Are You Nutrient Starved?

Her story was typical. She ate plenty of food, plenty of calories. Yet she felt tired all the time. Her husband resented her non-existent sex drive. She’d frequently get chilled when others around her felt warm, and she was always hungry. She wasn’t overweight. She wasn’t skinny.

But she was starving — for nutrients.

Believe it or not, it’s perfectly possible to eat lots of food and still starve your body of the nutrients it requires for real health and well-being.

Sadly, the Standard American Diet lacks many vital nutrients. You can thank industrialized food production for that. The nature of the food we eat has fundamentally changed over the course of the last 50 to 100 years. Sure, it looks the same sitting on our supermarket shelves, but it isn’t.

Are You Nutrient Starved?

Ask yourself the following questions to see if you’ve been getting all the nutrients you need:

  • Do you get headaches?
  • Do you experience indigestion or bloating?
  • Are you hungry between meals?
  • Do you crave sweets?
  • Do you wake up feeling tired?
  • Is your skin dry, blemished, rough, or scaly?
  • Do you feel cold when you shouldn’t?
  • Do you experience mood swings?
  • Do you ever have trouble concentrating?
  • Is your sex drive low?
  • Do you regularly feel aches or joint pain?
  • Have you ever had cavities?
  • Are your teeth and gums sensitive to temperature changes?
  • Do you struggle with depression?

If you answered any of these questions yes, then your body is nutrient deprived.

What Can You Do About It?

Begin by evaluating how much of your diet is still industrialized. Do you eat refined sugar or grains? What about artificial sweeteners like Splenda? Do you eat packaged or processed foods — even the organic kind? Do you eat canned vegetables & fruits? Do you cook with yellow seed based cooking oils like vegetable oil or canola oil? Do you eat conventionally raised meats? Do you drink conventional milk? Do you eat store-bought eggs? Do you eat grains like wheat or corn without sprouting or soaking them first?

Any one of these food choices can lead to nutritional deficiencies. In particular, the industrialized diet almost completely lacks Vitamins A & D as well as Omega-3 fatty acids.

Switch to More Nutrient Dense Foods. If you’re a total newcomer to the idea of eating traditional, Real Foods, start working your way through my Newbie Tips. Otherwise, work to replace the industrialized foods in your life with their more traditional, nutrient-dense counterparts. For online sources of Real Food retailers, be sure to check out my Real Food Resources page. There, you’ll find listings grouped by product categories. The page will be constantly updated with specials, promotional offers, and new companies and products as I find them and as we add new advertisers, so be sure to check back in often.

Eat More Superfoods. These are the foods which are rich in nutrients that the typical industrialized diet lacks. For an in depth look at the superfoods I eat, check out this What Are Superfoods post. There are other important superfoods which I don’t eat, not because they’re not good for me, but because I don’t suffer from the risk factors that those superfoods help balance out.

The following is a list of superfoods (summarized from pages 99-103 of Eat Fat, Lose Fat — a Food Renegade Must Read) and the symptoms which (according to Mary Enig and Sally Fallon) they’ll help you balance.

  • Fermented Cod Liver Oil — An excellent source of Vitamins A & D, plus Omega-3 fats. Fallon and Enig recommend taking this if you need to support your thyroid functioning (you feel sluggish, foggy headed, have a low libido, struggle with weight gain, etc.). Also take it if you know you’re not getting enough Vitamin D through sun exposure (you struggle with depression, seasonal depression in the winter, have a low libido, spend most of your time indoors, have weak bones, get cavities, etc.). (where to find fermented cod liver oil)
  • Acerola Powder or Amla Tablets — Rich sources of Vitamin C and many complimentary nutrients like bioflavonoids and rutin which help your body absorb and properly use Vitamin C. They recommend taking this if you suffer from allergies, hay fever, asthma, or if you’re under a lot of stress. (where to find acerola powder)
  • High Vitamin Butter Oil — Also rich in Vitamins A & D, this superfood also packs in the valuable Vitamin K2, a necessary activator that helps your body utlize many important vitamins and minerals. Fallon & Enig recommend taking this if you’re not eating or drinking a lot of raw dairy. According to their research, it helps aid digestive problems, heal tooth decay, protect against heart disease, and ease mood swings & foggy thinking. (where to find high vitamin butter oil)
  • Freeze-dried Glandular And Organ ExtractsIf you eat about 10% of your meats in the form of organ meats from grass-fed/pastured/or wild animals, pass this by. Otherwise, consider this a decent alternative to help support your own organ health. Want to help protect your own liver? Eat more liver. Need to recover from adrenal fatigue? Eat adrenals. You get the idea. (where to find freeze-dried organ extracts)
  • Bitters — According to Fallon & Enig’s research, herbal extracts of bitters are rich in minerals and help stimulate digestion. If you have trouble digesting fats, get constipated, or need to detox from caffeine or alcohol, they recommend you take bitters.
  • Wheat Germ Oil — A valuable source of natural Vitamin E. This nutrient protects your cell membranes like no other. Fallon and Enig recommend you take it if more than 4% of the fats in your diet come from poly-unsaturated yellow seed based oils, or if you’re at risk for heart disease. Be sure to get expeller-pressed Wheat Germ Oil.
  • Nutritional Yeast — A natural source of B complex vitamins (except B-12). They recommend taking this if you experience chronic fatigue. Look for yeast processed at low temperatures. High temperature processing causes the naturally occuring glutamic acid in the yeast to break down into MSG. And if you struggle with candida yeast overgrowth, you have nothing to fear from nutritional yeast. Candida feeds off sugar, not yeast. (where to find nutritional yeast)

