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What are the most common nutritional deficiencies?

In developed countries, the nutrients most often lacking in the diet are calcium, vitamin D, iron, magnesium, zinc and vitamin B12. Discover how such deficiencies can be easily addressed.

Anaemic woman in a shop checking a food product’s nutritional content

Calcium deficiency

Several studies suggest that in developed countries, 48% of men and 61% of women have an inadequate calcium intake. The recommended daily intake, according to the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety, is 1000mg for those aged 19-23 and 950mg for those over 24. Calcium, the most abundant mineral in the human body, obviously plays a key role in maintaining healthy bones and teeth, but it is also crucial for numerous other functions such as blood clotting, muscle contractions, etc.

Furthermore, according to Inserm (the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research), by the age of around 65, 39% of women are thought to suffer from osteoporosis, which is why calcium supplements (2) are very often prescribed for women over 50 and men over 60.

Calcium-rich foods

Dairy products such as cheese, yogurt and fromage blanc are obviously all key sources of dietary calcium. But there are also significant amounts in thyme, sardines, tofu, spinach, haricot beans, mineral water, etc. You can also take a daily calcium supplement.

Vitamin D deficiency

According to France’s National Academy of Medicine (3), 80% of the French population (particularly the elderly) are deficient in vitamin D and should be taking supplements.

Vitamin D, as well as being essential to health, promotes calcium absorption in the body. It is also involved in many other functions including the muscular and immune systems.

Fatigue, muscle weakness, dry skin, bone pain and cramps are also very common signs of potential vitamin D deficiency in Western societies.

Vitamin D-rich foods

Vitamin D is found primarily in oily fish, soya and liver (calves’ liver, for example). Another way to ensure an adequate intake is to take a conveniently-dosed vitamin D3 supplement.

Iron deficiency

According to the World Health Organization, iron is among the most frequently-lacking nutrients in industrialised countries. A trace element, iron is essential for cellular respiration and transporting oxygen in the blood.

Iron deficiency has a number of potential causes including heavy periods, hence the higher rate of anemia among non-menopausal women. Vegetarianism and veganism may also be responsible for the prevalence of iron deficiency in Western populations since iron from plant source-foods is less well-absorbed than that from animal sources.

Fatigue, hair loss, physical and intellectual impairment, lower resistance to infection, thermoregulation problems, headaches, and palpitations are all signs of iron deficiency.

Iron-rich foods

Red meat is obviously one of the best sources of iron, but it is also found in offal, shellfish, green vegetables, pulses and whole grains. As is the case for the other essential trace-elements and vitamins, iron can be taken in supplement form (such as Iron Bisglycinate) to remedy any shortfall.

Note: vitamin C

Magnesium deficiency

According to a recent study (4), 73% of men and 7% of women may be lacking in magnesium. Essential for health, this mineral salt plays a role in lipid metabolism, protein synthesis, glucose breakdown and neuromuscular transmission , as well as in many other important cellular functions due to its involvement in over 300 enzymatic processes.

Symptoms of magnesium deficiency thus include hypersensitivity, irritability, tremors, depression, a feeling of tightness in the chest, headaches, dizziness, insomnia, difficulties concentrating, cramps, muscle spasms and contractions.

Magnesium-rich foods

The most appetising sources of magnesium include cocoa, Brazil nuts and other nuts (hazelnuts, almonds, peanuts, etc), but significant amounts are also found in beans, seafood, seaweed, leafy vegetables, pulses and grains .

And again, taking a magnesium supplement is a convenient way of ensuring your body gets enough of this important mineral salt to avoid deficiency.

Zinc deficiency

A shortfall in zinc affects the body’s immune response and leads tochronic inflammation and oxidative stress. It’s thought that 30% of over-65s are lacking in zinc, and deficiency often results in depression, loss of appetite, and colds,, as well as fatigue, acne, dull, brittle hair, etc.

Zinc-rich foods

Zinc is found in many foods, primarily red meat, sesame seeds, pulses and nuts, as well as in zinc supplements, at doses formulated to meet the body’s requirements.

Vitamin B12 deficiency in vegans

Essential for healthy brain and nervous system function and blood production, vitamin B12 is mainly found in animal-source foods, which is why deficiency in B12 is common among vegans.

The best way of addressing such deficiency is to take vitamin B12 supplements, such as Methylcobalamin.

By eating a healthy, balanced, nutritionally-complete diet, and taking carefully-chosen, appropriately-dosed supplements when necessary, it’s easy to avoid deficiencies, and thus maintain the best possible health.


  1. https://www.anses.fr/fr/content/le-calcium
  2. Robert P. Heaney (2000) Calcium, Dairy Products and Osteoporosis, Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 19:sup2, 83S-99S, DOI: 10.1080/07315724.2000.10718088
  3. Rapport de l’Académie nationale de médecine. Statut vitaminique, rôle extra osseux et besoins quotidiens en vitamine D. Bull Acad Natle Med. 2012, 196, 1011.
  4. Etude SU.VI.MAX menée sur un échantillon de 14 000 personnes entre 1994 et 2002



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