Signs Of Poor Nutrition

poor nutrition signs

The right foods in the right amounts are integral to a long and healthy life. Our body’s needs change as we get older, and we may not need as many calories, but more of some nutrients like vitamin D.

From data available, older adults don’t always get the nutrients they need. Thus, it can be a good idea to know the signs of poor nutrition so you know what to guard against, and watch for.

If you are carrying too much weight around, something is definitely out of balance.  It may be too much sugar in the diet, or choosing ‘easy’ grab and go foods that are not able to be broken down. Consequently, these types of foods are being stored in your fat cells, but it is important to eat to fuel yourself well, not to store your foods in your fat cells.

If you’re catching every infection and virus that comes your way, there are chances that your food is not fortifying you properly.  There are many reasons why people get sick, however, frequent illness and a weak immune system can be signs that you are not getting the proper vitamins, minerals and nourishment you need.

Here are just a few signs that you don’t get proper nutrition


Deficiency Symptoms and Signs

Symptom or Sign

General Symptoms and Appearance

Possible Nutritional Deficiency
Fatigue Protein-energy, iron, magnesium, potassium, vitamins B1, B12 and other B vitamins and vitamin C
Loss of appetite Zinc
Pica eating non-nutritive substances General malnutrition and possibly iron, calcium, zinc, vitamins B1 – thiamine, B3 – niacin, C and D
Loss of taste Zinc
Cold intolerance Iron
Pale appearance due to anaemia Iron, folate and vitamin B12
Carotenoderma – yellow discolouration of the skin noticeable on the face and trunk Protein-energy and zinc
Diffuse hyperpigmentation Protein-energy
Muscle wasting e.g. clothes appear too big, loss of limb musculature Protein-energy
Loss of height and excessive curvature of the spine Calcium and vitamin D
Itchy skin – pruritus Iron
Dry skin Essential Fatty Acids or multiple nutritional deficiencies
Red scaly skin in light-exposed areas Vitamin B3
Excessive bruising Vitamin C
Haemorrhage or redness around hair follicles Vitamin C
Bleeding into a joint or another unusual bleeding Vitamin C
Plugging of hair follicles with keratin or coiled hairs Vitamin C
Fine downy hair on torso – lanugo Protein-energy. Typical of Persistent anorexia nervosa
Sore tongue Iron, vitamin B12, B2, B3 and possibly other B vitamins
Cracking and peeling of skin on the lips Vitamin B2 – Riboflavin
Cracking at the corners of the mouth Iron, vitamin B2 – riboflavin possibly other B vitamins
Recurrent mouth ulcers Iron, vitamin B12, folate and possibly other B vitamins
Enlarged veins under the tongue with micro-haemorrhages Vitamin C
Smooth, shiny and sore tongue: atrophic glossitis Iron, vitamin B12 and folate

Head, Face and Neck

Scalp hair loss Iron
Dandruff Essential fatty acids and biotin
Redness at the sides of the nose Vitamin B2 –riboflavin, vitamin B6 and zinc
Redness or cracking at the outer angle of the eyes Vitamins B2 or B6
Goitre Iodine deficiency is likely if the goitre is present in > 20% of the population – endemic goitre

Hands and Nails

Nails – brittle or flaking Iron and possibly essential fatty acids
Nails – upturned or spoon-shaped nails Iron
Carotenoderma – yellow discolouration of the skin noticeable on the palms Protein-energy and zinc


Muscle pains and cramps Magnesium, potassium, sodium, vitamin B1 and vitamin D if there is hypocalcaemia
Calf muscle pain after minimal exercise Vitamin B1 – thiamine
Excessive calf muscle tenderness Vitamin B1- thiamine
Walking with a waddling gait Vitamin D and resultant myopathy
Difficulty getting up from a low chair or climbing the stairs or weakness of shoulder muscles Vitamin D and resultant myopathy
Bowed legs Vitamin D – rickets in childhood
Twitching of facial muscles when tapping on the facial nerve in front of the ear: Chvostek’s sign Calcium and vitamin D if hypocalcaemia or severe magnesium deficiency


Poor night vision Zinc, vitamin A and possibly vitamin B2 – riboflavin
Conjunctival dryness Vitamin A


Diarrhoea Vitamin B3
Constipation Dehydration, fibre, potassium, magnesium and folate


Restless legs Iron or folate
Burning feet syndrome Vitamin B2 –Riboflavin
Loss of balance when standing upright with feet together and the eyes closed: Romberg’s test Vitamin B12 and possibly vitamin B3
Loss of vibration sensation in the lower limbs Vitamin B12 and possibly vitamin B3
Peripheral neuropathy – numbness, tingling, disordered sensation, pain and or weakness in the hands or feet Vitamins B1, B12 and possibly B3, B6 and folate and very rarely copper (following gastrointestinal surgery or excess zinc ingestion). Relative lack of essential fatty acids.
Unsteady movement or walking (cerebellar ataxia) Vitamin B1, vitamin E and Coenzyme Q10

Mental State

Depression Vitamins C, B1, B3, B6, B12, folate, biotin and possibly the essential fatty acids
Irritability Folate
Poor concentration Iron, vitamins B1, B12, folate and possibly essential fatty acids


Heart failure Vitamin B1 – thiamin and any deficiency causing anaemia
Palpitations Potassium and magnesium and any deficiency causing anaemia




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