Everything You Need to Know About Nutritional Deficiencies

8 min read

key takeaways:
  • The majority of Americans fail to get all the nutrients they need daily.
  • Modern farming practices and industrialized food production make it nearly impossible to meet the optimal daily vitamin & mineral requirements from food alone.  
  • Certain vitamin & mineral deficiencies are more common than others, especially in vegans, vegetarians, and anyone following a restricted diet.

Nutrition is not an optional extra, it is a fundamental component of life and health. Yet, health in the modern world is a paradox of too many calories, not enough nutrition. We'll explain why a nutritional insufficiency could very likely be the one thing standing between you and your health goals, and what do to about it.

Several decades of nutritional research reaffirm this robust link between diet and lifespan. Still, as many people continue in familiar patterns, they may experience setback in their bodies’ vital functions and minds.

If nutrition is a central part of human health, performance, and longevity why is it overlooked?

Globally, trillions of dollars are spent on health and wellness every year, but is it helping?

Research statistics reveal that the majority of people in developed nations are actually less healthy than we were just a decade ago, and for the first time, the current generation is predicted to have a shorter life span than the one preceding it.

So what gives?

If you look back to the one thing that has drastically reshaped the way we live, work, and interact it is our food. With 99% of Americans failing to meet their nutritional needs from food alone, it's no longer enough to just eat healthy and work out. 

If you really want to look, feel, and perform your best, it's essential to provide your body with the vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, enzymes, proteins, fiber, and the full spectrum of micro and macronutrients it craves to function as designed.

Forget counting calories, and stressing over specialty diet restrictions.  The easiest way to know if you're getting enough nutrients is to eat intuitively and be sure you're complementing a healthy whole foods diet with nutrient-rich fuel sources designed to put back what's missing from food.

What is a nutrient deficiency, and how do I know if I have one?

The most common way to find out if you have a nutritional deficiency is to get your blood work done. This is pretty standard practice that is part of a regular check up with your physician.  But, unless you have a severe vitamin and mineral deficiency, don't expect any profound revelations. 

Standard blood tests don't tell us what's going on in the body at an intracellular level, which is important to consider when determining if you're actually absorbing the nutrients you need for long-term health.

In fact, you'll probably be told that the majority of your levels are "within the normal range" which is a good thing, but also may portray a false narrative.  And that's because micronutrient levels are not set for what is optimal.  Instead, they are set to ensure we avoid nutrient related diseases like rickets and scurvy.  

Studies show that the vast majority of Americans are not getting enough nutrients from diet alone, even on a healthy diet. 

Numerous research studies, like that from the Lawrence Pauling Institute, indicate that the majority of Americans fail to meet adequate levels for essential vitamins and minerals. This means that we aren't providing our body with everything it needs to function at a high level and thrive.

Several years ago, when I made a conscious decision to clean up my diet, I thought I was doing everything I could to eat clean and live a healthy and active lifestyle.

My goal was to fulfil my daily nutritional needs by eating a wide range of whole foods that would provide me with the fuel I needed to perform at a high level, recover from intense training, and promote longevity. And, because this is what every health guru was advocating for, I figured it must be enough.

I had never been one to take loads of supplements, both because I didn't enjoy taking a hand full of pills every day and I doubted their efficacy. I was especially skeptical of the dubious hype that exists in the industry.  Always some "secret" ingredient touted as being the key to weight loss success, promises of anti-aging, increased vitality, or any number of human vulnerabilities ripe for exposure and profiteering.

But, the supplement industry isn't really the problem.  After all, if we were getting everything we need through food there would be no pills and powders to sell.  And many cultures around the world do exactly that.  They eat the same way they have been for hundreds of years —growing and cooking their own food, eating what's in season, and taking time prepare and enjoy meals together as a family and community.

But this is in stark contrast to the western world that revolves around a fast-paced, everything-on-demand lifestyle. Food has become so available that all it takes is the click of a button!  Think back just a decade or two ago and you still had to get in your car and drive to pick your food up, unless it was a pizza!

Why nutrient deficiencies exist in a society in which food is more accessible than ever is confounding. And, like me, you probably have some questions about what's going on with our food system.  So let's dive in...

Did you know?

