If you think having a nutrient deficiency is something that happens only in those living in third-world countries, think again. Despite living in one of the wealthiest nations in the world, many Americans suffer from at least one nutrient deficiency.
The list of symptoms for most nutritional deficiencies is long. Depending on the nutrient, some of the side effects may include nausea, fatigue, balance problems, swollen tongue, muscle cramps, and low blood pressure. But one symptom you’ll rarely find on any nutrient deficiency list is weight gain or obesity.
Yet, more than 70% of adults in the U.S. are overweight or obese. Doctors and nutrition experts usually attribute this to the poor diet and exercise habits of Americans, saying they eat too much and exercise too little. If pressed, they might even mention that Americans eat too much fast food and junk food. But they rarely delve further, never considering that a nutrient deficiency may be to blame.
But the link is quite obvious, and it makes perfect sense.
Nutrient deficiency: the importance of nutrients for health and weight
A nutrient is a substance providing nourishment essential for growth, survival, and life. This includes vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and other substances. It also includes macronutrients, which are carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
Nutrients are essential for good health and weight control. As previously mentioned, a nutrient deficiency can cause many obvious symptoms. However, because weight gain normally creeps up slowly, it tends to be ignored and is not associated with a shortage of a specific nutrient.
You can run low on key nutrients by ignoring certain food groups in favor of inSANE ones. For instance, if you eat a few non-starchy vegetables in favor of french fries and other fast-food fares, you miss out on essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber your body needs to function properly and to control your weight.
Eating too few or low-quality macronutrients — carbs and fiber, fats, and proteins — creates a nutrient deficiency that can lead to weight gain. The macronutrient, you see, contain the vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and other nutrients you need for your health and your waistline.
Difference between macronutrients and micronutrients
Macronutrients (macro) are the energy-giving components of foods. They are what give you energy (calories). Your body needs large amounts of macronutrients to function properly.
Micronutrients (micro) are the nutrients — such as vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, and antioxidants — your body needs to be healthy and survive. Your body needs only small amounts of micronutrients compared to macronutrients, but that doesn’t mean they’re less important. These nutrients are essential for strong bones and teeth, collagen repair, heart health, proper functioning of the immune system, and much more.
The quality and quantity of these nutrients vary greatly, and you have a choice of both. For instance, you can select fresh or frozen non-starchy veggies and a cut of grass-fed prime rib for dinner. By doing so, you will enjoy a meal containing high amounts of healing macros and micros. Or…you can select heavily processed foods, such as a microwave dinner and some dinner rolls. Processed foods usually contain more macros than micros because food processing removes many of the vitamins and minerals from them. You’re left with protein, fat, and carbs — low-quality ones. These foods contain inSANE hydrogenated fats, starchy carbs, and sugars that provide lots of calories but few nutrients.
A steady diet of these types of foods gives you a nutrient deficiency that elevates your setpoint weight, which causes you to gain weight and prevents you from losing weight long-term.
How a nutrient deficiency elevates setpoint weight
The setpoint weight is the amount of fat your body thinks you should have based on a highly coordinated feedback system between the brain, digestive system, and hormones. Together, they synchronize the activities that keep you close to your setpoint weight.
Think of this system like the thermostat in your home, which responds to the weather outside, keeping your home at whatever temperature the thermostat thinks it should be at. Your setpoint weight performs a similar function. For instance, it stimulates your appetite and raises or lowers your metabolism based on how much fat it thinks you should store.
When operating properly, this system will never allow you to become too fat or too thin. But if the system is broken, the body doesn’t know how much fat you need. Its overriding goal, however, is to keep you alive. To that end, it will give you more fat just to be on the safe side.
There are several things that can damage or break the system. The hormonal shifts of age can cause an elevated setpoint weight, as can chronic stress and sleep deprivation. But one of the biggest causes of an elevated setpoint weight is a nutrient deficiency. You see, routinely eating a diet of poor-quality foods causes a hormonal clog, preventing the hormones from sending and receiving proper messages. Your setpoint weight will rise, and so will your actual weight.
Nutrient deficiency, traditional dieting, and setpoint Weight
If you struggle with your weight, you know how difficult it is to lose those pounds. You cut calories and nearly starved yourself. The weight loss was fast in the beginning, and then it slowed down to a trickle. But you stuck with it, gritting through every excruciatingly slow pound you lost. Finally, you met your goal. You lost 20 or 30 pounds, and you’re so proud of yourself. You can wear your old clothes again, and you feel on top of the world. Friends and family congratulate you.
You’re so glad it’s over, you decide to have a hot fudge sundae or a large slice of chocolate cake to celebrate. The best thing about meeting your goal is that you can finally go back to eating “normal” foods again, you tell yourself.
Except it’s not over. Once you start eating normally again, you start gaining weight back. That’s because your body always strives to return to your setpoint weight. The only way you can keep the weight off after a traditional, calorie-restricted diet is to continue eating a low-calorie diet for the rest of your life. Plus, you’ll have to keep reducing your calorie intake in subsequent years to maintain that weight loss.
That’s because cutting calories while eating low-quality foods starves your cells of proper nutrition. You see, every cell in your body is designed to keep you alive and to do that, they require proper nutrition. If you give your cells less nutrition than they “think” they need, they see this as a slow death. For their (your) survival, they’ll fight you every step of the way.
Those tricky cells…
How do they do that? Well, they send an emergency alert to fat-storing and hunger-producing hormones. These hormones make you store fat and be hungry all the time. A nutrient deficiency results in dysregulated hormones, a slowed metabolism, and an elevated setpoint weight. Traditional starvation-type dieting is counterproductive, as it elevates your setpoint weight, making it impossible to lose weight long-term.
