These four nutrients are lacking in most Filipinos’ diets

July 06, 2023

 And the easy ways to get them, according to MakatiMed

For a country hailed as the center of biodiversity and blessed with an abundance of fresh tropical fruits and vegetables, it is ironic that the Philippines has been grappling with the issue of undernutrition as far as we can remember. And we’re not just talking about the millions of children whose limited food choices at home have left them emaciated and small for their age. Even adults suffer from nutrient deficiencies too.

“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,” says Maricar M. Esculto, RND, MD, Head of Nutrition & Dietetics Department of the top hospital in the Philippines, 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.”

At least 30 vitamins and minerals allow our body to do what it is supposed to do on the regular: digest food, repair injuries, flush out toxins, convert what we eat and drink into energy, and the like. “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.”

This Nutrition Month, MakatiMed cites Filipinos’ most common nutrition deficiencies and the simple ways to correct 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 foods like 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 wherein the body doesn’t 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,” shares Dr. Esculto. 

Vitamin C found in many of our fruits and vegetables strengthens our immune system. A potent antioxidant, it may aid in slowing the aging process, too. “A severe deficiency in Vitamin C makes us 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,” notes 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 or 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,” explains Dr. Esculto.

Don’t like milk? Turn to cheese, yogurt, sardines, beans, lentils, nuts, and leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach to get your daily dose of calcium. The average adult, male or female, needs 750-800mg of calcium a day. 

Iodine helps produce thyroid hormones, which are responsible for our growth and development, the optimum function of our brain and nervous system, modulation of the female reproductive system, and keeping our 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,” says 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. 

For more information, please contact the Nutrition & Dietetics Department through MakatiMed On-Call at +632.88888 999, email, or visit Follow @IamMakatiMed on Facebook and Twitter.