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Common nutritional deficiencies


In a country with an abundance of healthy foods, many of us aren't consuming adequate amounts of important nutrients.

Surprisingly, in a country with an abundance of fresh foods, the average Canadian isn’t consuming adequate amounts of some important nutrients, according to the most recent Community Health Survey. Are you getting enough?

Vitamin D

Is it a vitamin, a hormone, or both? Technically speaking, it’s not a vitamin because skin cells produce vitamin D3 photochemically when exposed to sunlight. Our bodies can’t produce any other vitamin. What’s also unique about vitamin D is that our body turns it into a hormone. Whether we think of it as a vitamin or a hormone, Health Canada’s recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is 600 IU per day for children nine years and older and adults up to age 70.

Other health organizations recommend higher daily limits. Consult your health care practitioner about your personal requirements.

Vitamin D helps manage our calcium levels. It ensures that calcium and phosphorus are absorbed to help strengthen bones and teeth, and circulate through the blood and digestive tract in adequate amounts. It also facilitates cell-to-cell communication; fights infection; and helps the heart, lungs, and brain develop and function at their best.

Given these important roles, it’s no wonder vitamin D is linked to a lower risk of multiple sclerosis, type 1 and 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and certain cancers.


Exposure to the sun’s UVB rays can stimulate skin cells to produce varying amounts of vitamin D in as little as 10 to 15 minutes. The amount of vitamin D produced depends on

  • skin type: paler skin makes vitamin D quicker than darker skin
  • skin exposure: the more skin area exposed, the more vitamin D our body will make
  • time of day: our skin makes more vitamin D at midday
  • location: the closer to the equator we live, the more vitamin D we produce

During fall and winter it becomes impossible to get enough sun to produce vitamin D, so it’s advisable to supplement with vitamin D3 or cod liver oil. Choose foods such as salmon, halibut, mackerel, or egg yolks; milk or fortified milk alternatives such as goat, soy, almond, or rice; and fortified orange juice or self-fortified mushrooms.

Fortify your mushrooms!

Mushrooms can provide vitamins D2, D3, and D4. To boost the D in your mushrooms, simply slice up some fresh mushrooms, such as organic shiitake, oyster, or button mushrooms, and place them gill side up in the sun for a day or two. Mushrooms can then be dried in a food dehydrator if you wish, or simply stored in a sealed glass jar.


As the most abundant mineral in our body, calcium is in constant demand. More than a bone strengthener, calcium helps our muscles contract, and that includes the “muscles” that line our blood vessels and digestive tract. Adequate calcium intake is linked to normal blood pressure, prevention of rickets and osteoporosis, and may aid in premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and weight loss.


Good food sources include dairy and soy foods, seeds (especially sesame and chia), canned sardines and salmon with bones, broccoli, kale, spinach, tahini, and almonds. Check with a natural health care practitioner if you think you may need supplementation.

How much do I need?

Health Canada suggests the following recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of calcium:

  • 1,000 mg a day for men
  • 1,200 mg a day for women
  • 1,200 mg a day for all adults over age 70


Magnesium deserves more attention than it gets. Like calcium, magnesium performs many jobs involving bone development, blood sugar management, and blood pressure control. Inadequate intake can lead to cardiovascular disease and poor muscle control.

According to a 2012 Health Canada report, more than 34 percent of Canadian adults aren’t getting the estimated average requirement for magnesium each day. The daily recommended intake is 250 mg for women and 300 mg for men.


One-quarter cup (60 mL) of pumpkin seeds will give you almost 100 percent of this requirement. Other good food sources include spinach, Swiss chard, soybeans, sesame seeds, beans, nuts, and whole grain cereals.

Add Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) to a warm bath to soothe sore, tired muscles.

Vitamin A

This fat-soluble vitamin is essential for good eyesight, a strong immune system, and fertility. Vitamin A is a key component of rhodopsin, a protein in the eye that helps us distinguish light from dark. More than 40 percent of Canadian adults over age 19 don’t get enough vitamin A on a daily basis, putting them at risk for age-related macular degeneration.


According to Health Canada, the recommended dietary allowance and adequate intake value for vitamin A is 900 mcg per day for men and 700 mcg for women. Good food sources include beef liver, sweet potato, spinach, carrots, pumpkin purée, cantaloupe, and other bright orange fruits and vegetables.


Another underappreciated mineral, potassium works with sodium to regulate blood pressure. It does this by regulating fluid balance in our cells and blood vessels, and by keeping the heart, brain, and muscles running smoothly.

Canadian adults’ adequate intake (AI) for dietary potassium is 4,700 mg. However, the average Canadian isn’t meeting this guideline, putting many of us at risk for hypertension.


Winter squash, sweet potato, white beans, yogurt, halibut, and broccoli are all excellent sources of potassium.


We need 25 to 38 g of fibre per day, but the average Canadian is missing this mark—and missing out on fibre’s benefits:

  • weight control
  • bowel regularity
  • lower cholesterol
  • blood sugar control
  • reduced risk of digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and diverticulitis
  • possible reduced risk of colon cancer


Top fibre providers are chia seeds, cereal with psyllium, all types of beans, ground flaxseed, and baked potato with skin. One tablespoon (15 mL) of chia seeds provides 5 g of fibre.

Special requirements

Pregnant women

  • Get extra iron, zinc, and vitamins A and B12 from grass-fed organic beef or liver.
  • Meet an increased need for magnesium and vitamins B6 and C with two extra servings of fruits and vegetables and an extra serving of milk per day.
  • Aid baby’s eye and brain formation by consuming flaxseed, walnuts, and wheat germ.
  • Take a daily multivitamin with iron to ensure adequate intake of folic acid.


  • Ask your health care practitioner about supplementing with vitamin B12. Good food sources are organic meats, seafood, dairy products, and eggs.
  • Also ask about taking a vitamin D supplement; studies show many seniors are deficient in D.

Vegetarians and vegans

  • Ensure adequate intake of vitamins A and B12, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, and calcium.
  • Consult a health care practitioner to find out whether a prescribed supplement regimen may be helpful to ensure that all your nutrient needs are being met.


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Raise a glass and say cheers to not-so-hard drinks

Matthew Kadey, MSc, RDMatthew Kadey, MSc, RD