39%of the U.S. population has a vitamin deficiency. Energy-rich nutrient-poor diets are the largest contributor to non-communicable preventible disease.

Is The Food We Eat Becoming Less Nutritious?

The purpose of food is to provide key nutrients that our body needs to function and to be used as fuel for energy. But, the problem today is the food we consume is less nutrient dense than 50 years ago, meaning we need to eat a lot more of it to get the nutrients we need. 

Combine with the fact that the vast majority of what we eat now is ultra-processed junk food without any real nutrients in it, and you see why America has such a poor bill of health. 

A recent paper by scientists from the Council for Responsible Nutrition in Washington confirms this nutrient gap:

In large proportions of the population, micronutrient sufficiency is currently not being achieved through food solutions for several essential vitamins and minerals.

There are a myriad of reasons behind this public health concern that are numerous and complex. But, to provide some context, the majority of the problem can be attributed to depleted nutrients in the soil, the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides in agriculture, unnatural diets rich in ultra-processed foods, and exposure to harmful levels of hormones and antibiotics in the animal foods we consume.

Our bodies have not evolved fast enough to catch up to these radical changes and the health of the population (and the planet) has suffered as a result.

Why A Healthy Diet Is No Longer Enough

While researching our modern food system I began to learn about crop production in the U.S. I thought that by buying organic and eating healthy I would avoid (or at least reduce) my intake of harmful chemicals and additives that are so common in the standard American diet.

To my dismay, I discovered that due to loose governmental regulations, even organic sources of fruits and vegetables may be contaminated with pesticides and not adhere to higher quality standards than conventionally farmed produce.

In 2009, after reviewing 162 scientific studies published between 1958 and February 2008, the British Food Standards Agency concluded:

“No evidence of a difference in the content of nutrients and other substances between organically and conventionally produced crops and livestock products was detected for the majority of nutrients assessed in this review suggesting that organically and conventionally produced crops and livestock products are broadly comparable in their nutrient content. The differences detected in the content of nutrients and other substances between organically and conventionally produced crops and livestock products are biologically plausible and most likely relate to differences in crop or animal management and soil quality.”

To summarize, without knowing where and how the food we eat is produced it is impossible to know whether our choices to eat healthy and buy organic are actually having the intended benefits.  There are other reasons for buying organic, but there's no guarantee it leads to better nutrition.

In 2012, Stanford researchers reached a similar conclusion in a meta-study about organic foods.  However, organic foods advocates have criticized the study arguing that the study takes a narrow view on organic goods because it fails to consider other reasons why consumers choose organically grown foods like avoiding hormones, pesticides, and other chemicals.

Regardless of which side of the debate you’re on, it is safe to assume that food production as a whole, whether organically or conventionally produced, results in is less nutrient dense food now than in the past.

And while there may be little we can do to change how food is produced at scale in this country and around the world, there are some choices we have that can make an immediate impact on our health. 

How to Fuel Your Way to Better Nutrition

I'm a firm believer that one of the most powerful choices that we have is how we decide to fuel our bodies.

For me, that answer is eating locally sourced whole foods that are produced with care, a sense of pride, and respect for mother nature. 

Living and traveling abroad, and seeing how others work and live has provided a unique perspective about work/life balance and has taught me to prioritize high quality food and joy in supporting the people that put so much work into producing it. 

I try to be very mindful about my consumption choices, but know how challenging it can be to balance health goals and values with a busy lifestyle. Taking the time each day to prepare food for myself and family isn't always easy or practical, but we do our best to make it a top priority. 

One of the primary purposes for starting LYFE Fuel was to provide the peace of mind that our nutritional needs were being met without having to compromise on taste, convenience, or values.

And, because looking and feeling your best is impossible without taking your nutrition seriously, I know how important it is to complement a whole food plant-based lifestyle with a targeted supplement regimen that gives my body what it needs.

I believe that everything we need is on offer by mother nature and the right amount of modern innovation just helps make life a little easier.

Now that we know why nutrient deficiencies are so common, let's take a closer look at the key vitamins and minerals you may be missing out on, even with a healthy diet.

What Are the Most Common Nutritional Deficiencies?

Health and nutrition go hand-in-hand.  And, just like there is no perfect body there's no perfect diet or nutrition plan.  The optimal plan is the one that is personalized to your specific needs and health goals.

