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The food we eat is of course meant to sustain us, but what if the essential nutrients we needed to stay healthy were missing from the get-go? Aside from processed foods – which are often void of nutrients – good old fruits and veggies can also be lacking in nutrition value. If the minerals we need are not in the soil, then they can’t make it into the food either.

You might be pretty good at covering your ‘macros’ – fats, proteins, and carbohydrates… but what if those macros were missing key micronutrients? Micronutrients, like vitamins and minerals, are needed in smaller amounts by the body, but are by no means less important! And if you’re following a diet that restricts certain food groups, you might even be missing some key essential nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy.

Minerals and many vitamins are considered essential in the diet because our body doesn’t make them. This means the only way we can get them is through the food we eat. While we may not have a full-blown deficiency in certain vitamins and minerals, if we have less than optimal levels we can certainly end up feeling a little less than average. Here’s a hint: You know that 3 o’clock slump? Or the sneaky extra coffee you need to really get your morning started? It can all be down to sub-optimal levels and important micronutrients.

Why are our soils missing the nutrients?

Seems a bit weird, right? Isn’t dirt just dirt? Not exactly. Our soils in New Zealand are largely derived from a volcanic rock bed which doesn’t contain certain minerals. It’s also thought that our soils are young in comparison to other parts of the world. But we certainly aren’t alone. Other countries have their own issues, like missing topsoil due to intense farming, and monoculture crop growing depleting the soil of certain nutrients. Luckily, we’re able to get a variety of food from around the world contain these missing nutrients – but are you getting enough?

Common nutrient deficiencies in New Zealand

Common soil nutrient deficiencies in New Zealand include:

  • Iodine
  • Selenium
  • Zinc

Common lifestyle and dietary deficiencies:

  • Vitamin D
  • Iron
  • Vitamin A
  • Calcium

Selenium:

Although our soils may be lacking in selenium, we can still get some selenium through consumption of imported food - but is it enough? The last nutrition survey conducted in New Zealand showed that although we have improved our selenium levels, the amount we eat is still inadequate. So what can you do to boost your levels? Brazil nuts are a super rich sources of selenium – just 2-3 per day is all you need! Other foods like tuna, sardines, lentils, baked beans, and cashew nuts are also fantastic sources.

Selenium is required for:

  • Normal detoxification
  • Antioxidant protection against free radicals
  • Normal thyroid health

Key deficiency signs for selenium:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Fertility issues
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss

Iodine:

Rich sources of iodine can be found in seafood, fish, seaweed and salt. While it tends to be found in the soils around coastal areas (because it blows onto the land from the ocean in salt spray), soils in New Zealand are typically low in iodine. For a time, New Zealanders developed iodine deficiency, so it was added to our food via iodised salt in our bread. With the movement towards reducing salt in our foods, iodine consumption is something people need to be aware of, especially considering that the last nutrition survey showed that most people in New Zealand over 15 are mildly iodine deficient due to not eating enough seafood.

Iodine is required for:

  • Important ingredient for making thyroid hormones
  • Proper development of the foetus during pregnancy
  • Proper cognitive function
  • Normal ovarian function

Key deficiency signs for iodine:

  • Swelling in the neck
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Unexpected weight gain

Zinc:

A quarter of New Zealanders don’t consume enough zinc according to the last nutrition survey. With rates on infertility soaring and concerns for immune function, this mineral needs more attention. Zinc is commonly found in animal proteins as well as some seeds and nuts like almonds and pumpkin seeds. The move towards a vegan lifestyle can put people at risk of a zinc:copper imbalance due to a low intake of zinc rich food and a naturally high intake of high copper. This imbalance can cause a ruckus with the menstrual cycle, our thought processes, detoxification pathways, and immunity.

Zinc is required for:

  • Skin health
  • Immune function
  • Healthy reproductive function

Key deficiency signs for zinc:

  • A change to your sense of taste
  • Reduced skin healing
  • White spots on the nails

How can we have lifestyle deficiencies?

