10 habits that rob you of essential nutrients

Your body needs a wide variety of nutrients to stay healthy, but the stresses of modern life can quickly drain you of these. Here are the top 10 things that deplete you of essential nutrients, along with tips on what you can do about it.

  1. Stress – Depletes magnesium. Signs you are low in magnesium include muscle tension and twitching eyelids. Tip: Increase your consumption of green leafy vegetables such as spinach, brown rice, fish, meat and dairy foods. An Epsom salt bath is the quickest way to get magnesium into the body through the skin.


  1. Coffee – We excrete calcium and magnesium when we drink coffee. We’ve all heard that coffee is a diuretic, but it’s not just water you lose, you also excrete potassium and sodium. This applies to caffeine in general, so fizzy drinks and energy products will have the same effect. Tip: Reduce caffeinated products from your diet. With potassium deficiency it’s not enough to just take potassium, you also need magnesium.


  1. Sugar – For every molecule of sugar we consume, our bodies use 54 molecules of magnesium to process it. When our blood sugar rises, we get a surge of insulin which depletes zinc. Sugar also depletes potassium, chromium and B vitamins vital for maintaining energy and serotonin needed for sleep. Sugar also depletes stomach acid, essential for digestion and robs your bones of minerals. Tip: Reduce sugar from your diet. Ensure you are getting a wide variety of vitamins and minerals by consuming a nutrient rich, whole foods diet. L-Glutamine powder can stop cravings for sugar. Take 500mg capsules on empty stomach or sprinkle under the tongue to combat immediate cravings (approx. 5g necessary)


  1. Alcohol – Speeds up the excretion of magnesium through the kidneys. It can also deplete calcium, zinc, iron, manganese, potassium and chromium. Tip: Reduce your alcohol consumption. A nutritional therapist can help assess and address any nutrient deficiencies.


  1. Fizzy drinks – Contain excess phosphorous which prevents your body storing calcium because the two minerals compete for absorption in the intestines. They also cause potassium loss. Tip: Reduce your consumption of fizzy drinks. Carbonated water with a chewable vitamin C tablet or a slice of lemon is a good substitute while you are weaning yourself off them.


  1. Vegetarian/Vegan Diet -The best sources of many minerals are found in animal foods, also plant foods grown in today’s selenium deficient soil are not enough to supply the dietary needs of minerals. The most common deficiencies for vegetarians and vegans are iron, calcium, vitamin D and B12. Tip: Plant-based sources of calcium include leafy green vegetables e.g. spinach and kale, almonds and sesame seeds. Many milk and yogurt alternatives are also calcium-fortified. Leafy greens are also a great source of iron, in addition to legumes, quinoa and pumpkin seeds. Nutritional yeast contains vitamin B12. Adequate sun exposure is important for everyone but especially for vegans for healthy levels of vitamin D. An annual blood test will monitor levels of each of these nutrients are at optimal levels.


  1. Excess Grains – Grains contain phytic acid which binds with minerals in the intestines and blocks absorption, causing them to be excreted unused. Tip: Eat grains sparingly. A nutritional therapist can help if you suspect any nutrient deficiencies.


  1. Oxalates – Oxalates, found in spinach, beetroot greens, rhubarb and chard contain oxalic acid, a substance which binds with calcium in the intestinal tract and prevents calcium absorption. Tip: Eat oxalate containing foods sparingly. http://www.ohf.org/docs/OxalateContent092003.pdf


  1. Birth Control Pills – Deplete magnesium and zinc, along with numerous other vitamins. This has a direct impact on our hormones and affects with our ability to absorb essential minerals. Low zinc can contribute to digestive issues as it is needed in the body to help produce stomach acid.  It can also contribute to excess copper in the body. Copper tells the body to retain oestrogen. High levels of copper are commonly seen in hyperactive or violent individuals and are linked to miscarriages and susceptibility to postpartum depression. Signs that suggest you may be low in zinc include frequent colds and infections, diarrhoea, hair loss and skin lesions, loss of appetite and or anorexia, reduced fertility, white spots on fingernails, sleep disturbance, loss of sex drive and loss of taste or smell. Tip: A nutritional therapist can help assess and address any nutrient deficiencies.


  1. Pregnancy – It takes a lot of nutrients to make a baby. If a woman is already low in mineral stores she will become further depleted as her body takes the nutrients to build a healthy baby. Iron is one common mineral deficiency in pregnant and breastfeeding women, because the needs for it increase immensely during this time. Tip: Preconception nutrition is a vital part of preparing for pregnancy, a nutritional therapist specialising in fertility can help assess and address any nutrient deficiencies.


