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4 nutrients lacking in most Filipinos' diets (and you need to load up on them) |

Health And Family

4 nutrients lacking in most Filipinos' diets (and you need to load up on them)

Dolly Dy-Zulueta -
4 nutrients lacking in most Filipinos' diets (and you need to load up on them)
Lack of diversity in diets cause micronutrient deficiencies
MMC / Released

MANILA, Philippines — In a country like the Philippines, where the population is — to a big percentage — mass-based, poverty is often blamed for being the cause of undernutrition.

After all, it is poverty that limits people’s food choices because they cannot afford better ones, thus leaving them emaciated, small for their age, and with nutrient deficiencies. This is true not just with children but also with adults.

Undernutrition, however, goes beyond just poverty.

“While poverty is often thought to be the cause of micronutrient deficiencies, it’s also due to Filipinos’ overdependence on rice and lack of diversity in their diets,” said Maricar Esculto, RND, MD, Head of Nutrition & Dietetics Department, of Makati Medical Center (MakatiMed). “Adults who think they can get by with a cup of instant noodle soup for lunch and a fast-food burger, fries, and soda for dinner every day are not getting the adequate vitamins and minerals needed for the human body to function optimally.”

This is ironic, considering that the Philippines is blessed with such an abundance of fruits and vegetables, all loaded with the vitamins and minerals needed by the body to do what it is supposed to do on a regular basis: digest food, repair injuries, flush out toxins, convert what we eat and drink into energy, and more. The body needs at least 30 different vitamins and minerals to be able to do this, and it is difficult to achieve with just instant noodles, burger, fries and soda. 

“Without these vitamins and minerals, you disrupt your body’s metabolism, experience weakness, and increase your risk of disease,” Dr. Esculto points out. “A blood test can confirm if you are indeed lacking in specific nutrients. But also, be aware of symptoms you can see and feel. As soon as you can identify your particular nutrient deficiency, you can address it with a simple tweak in your diet.”

There is no better time to do so than now. Apart from the urgency of the situation, July happens to be Nutrition Month.

MakatiMed identifies the four most common nutrients that are lacking in most Filipinos’ diets to be Iron, Vitamin C, Calcium, and Iodine, and suggests simple ways to load up on them.


Iron helps make hemoglobin that transports oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Dr. Esculto says it also makes myoglobin, which supplies our muscles with oxygen. The recommended nutrient intake (RNI) per day of iron for the average adult male is 12mg. For adult women who have their period, it can be as high as 28mg. Luckily, accessible food, such as beef, liver, beans, legumes, fortified cereals, whole and fortified grain products, are rich sources of iron.

“A lack of iron could lead to anemia, a condition in which the body does not produce enough red blood cells. Note the fatigue, pale skin and lips, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, lightheadedness, and cold hands and feet. Women with anemia may experience premature delivery or maternal mortality,” shared Dr. Esculto.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is found in many fruits and vegetables and works by strengthening the immune system. A potent antioxidant, it may aid in slowing the aging process, too. “A severe deficiency in Vitamin C makes you vulnerable to a host of diseases. Expect your skin to be dry and bruise easily, your gums to bleed, your joints to ache, your wounds to heal slowly, and your energy levels to nosedive,” noted Dr. Esculto.

Since the body does not produce or store Vitamin C, consuming it daily is a must. The RNI per day for adult males is 70mg and 60mg for adult females. Local favorites papaya, guava, calamansi, pineapple, and the nutrient-dense malunggay (moringa) are all packed with Vitamin C.


Often associated with bone and teeth health, calcium is also responsible for muscle contraction, transporting blood throughout the body, and helping nerves send messages to the brain and other body parts. “Nails that are brittle and bones that fracture easily are not the only symptoms of hypocalcemia or severe deficiency in calcium. Muscle cramps and spasm, numbness in the hands, feet, and face, and even depression, hallucinations, and confusion or memory loss have been observed among those with low levels of calcium,” explained Dr. Esculto.

Calcium can easily be acquired by drinking milk. But if you do not like milk, you can always turn to cheese, yogurt, sardines, beans, lentils, nuts, and green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach to get your daily dose of calcium. The average adult, male or female, needs 750 to 800mg of calcium daily.


Iodine helps produce thyroid hormones, which are responsible for your growth and development, the optimum function of your brain and nervous system, modulation of the female reproductive system, and keeping your body temperature normal.

“Goiter, or the swelling of the neck, results from a lack of iodine in the diet. So do maternal-related conditions like prenatal death and infant mortality. Pregnant women who lack adequate iodine in their system put their babies at risk for hearing impairment, cleft palate, and mental retardation,” said Dr. Esculto.

Seafood is an excellent source of iodine. So are dried fish and fresh seaweeds. Since 1995, government has taken steps to address iodine deficiency and its effects. Republic Act No. 8172, or the ASIN Law, aims to put an end to disorders caused by iodine deficiency by mandating all salt producers and manufacturers to iodize their products.

Iron, Calcium, Vitamin C, and Iodine. These are the four nutrients that the body needs to function properly. Make sure you load up on them.

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