8 frustratingly common vitamin deficiencies in India and how to fix them
The A to Omega 3 of a positive health plan
“Look, it’s so sunny! Go out and play,” said no desi mom ever. Most Indians grow up avoiding the sun, scrubbing away tans, and believing in the power of being fair and lovely. Which explains the delicious irony that around 80 per cent of our urban population is deficient in Vitamin D – a vital nutrient that is simply synthesised in the body from sunlight. The jalebi-rabdi of vitamin deficiencies, that elusive Vitamin D is usually coupled with a severe paucity of iron, especially in women.
This rising epidemic is only boosted by the fact that most of us don’t identify their deficiencies until the situation becomes dire because — unlike a bleeding gash or a busted kneecap — the symptoms are stealthy and often complicated. We’re talking a buffet of bad news, from anxiety, lethargy and dull skin to a compromised immune system, anaemia and heart problems.
Once you identify the vitamin deficiencies, though, it’s easy to fix. We sought out Bollywood’s favourite health expert, Dr Jewel Gamadia, for advice on the right diet and supplements.
Common vitamin deficiencies you need to watch out for
“A low-fat diet that lacks essential minerals is often the culprit. It can lead to poor vision, early wrinkles and acne, and a weak immune system,” informs Gamadia. That’s your cue. Spare precious savings on diet fads and take to veggies you thought had no personality. Carrots, yellow fruits, dark green vegetables like broccoli, and eggs are all rich in vitamin A. “Try supplements that contain beta carotene, but the dosage should not go above 5000iu for men and 4000iu for women,” Gamadia advises.
The biggest star ingredient in skincare, it helps in collagen production and fights premature ageing. Adding citrus fruits like oranges, antioxidant-rich berries, and veggies like tomatoes, cantaloupes and peppers to your diet bumps up your Vitamin C levels. Gamadia warns, “Avoid bleeding gums, weak immunity, scurvy or low iron absorption from food. Supplements can be limited to 60mg a day.” Unless overlapping work deadlines and poor air quality have your stress levels rising daily, in which case a dosage of 100mg should be good.
You probably have Vitamin D deficiency if you’re: living in any of India’s metros with their impenetrable smog cover, not soaking up the sun at the right time for the right duration and perpetually covered in a layer of sunscreen. Fatigue, weak immunity, joint and muscle pain and osteoporosis are a few of the unwelcome symptoms. So, an annual blood test and a visit to the doctor for a personalized dosage is a must. “If you are non-vegetarian, include foods like fish liver oil, salmon and tuna in your diet,” Gamadia says.
The good news is iron helps produce haemoglobin and transfers oxygen to the brain cells. The bad news is our body absorbs only eight percent of it from the food we eat, causing dry, patchy skin, hair loss and reduced brain activity. “Women are more prone to iron deficiency (anaemia) due to monthly menstruation,” Gamadia informs. Red meat, egg yolks, beans, nuts, asparagus and oatmeal in your diet can help tackle this problem. This diet is invincible when paired with chelated (organic) iron supplements. Just remember not to take them with excessive zinc or vitamin E that can interfere with absorption and worsen your vitamin deficiencies.
Symptoms of a magnesium deficiency are nasty little critters, waiting to pounce on poor lifestyle habits and make your body home to insomnia, improper heart function, muscle cramps, mental health issues, even pesky PMS aches and bloating. Seek help in the form of unpolished grains, figs, almonds, green vegetables, and bananas. Gamadia recommends magnesium supplements where the dosage is half as that of calcium and taken only after a meal.
Blame that water retention and bloating on low potassium levels, not your tight jeans. Citrus fruits, bananas, potatoes, leafy vegetables, tomatoes and mint leaves can be a worthy army to combat this deficiency. Team it all up with a supplement dosage of 1000mg a day.
Weak bones and teeth, insomnia, a weak nervous system and slow fat loss are often signs of low calcium levels. The depletion is caused by excessive acid and lack of vitamin D3. Fats and oxalic acid in chocolates also aggravate this problem. “A diet rich in dairy products, cheese, soya beans, peanuts, walnuts and broccoli can keep calcium levels in check. But if you still need supplements, take 500-1000mg calcium citrate a day,” Gamadia suggests.
Omega 3 is to a healthy heart what the encyclopedia is to the Indian home. Unassuming but important. It reduces harmful cholesterol, regulates the rhythm, and keeps your heart happy. “A lack of this nutrient can also lead to dull, brittle hair, dry skin, severe mood swings and low energy levels,” Gamadia points out, adding that several new-age beauty products include Omega 3 in the ingredients. Turn to a diet rich in fish, flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds combined with fish oil tablets (up to 1000mg a day).
Note of caution: All vitamins and minerals must be prescribed by a doctor in the correct dosage and time period. This article mentions average recommended values. Please consult your healthcare provider to get on a plan that works for your body and needs.
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