The chaos of everyday life can make it difficult to recognize subtle changes that manifest in the body. In an attempt to indicate that something is not right, the body usually sends a variety of warning signs, which we tend to dismiss faster than a 6 a.m. morning alarm. More often than not, we snooze these alarms with some sort of medication or quick fix, without thinking twice about the root of the problem.
Scientific evidence shows that the root of many health problems can stem from poor dietary habits that lead to various nutritional deficiencies. These problems typically do not surface overnight; instead, they build up overtime, making them harder to notice. If you are unsure of where your diet stands, a good way to tell is whether you can identify with any of my nine poor diet warning signs:
#1: Strands of Straw
Healthy functioning organs require adequate nutrition, and healthy hair follicles are no exception. Starvation diets that lead to severe protein-energy malnutrition can cause brittle hair or worse, hair loss. Studies show diets that are low in protein, essential fatty acids, and nutrients such as Vitamin C, zinc and iron are associated with hair loss, thinning, and loss of pigmentation.
#2 Premature Aging
While aging is inevitable, there is a growing body of research indicating that a nutritious diet is capable of promoting skin health and delaying extrinsic skin aging. A 2012 systematic review reported that a diet rich in Vitamins A, C, D, and E, in addition to antioxidants such as carotenoids, tocophernols, and flavonoids have beneficial effects on skin-aging parameters. In order to obtain a more youthful appearance, try consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables (5+ servings per day) that are naturally good sources of these skin-protecting nutrients.
#3 Disastrous Oral Health
Specific warning signs of a poor diet include inflamed or bleeding gums, tooth loss, mouth pain, and dental caries. If your teeth have been drilled one too many times, it could be a sign that dietary changes are long overdue. While a diet high in added sugar is associated with an increased risk of dental caries, research also recognizes that the frequency of exposure to sugar can negatively impact your teeth. In one study, the frequency of soft drink consumption was significantly associated with dental caries. If you are sipping on sugary beverages all day long it means that your teeth are constantly being flooded with sugar. Try giving your teeth a break by cutting back on the sugar and soft drinks.
Another common nutrition-related oral health problem is swollen or inflamed gums. Studies show that swollen or bleeding gums are associated with a low intake of Vitamin C. To reduce swelling in the mouth, try consuming more Vitamin C rich foods such as strawberries, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, and potatoes.
#4: Excessive Weight Gain/Loss
Unintentional weight gain or loss is a common warning sign of poor dietary habits. Unintentional weight loss appears to be a significant indicator of malnutrition, specifically in disease-related cases. A 2012 study found that surgical cancer patients had 5.18 percent unintentional weight loss and 75 percent were at high malnutrition risk.
Unintentional weight gain typically indicates that your diet is heavy on empty calories that are packing on pounds but providing little nutritional value to your body. In order to help maintain weight, it is important to increase your consumption of nutrient-dense foods that pack in fiber and lean protein. Some good nutrient-dense options include quinoa, tofu, lentils, and popcorn.
#5: Drained Brain Function
Common warning signs of poor nutritional intake are represented by memory and/or concentration problems. The human brain depends on good nutrition, specifically an adequate intake of omega 3 fatty acids, to be healthy and function properly. A 2013 study highlighted the importance of omega 3 fats in cognitive development at all life stages. Try including plenty of DHA into your diet by choosing foods high in omega-3s such as walnuts, flax seed, fish oil, and wild salmon.
#6: Digestive Issues
Digestive discomfort can often be a sign that you have a low dietary intake of fiber, specifically soluble fiber. Both diarrhea and constipation can surface as a result of inadequate fiber intake. A recent review emphasized that soluble fiber has the ability to delay gastric emptying of the stomach, which increases feelings of satiety, slows the absorption of nutrients in the small intestine, and promotes a healthy stool output.
Many Individuals fall short of the recommendations for fiber intake, at 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men. If you are tired of suffering from GI discomfort, try bumping up your fiber intake by consuming more whole grains such as brown rice and oats, in addition to nuts, seeds, and fresh or frozen produce.
#7: Poor Wound Healing
In order for a wound to quickly and sufficiently heal, it needs an adequate supply of nutrients from the foods on your plate. Poor wound healing could indicate that you are not getting a sufficient level of essential nutrients. Poor diets impact the strength of new wound tissue, recovery time, and how well your body will be able to fight off an infection that manifests from the wound. Studies have shown that a sufficient intake of calories, protein, and micronutrients is essential for proper wound healing.
#8: Compromised Immunity
Poor nutritional habits can compromise the immune system and trigger illness and infection. If you are constantly under the weather or fighting an infection, you could benefit from pumping more nutrition into your body by selecting nutrient-rich foods.
A review of research conducted in elderly populations with impaired immune function reported that optimal nutrition can help reverse a compromised immune system. An adequate intake of vitamins and minerals such as Vitamins A, C, and E, zinc, selenium, iron, and folic acid plays an important role in promoting immunity.
Try increasing your intake of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains -- specifically citrus fruits, leafy greens, popcorn and brown rice.
#9: Feelings of Fatigue
Energy levels can be one of the best indicators of the quality of your diet. If you struggle with consistently low energy levels, there's a possibility that your diet is heavy on the carbohydrates and low on the protein. Studies show that pairing whole grains with lean protein can help stabilize your blood sugar levels and help send your energy levels soaring.
It is also possible that your Vitamin C intake is on the lower-side. A 2012 study found that administering intravenous vitamin C in 141 healthy office workers led to lower fatigue scores and lower oxidative stress. More data is needed on the long-term effectiveness but this study suggests that a good source of Vitamin C could provide a midday pick-me-up!
Brigid Titgemeier, nutrition assistant at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute contributed to this post.