3 most common nutrient deficiencies in America
To give you an idea of how a nutrient deficiency affects your body, here are three of the most common nutrient deficiencies in America according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
Iron is a trace mineral needed to make hemoglobin, the protein necessary for carrying oxygen throughout the body. An iron deficiency is serious, as it can cause anemia (shortage of red blood cells.) Those who suffer from anemia do not have enough oxygen circulating in their body. As a result, they are often pale, lethargic, and short of breath. They may also experience thinning hair, poor concentration, and muscle fatigue.
Iron is the most common nutrient deficiency in America. Women of childbearing age are at risk of iron deficiency because menstruation and pregnancy deplete the body of this mineral.
2. B vitamins
There are eight main B vitamins:
- B1 (thiamin)
- B2 (riboflavin)
- B3 (niacin)
- B5 (pantothenic acid)
- B6 (pyridoxine)
- B7 (biotin)
- B9 (folate or folic acid)
- B12 (cobalamin)
B vitamins are essential for nearly every bodily function. They affect mood, stress tolerance, nerves, and more. They help the body use carbohydrates, fats, and proteins efficiently during digestion so that they provide the proper amount of energy. This makes B vitamins crucial for weight control.
B vitamins can be depleted by diuretics, sweating, stress, and poor gut health. They are also easily depleted by food processing procedures. The symptoms of a B vitamin deficiency vary greatly and may include fatigue, digestive problems, depression, anxiety, memory problems, and headaches.
3. Antioxidants: vitamins C, A, and E
Antioxidants are chemicals that fight disease-causing free radicals. To prevent cancer and other diseases, it is important to consume plenty of foods that contain antioxidants, particularly vitamins C, A, and E.
Vitamin C is water-soluble, meaning it is easily flushed out of the body. Your body neither makes nor stores vitamin C, so you must replenish it in adequate amounts daily. Vitamin C supports the immune system, helps ensure healthy connective tissues, and may protect the heart.
The symptoms of a vitamin C deficiency may include bleeding gums, bruising, a weakened immune system, swollen gums, and nosebleeds.
Vitamins A and E are fat-soluble vitamins. Vitamin A is essential for healthy vision and the growth and development of the body. It also helps maintain the immune system. Vitamin E supports the immune system and metabolic processes. These and other antioxidants are typically found in fruits and vegetables, and since many Americans do not eat enough produce, they can easily suffer a nutrient deficiency of these vitamins.
Symptoms of a vitamin A deficiency may include dry lips, night blindness, scaly skin, and lowered immunity. Symptoms of a vitamin E deficiency may include cataracts, age spots, neurological damage, and mild anemia.
Reasons for a nutrient deficiency
There are a few reasons why you might suffer from a nutrient deficiency. Here are a few of them.
Excessive processed food consumption: Food processing removes many essential nutrients from foods. This is especially true when that process exposes food to heat and/or light. So if you eat a steady diet of heavily processed foods instead of SANE whole foods, you are at risk of a nutrient deficiency.
Food preparation: Even foods you prepare yourself can lead to a nutrient deficiency. Boiling, broiling, and frying foods deplete their nutritive value. If you boil vegetables, for instance, many of the nutrients end up in the water. If you broil or fry a steak, many of the nutrients end up in the drippings. (You’ll only benefit from them if you consume the water from the boiled vegetables or the dripping from the steak.)
Certain medications: Prescription and over-the-counter medications can cause deficiencies of some nutrients. For instance, cholesterol-lowering drugs can cause a deficiency of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), a critical nutrient that helps protect the heart.
Importance of eating SANE foods for fiber, fats, and proteins
To avoid a nutrient deficiency and lower your setpoint weight, it is crucial that you eat more of the foods that provide the nourishment your cells need. The three most important foods are non-starchy vegetables, nutrient-dense proteins, and whole-food fats.
Non-starchy veggies contain a variety of essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that keep your cells happy. Their fiber content also fills you up fast and keeps you full longer. The reason fiber keeps you full for a long time is that your body cannot break down and absorb fiber. It stays in your digestive system for a long time until it is excreted. This helps prevent hunger and overeating. The SANE eating plan recommends you consume at least 10 servings of non-starchy veggies per day.
Protein also fills you up fast and keeps you full for a long time. Research shows when you eat protein, it sends signals to your satiety hormones telling them you’re full. The more protein you eat, the more signals it sends to these hormones. This prevents overeating. In fact, research shows that those who increase their intake of protein subconsciously eat significantly fewer calories during the day. Plus, the body uses more calories to digest protein than it does to digest carbohydrates or fats. To take advantage of all the benefits of protein, the SANE eating plan recommends you enjoy 3-5 servings of nutrient-dense protein per day.
Whole-food fats are also filling and do not cause weight gain. (Despite all the taboos against eating fat, there has never been a scientific study proving it causes weight gain.) They are not only satisfying, but when you replace starchy carbs and sugars with whole-food fats, your body will start burning fat for fuel. This means if your body needs more energy after it burns the fat you just consumed, it will happily chow down on your fat stores! The SANE eating plan recommends you have 3-6 servings of whole-food fats each day.
Avoid a nutrient deficiency with SANE
SANE eating is the best way to provide your cells with all the nutrients they need to function properly. When you do that for them, they do something equally beneficial for you. They help to lower your setpoint weight so that you can easily and permanently lose weight.
Next step: Solve nutrient deficiency with SANE
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