Canadians aren’t getting enough calcium, vitamin D and vitamin A in their diets, which could leave them open to a variety of health issues down the road.
According to Statistics Canada, these nutrients are the top three that Canadians lack the most, with vitamin D leading the way.
While inadequate intake of these nutrients don’t necessarily or automatically signal deficiencies, the potential is still there.
So what are these three nutrients and why are they important?
Registered dietitian Andrea D’Ambrosio discusses why Canadians need to include more of these vitamins and minerals into our diets, where to find them, and some signs you may have (or be heading towards) a deficiency.
Calcium is an essential mineral for building our bones, D’Ambrosio says, as well as maintaining bone strength and teeth.
“After adolescence, we don’t continue to grow bone mass,” she says. “In which case, ensuring we have adequate calcium in our diet or from supplements is crucial to maintaining our bone mass and teeth, which are basically part of our skeleton but lack the collagen which gives bones their flexibility.”
Our muscles also benefit from calcium, D’Ambrosio adds, as well as the heart.
“If we don’t get enough, our bones will become more fragile and weak,” she explains. “And 99 per cent of all the calcium in our body is actually in our bones. Since our bones are a living tissue – they’re alive and constantly breaking down and releasing minerals – they’re depositing calcium to make new bone. This is why we really need that calcium intake.”
If we don’t, D’Ambrosio says that our bodies would pull calcium from our bones so that it would be used in our blood and muscles. This is what would make our bones weaker and more susceptible to fractures, osteoporosis and other bones disorders.
Signs of a possible deficiency are thinning of the bones (or loss of bone mass), increases in the number of broken bones and/or fractures, weak and brittle nails, muscle spasms, slow hair growth and fragile thin skin, Healthline details.
It’s also important to note that in the early stages of a calcium deficiency, symptoms may not be apparent right away, but will develop as the deficiency progresses.
The best foods and beverages that are rich in calcium include milks and fortified soy milk, cheese, plain yogurt, salmon, sardines, tofu (if prepared with calcium sulfate), baked beans, almonds and spinach.
The recommended daily intake for calcium is 1,000 mg for people between the ages of 19 to 50, D’Ambrosio says.
This is the nutrient for which the majority of Canadians fall short the most.
“Vitamin D is most known for its role in bones and keeping our teeth healthy,” D’Ambrosio says. “This is because vitamin D acts to improve the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, which are key for bone strength.”
This nutrient also helps prevent against osteoporosis in the elderly. Research is also showing that it may help in fighting infection, and reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and certain types of cancer like colon cancer, D’Ambrosio adds.
Vitamin D is a prevalent deficiency in Canada because there are few foods out there that contain the nutrient, D’Ambrosio explains.
However, the foods that are known to have the vitamin are egg yolks and fatty fish (like salmon, herring, maceral and sardines), as well as cow’s milk and infant’s formula, which are fortified with vitamin D.
“If we’re only relying on diet alone, often times we don’t get enough vitamin D to meet the dietary requirements,” D’Ambrosio says. “In this case, Health Canada also recommends to consider taking a vitamin D supplement.”
Since vitamin can also be given by the sun, Canadians simply cannot get enough through that particular source in the fall and winter because we’re too far north, D’Ambrosio adds, making it harder for our skin the synthesize the nutrient during those two seasons.
Signs of a possible deficiency according to Healthline include getting sick or infected often, fatigue and tiredness, bone and back pain, depression, unable to heal wounds properly or efficiently, bone loss, hair loss and muscle pain.
The recommended daily intake for vitamin D is 600 IU for those between the ages of nine to 70, D’Ambrosio says.
Like vitamin D, vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin, meaning any excess amounts will be stored in our liver, D’Ambrosio says.
It is important for growth and development, for our eyes, skin, reproduction and immune system.
According to the World Health Organization, an inadequate intake of vitamin A is the leading cause of preventable blindness in kids.
Among the general western population, signs of a vitamin A deficiency are rare, D’Ambrosio says. Deficiencies tend to be more prevalent in the developing world.
But considering Canadians are still fighting to meet their nutritional requirements when it comes to vitamin A, it’s still important for people to know where they can get their source through dietary intake.
Vitamin A can be found in both plant and animal sources, D’Ambrosio says. Sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, broccoli, eggs, cantaloupe, cheese, turkey, chicken, oysters and tuna are where you can find the vitamin.