Other factors that deplete nutrients from your body:


  • Antacids & acid blockers – Because these are bought over the counter it’s easy to assume they are harmless, however, they deplete calcium and contain aluminium hydroxide which prevents the absorption of calcium from the intestinal tract. Tip: A nutritional therapist can help address any digestive issues and help reduce the need for antacids. 
  • Pharmaceutical Drugs – There are too many to go into, but all drugs deplete the body of nutrients. This is not to say that you shouldn’t be taking medication, simply that you should consider supplementing to address any nutrient losses resulting from medication. Tip: A nutritional therapist can help assess and address any nutrient deficiencies.
  • Hydrocortisone – Used for pain and inflammation hydrocortisone can contribute to severe calcium loss with prolonged use. It also depletes potassium. Tip: Never stop taking medication before first discussing it with your GP, however, topical creams containing chamomile, liquorice, witch hazel and calendula might help relieve inflammation, itching and suppress an overactive immune response.
  • Excessive exercising – Taxes magnesium reserves.  Tip: Soaking in an Epsom salt bathraises magnesium levels without any adverse effects.
  • Hyperthyroidism – Causes increased calcium losses and calcium reabsorption from bone, creating the need for more magnesium. Tip: Selenium deficiency plays a role in low thyroid hormone production and often more copper and iodine is needed. A nutritional therapist can give you a thyroid test and address your nutrient status.  
  • Mercury – Found in amalgam fillings, certain fish and vaccines blocks magnesium and zinc. Mercury binds with magnesium and prevents its absorption.  Tip: Limit your consumption of tuna, shark and white albacore, all high in mercury. Handle and dispose of common household items that contain mercury carefully. These include thermometers, batteries, light-up novelty toys and compact fluorescent light bulbs Always read ingredient lists as some Ayurvedic herbal preparations, as well as drugs and cosmetics can contain mercury.
  • Aluminium – Found in antacids, antiperspirants, cosmetics and aluminium foil; aluminium compromises the absorption and utilisation of calcium, magnesium and phosphorous and neutralises pepsin, a digestive enzyme in the stomach which breaks down proteins. Tip: Reduce your exposure to aluminium by avoiding aluminium cookware and utensils. Aluminium is a common food additive found in processed cheeses, table salt, baking powders, pickles, bleached flour, prepared dough, cake mixes, non-dairy creamers, vanilla powders. Milk formulas for babies can contain up to four hundred times more aluminium than breast milk. Some antacids, aspirin, pain-killers and anti-diarrhoea medicines often contain aluminium. As can toothpastes, nasal sprays, cigarette filters and pesticides. 
  • Lead – Binds with calcium and makes it unusable for the body. Tip: Try to reduce your exposure to lead. Lead and lead compounds are used in a wide variety of products found in and around our homes, including paint, ceramics, pipes and plumbing materials, toy soldiers, gasoline, batteries and cosmetics.
  • An excess of certain minerals in the body – Can antagonise other minerals and cause depletion. Excess sodium depletes potassium, excess calcium depletes magnesium. Iron and copper must be in the right proportion to work together. Tip: A nutritional therapist can check your nutrient status and address any excesses. 

The best way to ensure you are getting a wide array of nutrient is by consuming a diet rich in whole foods. The most nutrient dense foods include; salmon, sardines, shellfish, liver, eggs, kale, seaweed, garlic, potatoes, blueberries and dark chocolate. Supplementation is not a simple solution. It is not enough to supplement with one nutrient to fix a specific deficiency, taking too much of one could throw the balance of another, creating other issues. I recommend working with a qualified nutritional therapist to help you balance your nutrients safely and explore the underlying issues that may be preventing you from utilising the nutrients you are getting.

Shani Shaker BA (hons),dipION, mBANT, CNHC is a registered nutritional therapist with a focus on regenerative and functional nutrition, disordered eating, addiction and mental health. Based in London her services include one-to-one coaching, group classes and Skype sessions. Contact her at [email protected]Shani Shaker: Health, Beauty & Nutrition Therapist

Disclaimer: The information provided is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition. Supplementation should only be temporary. If you’re eating a nutrient-rich diet, extra supplementation should only last for a month or two, just long enough to resolve the deficiency.



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