Again, if you want to find online sources for these superfoods, check out the listings on my Real Food Resources page.

Be Kind To Your Digestive System. If your digestive system is at all imbalanced, it can dramatically affect your ability to properly digest and absorb the nutrients from your food. So much in our modern lifestyles works against our digestive systems, killing off the good bacteria in our intestinal tract and exacerbating our intestinal lining. Avoid alcohol, sugar, and caffeine, and try to eat a diet rich in bone broths and naturally-fermented foods like traditional sauerkraut. If you’re worried you’re not getting enough living foods into your diet, consider taking a quality pro-biotic. For online listings of probiotic supplements, click here.

Consider Getting Nutritional Counseling. If you’re at all nervous about making any of these changes, why not get real answers from someone in the know? I offer nutrition & wellness coaching services, and I’d love to help.

This post is my own contribution to Fight Back Fridays — a weekly blog carnival full of inspiring ideas, recipes, news stories, and anecdotes all related to eating Real Food!

(photo by smellyknee)
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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.
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28 Responses to Are You Nutrient Starved?
  1. jillian
    July 10, 2009 | 1:04 pm

    Hi! What’s the best way to incorporate Wheat Germ Oil into your diet? by the spoonful? thanks!

  2. KristenM
    July 10, 2009 | 1:28 pm

    Jillian — Normally, wheat germ oil is sold as capsules. A typical maintenance dose is two capsules a day. Hope that helps!

  3. Alana Sheldahl
    July 10, 2009 | 1:29 pm

    So, once a person has made the switch to real food, how long does recovery take? I suppose it probably has much to do with how deep a person’s nutritional hole is? Mine’s pretty deep. God have mercy!

    Alana Sheldahl

  4. Jenny @ Nourished Kitchen
    July 10, 2009 | 2:28 pm

    I’m a little confused about the wheat germ oil given the direction to take it if more than 4% of fats come from PUFAs. PUFAs comprise 62% of the fatty acids in wheat germ oil there’s nearly 9 times the amount of omega-6 fatty acids as omega-3 fatty acids in wheat germ oil. Isn’t that going to compound the issue with regard to PUFAs and heart disease?

    Jenny @ Nourished Kitchen

  5. KristenM
    July 10, 2009 | 2:40 pm

    Jenny — Well, that’s why it’s a dietary supplement and not meant to be used as a primary fat or cooking oil. Wheat Germ Oil is perhaps the best, most concentrated source of Vitamin E we know of, hence its designation as a superfood. The Vitamin E in wheat germ oil is what protects against heart disease & helps heal the damage done by eating too many polyunsaturated fats. I would only recommend people take it therapeutically, in conjunction with switching to more traditional fats.

    The Weston A Price foundation, obviously NOT a proponent of yellow seed based vegetable oils or a diet heavy in PUFAs, recommends Wheat Germ Oil on their list of superfoods here.

    Alana — Recovery depends on just what your nutritional deficiencies are, and how much damage has been done by them. Some notice changes immediately, for others it takes months or years.

  6. Mike Barnes
    July 10, 2009 | 6:13 pm

    If you are interested in vitamin D you should take a look at http://www.vitaminD3world.com The Canadian Cancer Society now recommends that everyone take vitamin D to prevent cancer. The site has good summaries of the data and offers a new preparation of vitamin D in a micro-pill formulation. The pills have been formulated with cellulose which absorbs water very quickly. This ensures that the pill breaks up very quickly to provide for maximum absorption. The micro pill is tiny and tasteless. Many vitamin D pills on the market have very poor dissolution properties resulting in poor absorption.
    The site also offers to supply customers with a free supply of 400IU for their children and it also has a good newsletter.
    best regards

  7. Tamara
    July 10, 2009 | 8:09 pm

    I need to find out more about Freeze-dried Glandular And Organ Extracts because i dont eat organs hardly at all right now. I do tend to have low sex drive and low energy and i think this will help.

