How to Tell If You Need to Take More Vitamins

When you’re running from work to an exercise class to happy hour with friends, it can be tough to keep track of the vitamins you’ve noshed on throughout the day. Fruit at breakfast? Check. Veggies at lunch? Got that, too. But then a weird crack develops at the side of your mouth and your eyes feel dry. Could this be because of a lack of iron or just a sign that you’ve stared at a computer for too long that day?

Skipping out on the vitamins and minerals our bodies need to function properly can have some serious consequences. A lack of the right nutrients can lead to malnutrition, which can be treated, but losing out on one specific vitamin can be harder to detect and just as dangerous. That said, having too much of one vitamin can also stir up negative effects—for example, an excess Vitamin A during pregnancy can cause problems with a baby’s prenatal development.

While you should talk with your doctor about taking supplements, you should also speak with her if you are experiencing any sort of strange symptoms like hair loss, bleeding gums, or tingling or numbness in your hands and feet, just to name a few. For now, here’s what that weird bump you’ve been over-sharing with your co-worker could mean.

Vitamin A

What it does: This mighty vitamin is associated with vision development and healthy cellular growth and maintenance, which is needed to heal wounds, boost the immune system and strengthen your vision.

What a deficiency looks like: Common associations with a lack of Vitamin A include dry eyes, blindness at night, scaling/dry skin and diarrhea (sorry, that was gross).

How to prevent it: Ward it off by filling your diet with pumpkin, carrots, spinach, turnip greens and cantaloupe. If you need a quick fix, nosh on a medium-sized sweet potato. It provides more than 100 percent of the daily recommended amount of Vitamin A you need. Sweet!

Vitamin C

What it does: Vitamin C is one powerful nutrient. It aids in forming collagen—the main protein used as connective tissue—in blood vessels, bones, cartilage and muscle. You need about 85 milligrams a day to keep your body up to speed with protecting against various illnesses, like heart disease, cancer, asthma and even the common cold.

What a deficiency looks like: Lacking this vitamin can show up in many forms, but be sure to see a doctor is you’re experiencing depression, gingivitis, bleeding gums, impaired wound healing, corkscrew hair follicles, nosebleeds, high blood pressure or are prone to bruising easily.

How to prevent it: Stock up on fruits and veggies, specifically, guava, oranges, kiwi, strawberries, cantaloupe, papaya, pineapple and mango, and raw red sweet pepper. Brussels sprouts, broccoli, sweet potatoes and cauliflower are also all fair game.

Vitamin D

What it does: Wanna grow big and strong? Soak in some Vitamin D! Literally. Most people get this much-needed nutrient from exposure to sunlight—we require about 600 International Units (IU) per day—but slathering on sunscreen will decrease how much the body takes in. (Not that we’re promoting skipping the sunblock! Your skin will thank us later for taking that step.) Luckily, some foods also pack in the D. [insert winky emoji]

What a deficiency looks like: The big bummer? You can’t actually see clear symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency. It happens over time and makes itself known with softened bones or being more susceptible to infectious diseases like the flu. Eek! However, you can take steps from it ever happening in the first place. And, again, don’t be shy about getting checked by your doctor.

How to prevent it: Bask in the sun. Yep, we’re telling you to relax, kick your feet up and feel the warmth of the rays. (As long you do it responsibility, of course.) While you’re at it, stock up on Vitamin D-rich foods like fatty fish, including salmon, swordfish and canned tuna; Swiss cheese; and fortified milk, orange juice, cereal and yogurt.

Calcium

What it does: Calcium does a lot more than keep our bones and teeth in ship-shape. It also helps the heart and prevents blood clots. We need about 1,000 milligrams a day, much of which can come from food you might already eat.

What a deficiency looks like: A dip in calcium can make itself clear if you’re experiencing fatigue, have frequent muscle cramps and a prolonged abnormal appetite. If you skip out on calcium throughout your lifetime, you could even develop osteoporosis. Time to ask yourself: got milk?

