A glance in the mirror can reveal tell-tale signs that you may be deficient in certain essential vitamins and nutrients.
Eating a balanced diet is vital to give you energy – and specific nutrients are responsible for healthy skin, hair, nails and gums.
Our guide to what symptoms to look for when it comes to nutritional shortfalls, will give you a steer on where to top up your diet. But you may need to consult a dietician or doctor to ensure you get the right prescription to correct a deficiency, so you can look as well as feel at your best.
1. Premature greying hair
Vitamin D can boost your bone health and mood, but what you may not realise, is that low levels of this nutrient can also cause our hair to turn grey early too. A recent study found that low vitamin D levels were associated with premature greying that can begin as early as childhood. It’s hard to get enough sunshine to help your skin produce vitamin D, so you need to ensure you eat plenty of eggs, fish and fortified dairy products, along with a vitamin D3 supplement.
Copper is also an essential trace mineral when it comes to vibrant hair, as it helps you create melatonin, one of the pigments that gives your hair its colour. Low copper levels, or an underlying medical issue that prevents you from metabolising copper properly, can turn your hair grey. Try snacking on almonds or hazelnuts.
2. Cracked lips and a sore mouth
Frequently cracked and sore lips that no amount of lip balm seems to touch, might be a sign you have a riboflavin (vitamin B2) deficiency. A lack of this nutrient can manifest as red painful lips, an inflamed mouth with ulcers or a sore throat. Sometimes you the tongue becomes swollen too. If left untreated it can become more serious causing nerve damage with tingling in toes and fingers. You can boost your levels with your diet, by including spinach, eating soft cheeses like goats, camembert and feta. And oily fish like salmon and mackerel.
3. Spots and acne
If you’re lacking omega-3 fatty acids, which have powerful anti-inflammatory properties, you might find that you have more spots, and persistent acne that doesn’t seem to shift. This is because omega-3s play a role in maintaining your skin’s lipid barrier as well. When working well, your skin’s natural oils have antimicrobial qualities that prevent bacteria from entering, but if there’s a deficiency in omega 3s skin pores can become infected. Foods rich in these fatty acids include chia seeds, walnuts, seafood such as oysters, clams and squid, soya beans and tofu.
4. Slow to heal wounds
When we are children, cuts and scrapes heal fast. As adults this may take a bit longer, but if wounds don’t seem to be mending, it could be you’re not getting enough protein in your diet. This is because protein is needed for building and repairing tissue. Lean meat is an obvious source of protein, but other good sources include lentils, tofu, beans, low-fat yoghurts and eggs.
Vitamin C is also necessary to help wounds heal, such as strawberries, red peppers and grapefruit.
5. Bleeding gums
A little blood when you brush your teeth is usually a sign of inflamed gums and that you need to be more attentive with your brushing and flossing. But if you already do this, it could be you have vitamin K deficiency. The major role of this vitamin is to help blood clot. The best source of vitamin K can be found in dark, leafy green vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, kale or cabbage .
6. A pale face
A dull complexion, which is noticeably more transparent looking around the eyelids and inside the mouth, may be an indication that you’re low on iron. The paleness is a result of having less red blood cells and the ones you have, have literally shrunk. Women are more at risk of anaemia than men due to losing blood during menstruation too. Surprisingly, shellfish has more of this mineral than a 3oz serving of beef, so try some oysters or clams. And if you’re going for a veggie option like cooked beans or spinach, pair them with vitamin C rich foods, like tomatoes or a glass of orange juice to help your body absorb the iron.
7. Brittle nails
If your nails seem to be dry and break easily, and you suffer from painful loose skin around the fingernails – called hangnails, it could be you’re lacking a nutrient called biotin. Biotin (also known as vitamin H) encourages nail growth and is used in the core of the nail, where the nail is embedded in the finger. One study found that biotin supplementation boosted nail thickness by as much as 25 percent. Include foods in your diet, like cow or goat’s milk, eggs, tomatoes, chard, romaine lettuce, almonds, cauliflower, cucumber, raspberries, strawberries, halibut, oats and walnuts.
8. Dry, parched skin
Is the skin on your face looking wrinklier? Or perhaps you’ve got dry patches, or flaky, scaly skin. We’re all looking a little wind-whipped in the winter months, but this could be due to a lack of omega-3s fatty acids, without which your skin loses too much moisture and becomes dehydrated. Omega-3s help make-up the skin’s lipid barrier, the layer of oils that keeps germs and toxins out and essential moisture in. You can avoid this by topping up on foods such as fatty fish, such as salmon and sardines, along with walnuts, flaxseed and chia seeds.
9. Misshapen or discoloured nails
You can feel self-conscious if your hands are sporting whitened or ridged nails, or they may even grow concave and spoon-like. These misshapen nails can be caused by an iron deficiency, as this mineral is essential for the growth of healthy nails, amongst other metabolic functions. While having a biotin deficiency will put you more at risk of fungal infections that can cause ridging and discolouration. Nails that are a brownish colour, may indicate a deficiency in vitamin B-12. Vitamin B-12 (cobalamin) is made by bacteria in the gut, but this can often leak out as we age. To top it up, eat animal products such as liver, fish – like mackerel and tuna, cheese, eggs and fortified cereals and tofu.
10. Thinning hair
Protein and vitamin C deficiencies can cause unwanted hair loss. To promote strong hair that doesn’t break easily, you need to eat lots of vitamin C to build collagen, this makes for strong hair follicles, while eating protein supplies amino acids for the collagen. Plenty of vegetables and fruit, along with lentils and chicken will help. While some studies show the nutrient biotin helps boost healthy hair growth as well as nails.
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