Signs You Might Not Be Absorbing Nutrients

by Isadora Baum, CHC

It's not just enough to eat food; you have to absorb its benefits, as well. While it might seem fine to just eat a salad at lunch, it only really matters if your body reaps the benefits of those greens. Discovering the signs you're not absorbing nutrients in your food can be helpful, as you can then be more mindful going forward. Being malnourished can damage the body, as your body thrives when it's given fuel and resources to function. Getting enough calories and nutrients in the day will keep your body running optimally.

As a certified health coach, I work with clients on combining foods in the best ways to gain adequate intakes of nutritional requirements and to boost their energy, mood, and happiness levels. Food plays such a key role in affecting our emotional and physical states, so eating well should be a top priority in your day. You need protein, fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals to keep your body healthy, and when these micro and macro nutrients aren't absorbed properly, or you're simply not eating enough, you're putting your body at a disadvantage. Here are 11 signs that you're not getting as many calories and nutrients as you need in the day. With a few mindful tips, you'll start to feel totally energized and balanced in the day.

1. Heart Palpitations

According to Erica Bryers, co-founder of Ora Organic over email with Bustle, "increased heart palpitations can be pretty scary and are often present in cases of iron deficiency." Bryers asks, "Do you frequently get that sensation of your heart 'skipping a beat' or adding an extra one? Heart palpitations can feel like your heart is racing, pounding, or fluttering. Excess pressure and stress on the heart due to an iron deficiency can result in abnormal heartbeats and heart palpitations."

2. Digestive Disorder

If you have poor digestive health, it might put you at risk of not absorbing enough nutrients or calories in the day, advises Bryers. Being malnourished can impair your ability to function, especially during work hours or when out for social gatherings. "Digestive diseases, such as Crohn’s disease or celiac disease can significantly hinder the body's ability to absorb iron," Bryers cautions. "If the digestive system is not clean, as in if there is compacted waste stuck then the digestive system cannot absorb any nutrition from the food when it's been eaten," adds author and health food chef Liana Werner Gray over email with Bustle.

3. Hair Loss

"Malabsorption syndrome refers to conditions that impair the absorption of macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) from the intestine into the bloodstream. If you're having difficulty absorbing protein, you may experience dry and brittle hair and even hair loss," says Bryers. If your strands start to go missing, consider checking your diet.

4. Brittle Nails

Bryers says that brittle nails can be a sign of not getting enough nutrients. "When you don't get enough protein, your body begins conserving and stops sending valuable protein to nourish hair and nails," Bryers says. To make sure you get enough protein, eat lean meats, legumes, tofu, ancient grains, such as quinoa, and fish with each meal.

5. Weird Stools

"It’s no secret, the appearance of your stool is a clear indicator of how your body is absorbing nutrients from food," says Elizabeth Ann Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT, over email with Bustle. "Diarrhea and loose stools can indicate malabsorption, as well as a high odor, light colored stool. If you notice a change in your stool patterns, please consult with your physician and discuss the issue with them immediately," says Shaw.

6. Numbness & Tingling

According to Dr. Lisa Ashe, Medical Director of BeWell Medicine, over email with Bustle, if you experience numbness and tingling, it could signify a nutritional deficiency. Ashe says that people who are lacking in vitamin B12 might show such symptoms. Eat animal protein, such as liver, or take a supplement (especially for vegetarians).

7. Fatigue

Ashe warns against fatigue and dizziness, which can be present in those lacking in iron and magnesium. When the body doesn't absorb enough iron, it might be at risk of getting anemia, which can affect energy and mood levels and leave you feeling more tired and withdrawn that usual. Eat legumes, lean animal meats, and leafy greens to get your fill.

8. Bloating & Swelling

Ashe warns against bloating and swelling from nutritional deficiencies. If you experience swelling in the legs, it can be due to not getting enough protein in the day. If you experience abdominal discomfort and cramping, as well as bloating in that region, it could also signify malabsorption.

9. Menstrual Cycle Issues

Ashe says that if you're period is off, it can be due to not getting enough calories or nutrients, as this habit will throw your body off balance. If you find that your periods are irregular, it could be due to a diet effect. Make sure you're getting enough nutrients and calories in the day through whole foods and see if your next cycle goes back to normal.

10. Not Combining Food Well

According to CEO and co-founder of FOODSTAND app, Rachna Govani and Shauna Keeler, NYC-based Chef, and RD, who is also a Foodstand contributor and member, over email with Bustle, the foods we eat together can either enhance or interfere with our nutritional absorption. "Nutritional balance is achieved when nutrients paired together to optimize absorption into the body (called nutrient-partner principle)," say Govani and Keeler. "Calcium is absorbed into the bones with the help of vitamin D. Make sure you're pairing nutrients together, e.g. eating halibut with kale or cooked spinach topped with cashews and a little Parmesan," Govani adn Keeler use as an example.

11. Muscle Cramps & Weakness

According to Govani and Keeler, it's normal to feel muscle cramps and weakness when you're not eating enough calories or properly absorbing nutrients. Your body needs to be fueled in order to move and work well, so when it can't, it'll lose it's steam.

If you notice any of these symptoms, consider making changes to your diet to see whether or not you've improved. Sometimes a few simple changes can really go a long way.

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