Since we are all genetically different and respond differently to food and environment, a good place to start when devising your nutritional game plan is to get your labs done to assess your baseline nutrient levels and find out what may be lacking in your diet.

Depending on your healthcare provider and your health goals, you may need to seek more comprehensive analysis through a naturopathic or holistic medicine practitioner.  There are also at-home diagnostic tests that can make this process even easier than waiting to see your physician.

For the sake of this article, we'll speak more broadly about what the most common vitamin and mineral deficiencies are along with suggested targets for optimal daily intakes.

Vitamin Supplements on Fork

Vitamin D Deficiency

The most common way we get vitamin D is through sun exposure, however, applying protective sunscreen and the strength of the UV index determine how much (if any) vitamin D will our body produce. We can get vitamin D in the diet through foods such as eggs and fish, but many of Americans fail to reach optimal levels and a large percentage are vitamin D deficient.

What is vitamin D and what does it do?

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that our bodies do not produce, which is why we must get it through sun exposure, diet, or supplementation. Vitamin D is essential to human survival and plays a critical role in overall health.Vitamin D acts on over 1000 different genes and serves as a substrate for sex hormones like testosterone, human growth hormone, and estrogen. It moderates immune function and inflammation. It assists in calcium metabolism and bone formation.

How much Vitamin D Daily?

For moderate supplementation, a 1,000-2,000IU dose of vitamin D3 is sufficient to meet the needs of most of the population. This is the lowest effective dose range. Higher doses, based on body weight, are in the range of 20-80IU/kg daily.

Experts recommended Vitamin D3 supplementation (cholecalciferol) over D2 supplementation (ergocalciferol), since we use D3 more effectively in the body.

Magnesium Deficiency

With an estimated 80 percent of Americans deficient, magnesium nutritional deficiencies are one of the most common in developed countries, second only to Vitamin D. Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body and plays a critical role in many of the body’s biological processes. Simply put, a magnesium deficiency prevents the body from functioning properly and limits our ability to live optimally. 

Why Is Magnesium So Important?

An important role of magnesium is to protect us from heavy metals and toxins that we are regularly exposed to through environment and food. Without adequate levels of magnesium, these toxins will build up in our system over time and wreak havoc by interrupting our normal metabolic and enzymatic processes, including those involved in ATP (energy) production.

What are the risks of not enough magnesium?

The risks of magnesium deficiency can be severe. It has attributed to increased blood pressure, reduced glucose tolerance, neural excitation, heart arrhythmias, tachycardia, headaches, muscle cramps, nausea, metabolic syndrome, migraines, pretty much an onslaught of detrimental effects on our health. We can get magnesium from green leafy vegetables, nuts & seeds, seaweed, and avocados, however, due to the depleted minerals in our soil and poor farming practices it makes it nearly impossible for us to get the magnesium our bodies require from diet alone.

How Much Magnesium Do I Need Daily?

It would be prudent for everyone to supplement with a standard magnesium dose in the range of 200-400 mg per day. A dosage of 400-800 mg per day may be optimal for athletes and serious fitness enthusiasts due to increased loss of minerals through sweat.

Magnesium supplements usually contain chelated minerals in the form citrate, malate, glycinate, threonate, or orotate. But, if you want a more effective, more natural solution look for algae-based forms of magnesium — the whole food source of magnesium used in our nutrition shakes.

Vitamin K2: The Forgotten Nutrient

Vitamin K2 may be just as important as Vitamin D for heart and bone health. The recommended daily intake (RDI) for Vitamin K is sufficient to support healthy blood coagulation, however, other benefits may be derived from Vitamin K2 supplementation, which we fail to get enough of through our diet.

How Does Vitamin K2 Help Cardiovascular System and Bones?

Health professionals associated optimal levels of vitamin K2 with improved bone circumference and diameter, tissue growth, and cell renewal. Vitamin K2 can also protect cardiovascular health by reducing the calcification and stiffening of arteries. Vitamin K2 works as a transport vehicle in the body to remove calcium from the blood to prevent buildup in the arteries. Vitamin K2 works synergistically with Vitamin D since both support bone health, which is why they are often supplemented together.  

What's the Difference Between Vitamin K1 and K2?

