Today’s diets aren’t as nutrient-rich as they once were. Can supplements help address nutrient deficiencies?


For many reasons, our diets aren’t as nutrient-dense today. Here’s how supplements and enriched foods can help—if consumers know how to use them.

Photo ©

Photo ©

In 2021, the global dietary supplements market size was valued at 151.9 billion US dollars and shows no signs of stopping. Seemingly everyone is consuming supplements, vitamins, collagens, and all types of dietary supplements meant to provide the nutrients we need to survive.

Many people today are seeking out enriched foods and supplements to address any nutrient gaps. The COVID-19 pandemic, which heighted the general population's concern about health, further motivated consumers to purchase these products. While a healthy diet and exercise have always been common ways to enhance health and have grown more popular in recent years, the use of supplements as supportive additions to diet and exercise is also growing in popularity today and being studied more extensively.

Robert Jennison

Robert Jennison

What Causes Nutrient Deficiencies?

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than two billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiency globally. And these statistics are not something to scoff at; pregnant people and children are most at risk for micronutrient deficiency. A nutrient deficiency in a pregnant person can be detrimental to their health and their child’s development.

Deficiencies in iron, vitamin A, iodine, vitamin D, vitamin B12, calcium, and magnesium, or issues with gut microflora, are some of the most common among the general population. Studies have found that taking probiotics can reduce inflammation and pain from IBS. Upwards of 90 million Americans still don’t get enough vitamin D, and 31% show risk of at least one vitamin deficiency.

It is important to watch for signs of nutrient deficiency. But nutrient deficiencies are not often easy to address. Anyone can suffer from a nutrient deficiency, even if they eat whole foods consistently, due to the quality of the soil our crops are grown in today.

Worldwide soil degradation has made it almost impossible to consume optimal levels of nutrients in a regular diet. There are many reasons why our soil today is less fertile. Agricultural pollution, pesticides, erosion, loss of biodiversity, and nutrient imbalances are just some of the factors that contribute to soils on our farms being less fertile and less nutrient-rich, resulting in crops that don’t deliver the nutrients we need.

Nutrient deficiencies aren't only the result of the lack of quality soil worldwide. Many people take medications, drink alcohol, have permanent conditions, or deal with any number of issues that can contribute to their inability to consume or absorb enough nutrients.

We must be aware of what we consume and the amount we consume of things like alcohol, caffeine, and diuretics, as these can disrupt the absorption of key vitamins and minerals we need to survive. For example, drinking alcohol or coffee can disrupt the absorption of vitamin A, vitamin B complex, B1, B2, B6, B12, B15, biotin, iron, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc—and this is only a short list.

It doesn’t help that nutrition information can be confusing, too. Take probiotics, for instance. The popularity of probiotics for gut health continues, but the information provided about them can be misleading. Did you know that a single source might not be enough to gain the level of probiotic intake you need for good health? For example, if you get your daily probiotic from yogurt, you would need to eat 50 yogurts per day to get the industry-standard 2 billion colony-forming units (CFU). You’re better off introducing various fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and pickled veggies. This is especially true if you’ve taken antibiotics.

There’s more to it than just what we eat. Healthy eating is about how you eat. Eating mindfully without distraction is much healthier than eating while watching TV or scrolling on your phone. Workplaces today often do not provide nutritious food or adequate time to relax before/during mealtimes, which is crucial to digestion.

Finally, some people may also suffer from malabsorption syndrome, a digestive disorder that can prevent your body from effectively absorbing nutrients. This umbrella term refers to a whole spectrum of chronic disorders that can disrupt the body’s absorption of nutrients. There are a number of these digestive disorders, many with similar symptoms, and they are much more common than you’d think. One in 30 Americans has the most common of these disorders, cystic fibrosis (CF). CF damages your lungs and digestive system, causing malabsorption of nutrients. It worsens over time and, if left untreated, can be fatal.

Enriched Foods and Supplements Can Help

The enriched foods market is estimated to reach 262.79 billion US dollars by 2027. Products like vitamin D and magnesium supplements are becoming increasingly popular, while iodine and folate, which have been used for decades, are still relevant in areas of the world where malnutrition remains an issue. Iron deficiency affects approximately 20%-25% of the global population, leading many to purchase fortified food products such as enriched bread and milk, along with multivitamins. The message is clear: people are turning to supplements for their nutrients.

In 2020, the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic brought into question almost everything we know about our health. COVID presented the biggest challenge to worldwide health in the past century, and people were very quick to question the current systems in place to address a sick population. Many people realized the way they were living was unhealthy and that they may be dealing with some sort of nutrient deficiency. The stress of the pandemic as a whole led people to reevaluate their health. This led to unrest, with people demanding different solutions. As a result, hundreds of new products hit the market claiming to have “immune-boosting” properties—claims that many consumers ate up during the fear and confusion of a global pandemic.

In order to understand how enriched foods and supplements can help optimize nutrient intakes, consumers need to accurately understand how these tools play a role. Unfortunately, many of these products launched during the pandemic operated on unfounded claims of strengthening gut health, supplying critical nutrients, or even protecting the consumer from illness; however, a lot of these products were just a sweet-tasting placebo with a reassuring label. It is safe to say many companies profited off the unrest and panic of the early pandemic.

The bottom line is that at the end of the day, even though there are many reliable, safe, and helpful enriched products or multivitamins are on the market, many people don’t know what to look for. Supplement and food companies need to do a better job of explaining the scope and limitations of their products’ health benefits.

For consumers, it is imperative to monitor for symptoms of nutrient deficiencies, particularly in today’s world, where illness is so prevalent. Inevitably, vitamin deficiencies are here to stay, so we must all monitor our own health to ensure we take the best care of our bodies and optimize any tools that can help us do so.

About the Author

Robert Jennison has over 10 years of experience in the health and wellness space and is the founder of ActiveCare Nutrition. His involvement includes everything from product development and branding to digital strategy and quality assurance. ActiveCare Nutrition is an all-in-one, multifunctional supplement brand focusing on balanced health and nutrition, organically sourced ingredients, and functionality.

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