’t eat fish or if these foods aren’t available to you, talk to your doctor about a vitamin D supplement.
Why you need it — Vitamin B6 is part of nearly 200 biochemical reactions in the human body, but it’s best known for its role in regulating your sleep, appetite and mood. It plays a key role in cognitive abilities and immune function and also helps you make red blood cells. Although deficiency is rare, many of us (especially the elderly) don’t get the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for vitamin B6.
How to get it — A mix of meats, whole grains, vegetables and nuts can help. Other foods rich in B6 include:
- Baked potatoes.
- Garbanzo beans.
- Other fortified foods (check the label to see if it’s fortified).
Why you need it — Vitamin A is important for vision, healthy skin and immunity. It is found in pre-formed vitamin A (retinol) and beta-carotene which is converted by your body into an active form of vitamin A.
How to get it — Green vegetables and orange or yellow vegetables and fruits are good sources of beta-carotene:
- Sweet potatoes.
- Winter squash.
Other foods rich in pre-formed vitamin A:
“With a healthy, balanced diet that includes adding foods that naturally contain the vitamins you’re missing, fortified foods and supplements in some cases,” llic says, “you can get your vitamin intake on track in no time.”