Lifestyle deficiencies can occur when there is either a lack of rich sources of a particular nutrient, or because an aspect of our lifestyles is causing a depletion of a nutrient. Things like stress, heavy menstrual cycles, alcohol intake and gut health issues can all contribute to nutrient deficiencies.

Vitamin D:

A recent report of the health of kiwis has shown that nearly a third of adults were below the recommended level of Vitamin D, across genders and age groups. Vitamin D is essential for immune health, muscle and bone strength, and good mood, so being low in this nutrient can make a big impression on our daily life.

We tend to be low in Vitamin D because food sources aren’t the best way to consume Vitamin D. Getting a healthy dose of sunlight is key, as Vitamin D is made through a conversion process that happens in our skin. But with harsh UV rays, covering up with sunscreen, and working a lot of the day inside, it’s easy to not get enough – even more so in winter.

Vitamin D is required for:

  • Skin health
  • Immune function
  • Healthy reproductive function
  • Bone health
  • A healthy mood

Key deficiency signs for Vitamin D:

  • Joint discomfort
  • Low mood
  • Frequent infection
  • Weak bones

Iron:

Approximately 10% of women are low in iron, usually due to their monthly blood loss. Children are also at risk of low iron because of the extra growth needs that they have. Men on the other hand have a low incidence of iron deficiency – about 1%.

Iron rich foods are meat sources, particularly red meat, chicken, fish and eggs. Vegetarian sources include lentils and beans, quinoa, dark green vegetables, but these non-meat sources are generally harder to absorb which means more is needed. Looking for an extra boost? You'll love BioBalance Iron Absorb Plus C. Formulated with a chelated form of iron combined with vitamin C from Acerola, this natural iron supplement is gentle on the stomach, is easily absorbed and provides 100% of your recommended daily intake of both iron and vitamin C.

Iron is required for:

  • Transports oxygen from the lungs to the tissues
  • Immune system function
  • Proper cognitive function

Key deficiency signs for iron:

  • Extreme tiredness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pale skin and brittle nails
  • Frequent infections

Vitamin A:

The last nutrition survey done on New Zealanders showed that we don’t eat enough Vitamin A – about 22% men and 12% of women have an inadequate intake. Vitamin A comes from plant sources as Beta carotene, where it’s found in brightly coloured fruit and vegetables, and animal sources as retinol. These are fat soluble and found in fatty foods like butter and cream. So next time you add a little too much cream to something, just give yourself a pat on the back for increasing your intake of Vitamin A.

Vitamin A is required for:

  • Supports zinc with immune system function
  • Antioxidant
  • Supports the linings inside the body
  • Skin health

Key deficiency signs for Vitamin A:

  • Dry skin and dry eyes
  • Night blindness
  • Poor wound healing

Calcium:

This might surprise many of us given our love of dairy, but most New Zealanders aren’t consuming enough calcium. Calcium, along with Vitamin D is essential for bone health. Calcium is found in good amounts in tahini (try this one, it’s amazing), and sardines as well as cheese, yoghurt, and leafy greens. I know after looking at a few of those food sources, you’re now no longer surprised we aren’t eating enough...

Calcium is required for:

  • Building strong healthy bones and teeth
  • Regulating the heart rate
  • Nerve impulse

Key deficiency signs of Calcium:

  • Numbness and tingling
  • Weak and brittle fingernails
  • Cramps

Magnesium:

Ask anyone what supplements they have in their cupboards, and you’re likely to find magnesium. This powerhouse of a mineral has over 300 functions in the body and supports us during times of stress. Given the state of the news these days, it’s no wonder that magnesium has become so cherished for supporting sleep, stress, cramps, and normal blood pressure! If you're in need of a top up, check out BioBalance Liposomal Magnesium! With 200mg of high-potency magnesium, BioBalance use advanced liposomal technology for fast and easy absorption.

Magnesium is required for:

  • Normal muscle relaxation
  • Healthy energy production
  • Blood sugar support

Key deficiency signs of Magnesium:

  • Cramps, tremors, twitches
  • Poor coordination
  • Increased worries and tension