Is your diet nourishing you? A breakdown of key vitamins and nutrients

April 4, 2024

Getting proper nutrients from your daily diet is essential. However, it can be hard to know if you are meeting your needs for key vitamins, minerals and nutrients, especially if you follow a specialized diet (e.g., vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, keto). Taking a micronutrient test that measures your vitamin and mineral levels can provide insight into possible deficiencies.


In the meantime, understanding which foods naturally provide important nutrients can help you plan a balanced diet. Keep reading for an overview of key nutrients to incorporate into your diet.

Vitamin D: The "sunshine vitamin" that promotes healthy bones

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays a central role in bone health by helping the body absorb calcium. It also supports immune function, brain health and cell growth.

While your skin produces vitamin D through sunlight exposure, the nutrient is also naturally found in foods such as fatty fish, mushrooms, egg yolks and fortified dairy and juice.

Effects of vitamin D deficiency:

Without careful planning, some specific diets that restrict dairy and other animal products may result in low levels of vitamin D. Deficiency symptoms include:

  • Frequent illness
  • Fatigue
  • Bone/muscle pain
  • Mood changes

Vitamin B12: Nerves and blood cell function

Vitamin B12 helps make DNA and red blood cells. It also plays an important role in the healthy development of brain and nerve cells.

Common food sources of vitamin B12 include meat, fish, clams, oysters, eggs, dairy and fortified cereals and nutritional yeast.

Effects of vitamin B12 deficiency:

Since vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal food products, vegans and vegetarians may be at a higher risk for B12 deficiency. Low B12 can cause:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Memory issues
  • Numbness and tingling

Folate (Folic acid): Cell growth and division

Folate is a B vitamin needed for proper cell division and growth, especially during pregnancy.

Folate is naturally found in many fruits and vegetables—such as legumes, citrus fruits, dark leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli and brussels sprouts—so the risk for deficiency isn’t quite as high for those following a vegan or vegetarian diet compared to other nutrient deficiencies.


Effects of folate deficiency:

Folate deficiency can be more common in people with alcohol use disorder or other conditions that affect nutrient absorption (e.g., celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease). Low folate levels may cause anemia-like symptoms, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss

Magnesium: Bone, muscle and nerve function

Magnesium is a mineral that helps regulate blood pressure, blood sugar and nerve function. It also contributes to bone and muscle health, and some research suggests a link between magnesium and sleep health.

To get more magnesium in your diet, focus on foods like nuts, seeds, legumes, leafy greens, whole grains, fatty fish and chocolate.


Effects of magnesium deficiency:

Low magnesium may be more likely to happen in those with Type 2 diabetes, chronic alcoholism or in people taking certain medications that impact nutrient absorption. Magnesium deficiency symptoms include:

  • Muscle cramps
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Abnormal heart rhythms

Iodine: Thyroid health

Iodine is a trace mineral needed to produce thyroid hormones that control metabolism and growth.

While iodine is commonly added to salt, you’ll also find the mineral naturally in seafood, dairy products and eggs.

Effects of iodine deficiency:

Inadequate iodine can cause hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid that doesn’t make enough thyroid hormones. Iodine deficiency symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Dry skin
  • Confusion

Zinc: Immunity and wound healing

Zinc supports the immune system, as well as general growth and development, taste perception and wound healing.

Effects of zinc deficiency:

Meat is a good source of zinc, so deficiency may be a concern for vegans and vegetarians. However, zinc is also found in shellfish, legumes, nuts and seeds. Signs of deficiency can include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Hair loss
  • Impaired immunity

Which vitamins may be lacking in your diet?

Whether you have an allergy to gluten or your healthcare provider has recommended a specific diet for your health goals, it’s important to be aware of certain vitamin deficiencies that may be associated with different diets.


Bottom line: A balanced diet is key

Eating a balanced diet with a variety of unprocessed whole foods gives you the best chance of getting enough vitamins, minerals and nutrients.

Still, life gets busy, and dietary restrictions or needs may make it hard to meet daily requirements. Labcorp OnDemand’s Micronutrient Test can help identify vitamin and mineral deficiencies, making it easier to get insights about your nutritional status. With this knowledge, you can have informed conversations with your healthcare team about possible next steps or potential changes to your diet.