  8. KristenM
    July 10, 2009 | 10:16 pm

    Tamara — Are you taking fermented CLO? If not, I’d try that first as it’s cheaper and often has very noticeable effects on sex drive/energy levels. Also, another hormone regulating superfood that I didn’t mention is Maca. It’s great at helping with PMS & sex drive issues.

  9. Vin - NaturalBias
    July 13, 2009 | 7:22 am

    Great article Kristen! This is such a simple but commonly overlooked topic. Even people who eat well are still sometimes nutrient deficient because of poor digestion. This is one of the reasons why I feel that good health starts in the gut!

    In addition to the great tips you gave, some people also benefit from HCL and digestive enzyme supplementation.

    Vin – NaturalBias

  10. megan
    July 14, 2009 | 1:49 pm

    Is it okay to take wheat germ oil if you have a wheat/gluten intolerance?

  11. KristenM
    July 14, 2009 | 1:55 pm

    megan — The wheat protein (gluten) is not present in the oil at all, so it shouldn’t present any problems if you just have gluten intolerance. That said, if you have an actual allergy to wheat, you may have a reaction to the wheat germ oil depending on the level of your sensitivity.

  12. Mark
    August 23, 2009 | 1:18 pm

    I am suffering with some of these problems like headaches, indigestion and depression from last 7 or 8 months. Does this means that I am nutrient starved? I can not find a reason because I am having a healthy diet except on the weekends. Please help me with this problem.
    .-= Mark

  13. Liz
    January 11, 2010 | 3:13 am

    I didn’t see any supplement recommended to help with headaches. Of what nutritional deficiency is headaches a symptom? I get headaches quite frequently (thus far I have guessed they are sinus related– sinus/allergy problems are very common in the area where I live), but I don’t really know why I get them so often (more than my husband and immediate family for sure). I am intrigued by the idea that a nutritional deficiency could be triggering my headaches.

    • Dana
      March 28, 2010 | 6:55 pm

      Liz, I’ve heard that magnesium deficiency can be related to migraines. Aside from that I don’t know. The book Prescription for Nutritional Healing can be helpful to pinpoint nutritional issues that might lead to various health problems. I would take some of their info with a very large grain of salt–the authors appear to be holdovers from the vegetarianism-and-granola 60s “health food” era on some matters, like soy consumption, but you can cross-research their claims–it’s just a good launchpad to try and find out what’s going on.

  14. Paramjit
    June 26, 2010 | 10:46 am

    Great article. We eat enough but yet are nutrient starved. We are swarmed with processed food which is the main problem. Great list of nutrient dense food that can help replenish much needed nutrients.
    .-= Paramjit´s last blog post …People Start Dying After 40 =-.

  15. kniteli
    June 27, 2010 | 7:21 pm

    It seems pretty irresponsible to state that if you have any of the above symptoms then you ARE nutrient starved. There are many, many legitimate and dangerous medical conditions that show those symptoms. So they may not be nutrient starved and decide to start eating right (not a bad thing), but do so in favor of going to a doctor to see what their symptoms are really a sign of.

  16. Alison @ Femita
    July 27, 2010 | 3:30 pm

    I agree that nutrition is a key factor in overcoming fatigue. Of course there is stress reduction and exercise, but eating more powerfoods is definitely going to help. I especially like your list because of the different oils. Currently I only use olive oil as part of a mediterranean diet, but will definitely try some of the above.
    .-= Alison @ Femita´s last blog post …19 Superfoods to Defy Your Age and Stay Young Forever Part 2 =-.

  17. Darren
    November 8, 2010 | 9:04 pm

    There are so many problems that people have and then don’t relize that they have to do with the eating habits that they have. It’s so simple yet such a hard thing to control once you’ve become acustom to eating junk.

  18. Lertno
    November 13, 2010 | 7:57 pm

    I bet there are millions of people buying pills to correct these problems when it’s simply just a matter of the food they are eating and the lack of nutrients.

  19. Pure Mothers
    November 16, 2010 | 6:25 pm

    I need your help. Maybe you can advise if I should take some nutrition counseling (from you or someone here in London). I’ve been reading the Real Food Blogs, Mercola AND the vegan blogs for a while. I’m 41 and most of my life I’ve eaten real foods, but no mammal meat – just poultry and seafood – and some dairy (not milk) and eggs. I was very fit, active and healthy (determined by in-depth labs and feeling/stamina) and conceived first try at age 37, gave birth at home, naturally at 38 and have a healthy 3 year old now.