Vitamin K1, which is primarily responsible for blood clotting, is in green leafy vegetables, whereas Vitamin K2 is only present in fermented foods, such as nato and sauerkraut, and can also be found in grass-fed animal products.

Since it is often difficult to find grass-fed meats and many of us don’t consume a lot of fermented foods, it is important to get K2 through supplementation.

There are two forms of Vitamin K2, MK-4, and MK-7. There is mixed research regarding which form is best. MK-7 is what you would find in whole foods (most commonly fermented from soy) whereas MK-4 although synthetic, is also hypoallergenic. A research study done in Japan points to the specific benefits of Vitamin K2 for bone health:

Vitamin K2 has been shown to decrease fractures and has even been approved by the Ministry of Health in Japan since 1995 for the treatment of osteoporosis and osteoporosis pain.

How Much Vitamin K2 Daily?

There is strong evidence to support benefits and reasons for Vitamin K2 supplementation. A standard daily dose of Vitamin K supplementation varies by person, but 100 micrograms coming from MK-7 is a good baseline to aim for.

Vitamin B12 Deficiency

When we hear B12, most of us think of energy. B12 is an essential vitamin that plays a vital role in neurological function, energy production, helps make DNA, nerve and blood cells, and is crucial for a healthy brain and immune system.  

Why Vegans Require B12 Supplements

The types of food we eat and the inability to absorb B12 can lead to a deficiency. Most people have suboptimal levels of B12 because we generally do not consume foods rich in this vitamin.

Vegans are especially prone to B12 nutritional deficiency since we can only find it in its natural form in animal foods. We can get B12 through our diet by eating beef and beef liver (grass-fed beef is highly preferable to the grain-fed variety), lamb, snapper, venison, salmon, shrimp, scallops, organic-pastured poultry, and eggs.

Anyone eating a plant-based diet would stand to benefit from B12 supplementation.

Common Symptoms of B12 Deficiency

The effects of a nutritional deficiency may not present for quite some time but can lead to brain fog, fatigue, tingling of the extremities, mood swings, muscle weakness, and more severe neurological disorders if ignored and untreated.

These symptoms are often associated with what's known as a "failure to thrive" a common pitfall of vegan diets without proper nutrient intake and supplementation.

Also important is an adequate intake of folate in the form of folinic acid or 5-MTHF. Studies have shown that the methylcobalamin form of B12 instead of cyanocobalamin is more bio-available. Specialists recommended an oral dose of around 1000 micrograms per day for anyone at risk for B12 deficiency.

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Vitamin A Deficiency

Vitamin A is an essential fat-soluble vitamin that many of us fail to get enough of from diet alone. Organ meats such as beef liver, kidney, and heart from grass-fed cattle, cod liver oil, and raw organic dairy products are the best sources of Vitamin A.

What's the difference between Retinol and Beta-Carotene?

There are 2 types of Vitamin A, retinol and beta-carotene. Retinol is the form that your body can readily use whereas beta-carotene must go through a conversion process in the body before it can fulfil its role in helping to maintain healthy skin, teeth, bones, cell membranes, and vision.

Vitamin A, like vitamin D, is also essential for your immune system. It’s a precursor to active hormones that regulate the expression of your genes.

The primary source of beta-carotene in the diet comes from fruits and vegetables such as carrots which must be combined with healthy fats to produce bile and broken down in the gut to be converted.

The body is generally a very poor converter of beta-carotene to usable retinol, especially because many Americans have poor gut health, which is where this conversion takes place.

For this reason, Vitamin A supplementation is important for most people, especially for vegans and vegetarians who are not getting retinol from animal sources.

Vitamin A nutritional deficiency is extremely common in developing countries and areas of poverty where children do not have access to foods with Vitamin A. Without Vitamin A, children are more susceptible to life-threatening illnesses, which can cause them to get sick, go blind, or die prematurely.

The non-profit organization Vitamin Angels is helping to mitigate this risk and save lives by providing Vitamin A supplementation to children in need. 