How to prevent it: If you’re looking to up your calcium, try adding yogurt, cheese, low-fat milk, beans, spinach, oatmeal, fish such as sardines, pink salmon and ocean perch to your diet. In a rush? Almonds contains calcium and are the perfect grab-and-go snack.

Protein

What it does: Downing protein isn’t only for mega body builders. It also helps fight against cardiovascular disease and diabetes. On average, women should consume about 46 grams per day, and don’t worry, if you don’t eat meat, there are other sources to pack it in.

What a deficiency looks like: Not getting enough protein can have some serious impact on your hair and muscles. If your locks are thinning or falling out or you have sore muscles, you aren’t building muscle as you’re working out or are experiencing muscle loss altogether, find a few ways to fit this nutrient into your meal plan. Plus, constantly getting the sniffles can be another clear sign to eat more protein-rich foods.

How to prevent it: While steak, ground beef, pork chops and chicken are sure ways to consume more protein, don’t discount other foods in your fridge. Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs and milk will also fill your daily need and keep your muscles, bones and hair feeling strong.

Fiber

What it does: So, we probably know how fiber helps us do, but let’s give it to you straight. This mighty vitamin (well, it’s not technically a vitamin, but it is super-helpful to your body’s process) helps with irritable bowel syndrome, high cholesterol and preventing irritable bowel disease. It should pretty much be a mainstay in your diet, because it’s so gut-friendly.

What a deficiency looks like: This one’s easy. If you’re feeling constipated or are constantly hungry, eat some fiber-rich foods, which will help you feel fuller longer and, to put it less-graphically, get things moving.

How to prevent it: You need about 20-35 grams of fiber a day, so stock your pantry with oats, beans and plenty of broccoli. Go with the motto: green is real good.

Iron

What it does: This mineral lets our cells retain oxygen and keeps our blood circulating. So, uh, basically gives us life? Yeah, kinda.

What a deficiency looks like: Not getting enough iron could run the risk of becoming anemic. Talk to your doctor if you find your skin looking paler than usual (and it’s not, you know, the dead of winter) or you’re always feeling cold, dizzy, getting headaches or having trouble breathing.

How to prevent it: Our bodies need about 18 milligrams of iron each day, so stuff yourself with a mix of spinach, fish, nuts and seeds. Is this diet having a wee bit of a Girl Scout camping trip moment, or is that just us?

Potassium

What it does: This guy helps maintain a healthy blood pressure, but it’s the nutrient most Americans are missing most. Not good! We need about 4,044 milligrams of potassium per day, which sounds like a lot, but luckily, it’s found in many food sources.

What a deficiency looks like: A diet low in potassium can result in low blood pressure. Amp up your potassium with a few easy additions to your meals.

How to prevent it: Contrary to popular belief, potassium is found in more foods than just bananas. Huzzah! Potatoes; beans; yogurt; milk; fruit like bananas (duh!), peaches, cantaloupe and honeydew melon; and fish like halibut, yellowfin tuna, rockfish and cod are all great choices to boost your intake.

Magnesium

What it does: This fun word is the nutrient that actually helps you have fun–meaning it produces your body’s energy. It also aids in getting your muscles, arteries and heart to pump as they should.

What a deficiency looks like: Ever get those annoying eye twitches? Blame a magnesium deficiency. It also comes in the form of unexplained fatigue or weakness, abnormal heart rhythms and muscle spasms. And while it is totally easy to pass off these symptoms, see a doctor if they do persist. (Do we sound like broken record yet?)

How to prevent it: The average person should get about 380 milligrams of magnesium per day. Pumpkin, spinach, artichokes; bran cereal, beans, tofu, brown rice, brazil nuts, almonds, cashews and peanuts, are all filled with the nutrient. Time to stock up your pantry!

Emily is a recent graduate and proud Midwesterner who just moved to the big city to start her career in magazine journalism. When she isn't commuting between Brooklyn and Manhattan, she enjoys browsing bookstores for her next read, sipping chai tea lattes at local coffee shops, and playing tourist in the city she always dreamed of living in.