    What has changed, is that I am and have been concerned about animal welfare and am horrified by factory farms, so I have read a bunch of vegan books and also the China Study which swayed my family even further away from animal products and closer to a plant-based diet with some eggs and fish. BUT, I am now 2 months pregnant and I am thinking about meat. I look in my fridge and don’t see anything satisfying. I am hungry just minutes after finishing a meal. My meals are well-rounded for vegan (coconut oil, lentils, peas, beans, green leafy veggies – and whole grains.) I was moved to pick up The Vegetarian Myth which brought me to tears. Tonight after my son fell asleep, I couldn’t – I was hungry. I went downstairs and opened a can of salmon and ate the whole thing. I am still hungry.

    How do I incorporate meats (and which kinds) back into our diets? My son is 3 (and fortunately nursed until age 2 (while I was eating more animal products) and only recently has been eating this way (I give him cheese and full fat yogurt though, plus eggs). But how do I explain to him (he’s very bright and articulate) t hat now we are going to eat the animals we love so much. He is a hyper-sensitive child and LOVES animals. I know this is the healthiest thing we can do. We need the protein and fats. But how do I explain and where do I start? Will I get sick if I eat bacon? I haven’t eaten it since I was 20 years old.

    Thank you!!

  20. Jon
    May 8, 2011 | 9:46 am

    This is so common. People consume far too much refined carbohydrate these days. Bread, bread and more bread. I have worked with people who have toast for breakfast, sandwich for lunch and pizza for dinner, and then wonder why they feel so sluggish.

  21. JMK
    July 7, 2011 | 8:32 am

    “If you answered any of these questions yes, then your body is nutrient deprived.”

    Ugh. You lose all credibility on what could have been a decent article right here. Any single “yes” answer could have any number of causes that have absolutely nothing to do with being nutrient-starved.

    A bit more thought and logic would be a nice from the alternative press.

    • KristenM
      July 8, 2011 | 3:48 pm

      Actually, most *do* have to do with being nutrient-starved. Even using the government’s (too low!) standards of the RDA, most of the U.S. population is deficient in at least one major vitamin or mineral. 53% of women are Vitamin A deficient. 36% of the entire population is Vitamin D deficient (it goes up to 76% if you’re a minority). 73% of women are Vitamin E deficient and 91% of preschoolers. Not one study out of literally hundreds shows 100% adequacy in any given nutrient, and when studying for all measurable nutrients more than 90% of us draw up short! And this is using the RDA as the standard. Nevermind that healthy traditional peoples consumed anywhere from 10-50 times more of these nutrients than the RDA!!

      • Edward D'Souza
        January 14, 2012 | 1:24 pm

        > Actually, most *do* have to do with being nutrient-starved.

        “Most” is quite different to “all”. When you say most, can you accurately put a percentage to it? 75%, 50%? If you can’t support an actual percentage, that suggests you don’t have the data to back up what you’re claiming.

        When you say “If you answered any of these questions yes, then your body is nutrient deprived.”, you are implying that *all* cases of, for example, depression, are due to nutrient deficiency. It is downright dangerous and false to claim that all forms of depression are caused by nutrient problems.

  22. Brenda
    September 13, 2011 | 11:51 am

    Pleased to know I’m not alone in recognizing the need to spread life threatening knowledge about GMOs and why we should make collective band efforts for GMOs

  23. Paula
    September 16, 2011 | 11:30 am

    With regards to the oils and extracts you call superfoods, do these come in pill forms only or something you can add into a smoothie or find in foods? I have a hard time taking too many pills each day and tend to shy away from giving too many to my kids. I feel overwhelmed by the amount of different pills you can take to stay healthy. Most say to take this 3 times per day for this, and take 3 of these each day for that…You can spend your whole day just taking pills. What advice do you have for an overwhelmed mom that desires to have a healthy family without pill popping? I have 3 active kids that play sports all year round and suffer from seasonal allergies, but are otherwise very healthy

  24. Sharyn
    January 3, 2014 | 1:20 pm

    This is very true and I actually learned this from my cat. She has been on a typical cat food (more high quality pet food plus added raw chicken) for years. but she was still overweight and had allergies. I finally switched her to a pet stores raw food (stella and chewys) and I let her eat as much as she wanted at first because I wanted her to get the nutrition she was getting from the processed foods. She ate a lot. Now she doesn’t. I believe now her body has its nutrition she now wants to eat less. Before she wouldn’t stop bugging me for food all day. Now she is content with very little and knows when to stop.

  25. Sharyn
    January 3, 2014 | 1:21 pm

    I meant to say “nutritions she WAS NOT getting from processed foods”..

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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