Iodine Deficiency in Vegans and Vegetarians

Iodine is most commonly found in seafood and is especially high in sea vegetables like seaweed, kelp, and spirulina. Iodine is crucial for proper thyroid function and metabolism and is found in every organ and tissue. An iodine deficiency can result in an improper function of tissues and organs and can lead to lower immunity levels. Many people are deficient or at risk for deficiency, especially vegetarians, vegans, and others who actively avoid processed foods and eat only a small amount of fish. Recommendations for daily iodine supplementation to protect against nutritional deficiency are in the range of 75-150 mcg per day.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids 

When eating a typical western diet, it is common to consume excessive amounts of Omega-6 fats. Omega-6 have clinically shown to increase inflammation in the body, a leading cause of many of the lifestyle diseases we suffer from such as heart disease and obesity. Maintaining a healthy ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fats (at least 1:1 or greater) is crucial for optimal health, however, the ratio commonly found when eating a western diet is more like 1:20 or 1:50. We largely attributed it to the high amounts of processed vegetable oils (like high fructose corn syrup) found in most of the processed and packaged products we consume.

How to Balance Your Omega Ratio

To achieve the proper balance of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fats, one should eliminate and avoid fried foods and consume grass-fed (and finished) beef and wild caught fish.

Getting these foods may be challenging, which is why supplementation of EPA and DHA may be necessary.

Fish-oil and krill oil supplementation are common, however, effectiveness can vary widely due to quality. Deteriorating quality of fisheries and high concentrations of other unwanted heavy metals and minerals like mercury can make finding a quality Omega-3 supplement challenging.

Additionally, vegans and vegetarians who avoid fish and animal products require plant-based sources such as flax or chia. The fatty acid in flax and chia are in the form of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) which is not a great converter into EPA. Fortunately, there are non-GMO plant-based sources such as Ahiflower that converts SDA more efficiently to EPA in the body than flax or chia and which is more sustainable than Omega-3’s from fish or krill oil. EPA from algae is also a good option for quality and sustainability reasons.

What is a Good Ratio of EPA and DHA Fatty Acids?

When supplementing, most experts agree that a 2:1 ratio of EPA to DHA is ideal with the total recommended dose being around 1,000 to 2,000 mg daily. EPA and DHA are responsible for different mechanisms in the body. EPA is vital for regulating inflammation and immune function, allowing it to positively impact heart health, as well as enhance joint health and improves inflammatory conditions. DHA, on the other hand, can be very beneficial for cognitive and visual development.

Real Whole Foods + Targeted Supplementation

The aforementioned nutritional deficiencies are the ones typically found to be most common, however, other deficiencies may result depending on dietary and lifestyle factors.Additional deficiencies to be aware of are Vitamin C, selenium, calcium, copper, and iron.

For a long time, I assumed that I could get what my body needs on a daily basis through a multivitamin and diet alone.  I now know that is rarely the case for individuals living in a modern western society.

My personal health journey and meticulous examination of the supplement and food industries, has changed the way I look at nutrition and has laid the foundation for the whole food diet complemented with whole food nutritional supplements that I now follow. 

This approach has served me best and has been by far the most enjoyable and easiest to stick to.

We developed LYFE Fuel to fill an important void in the market.  Before we created the Essentials Shake, there was nothing that provided elevated levels of the precise nutrients that are missing from modern diets.

Deemed "Essential" because every human requires these foundational nutrients in adequate amounts to not only protect from negative health outcomes related to vitamin & mineral deficiencies but to live optimally and fully.


Wallace, T., McBurney, M., & Fulgoni, V., 3rd. (2014). Multivitamin/mineral supplement contribution to micronutrient intakes in the United States, 2007-2010. Retrieved April 25, 2016

Systematic review of differences in nutrient content of organically and conventionally produced food. (2010, September 28). Retrieved April 25, 2016

Shiraki, M., Shiraki, Y., Aoki, C., & Miura, M. (2000, March 15). Using PubMed. Retrieved April 25, 2016, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?orig_db=PubMed

Emaus, N., Gjesdal, C., Almas, B., Christensen, M., Grimsgaard, A., Berntsen, G., . . . Fonnebo, V. (2010, October 2). Result Filters. Retrieved April 25, 2016, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19937427

Disclaimer: The LYFE Fuel blog is for informational purposes only. The information does not serve as a replacement for professional medical advice or treatment. We kindly ask you not to ignore professional medical advice because of any information you’ve read on https://lyfefuel.com/. If you have any concerns about your health, please consult a physician or appropriate health care expert.