Warning Signs of a Bad Diet - Quality for Life

Elizabeth Somer, M.A., R.D.




Don’t you wish a thorough diet check-up was as simple as an annual physical exam?  The appointment might start with the dietitian asking you to say “ah.” Peeking down your throat, she might say, “Hmmm, not eating enough broccoli I see,” or “Just what I thought, there is too many chips and not enough sweet potatoes down there.” Unfortunately, every attempt at an accurate appraisal of our nutritional status – take for example hair analysis – has proved more quackery than quality. How are you to know if you are eating right or wrong? (1-3)

Luckily, many signs of a careless diet are right in front of your nose. While you explain away subtle inconveniences like fatigue, dry skin or moodiness as “normal,” think again. These and the other classic bad-diet symptoms are red flags that your diet isn’t a good as you think. 

Hair and Scalp

The Signs: Dry, thin or lack-luster hair

What May Be Missing?

Folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, biotin, vitamin K, vitamin E, iron

What's Going On?

These nutrients help to support healthy blood supply that carries oxygen to the hair and scalp and removes waste products. Poor intake may lead to reduced or fragile red blood cells, which literally suffocates the hair and scalp. (4)

What Can You Do?

Include daily dark green leafy green vegetables for folic acid and vitamin K, nuts for vitamin E, and a small serving of extra-lean meat, fish or chicken for iron and B vitamins.


The Signs: Poor growth. Nails chip or are weak.

What May Be Missing? 
B vitamins, iron, and vitamins C and E

What's Going On?

Nail growth and proper circulation to the nail bed requires ample amounts of these nutrients. Deficiencies result in slowed nail growth or nails that are weak or spoon-shaped. (5-9)

What Can You Do?

Choose 100 percent whole grain breads and cereals, eat at least five servings of colorful fruits and vegetables daily, and include several servings daily of iron-rich foods, such as dark greens, legumes, or extra-lean meat or chicken.        


The Signs: Dull, pale, or dry skin

What May Be Missing? 

Vitamin A, folic acid and other B vitamins, iron, water

What's Going On?

These nutrients help maintain moist, vibrant skin. For example, the skin relies on the bloodstream to supply oxygen and nutrients and to remove waste products of cellular metabolism. An inadequate supply of one or more of these nutrients reduces the skin's nutrient supply, while allowing potentially toxic waste products to accumulate. B vitamins help with the skin’s collagen formation and repair and are building blocks for enzymes that maintain healthy skin. (4, 6, 10-14)

What Can You Do?

Choose 100 percent whole grains, eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, and include several servings of iron-rich foods daily. Drink tea and coffee between meals, since these beverages block iron absorption by up to 90 percent. (15) Drink 8 glasses of water daily.


The Signs: Age-related vision loss caused by wet macular degeneration

What May Be Missing?

Vitamins A, C, and E, lutein, zeaxanthin

What's Going On?

The lens of the eye filters ultraviolet light, a potent source of highly reactive compounds called free radicals. A diet rich in antioxidant nutrients may help to slow the progression of wet macular degeneration by counteracting the damaging effects of free radicals. (16-29) Lutein and zeaxanthin are present in the macula and serve as blue light filter. (30-33)

What Can You Do?

Eat at least three servings of vitamin C-rich foods daily, such as citrus fruits, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage; one or more cups daily of dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach or kale, for vitamin A, lutein, and zeaxanthin; and consider a daily supplement when intake falls below those amounts.


The Signs: Tired, lethargic

What May Be Missing?

B vitamins, iron, water 

What's Going On?

The B vitamins are essential for converting food into energy. A marginal deficiency of any of the B vitamins may lead to decreased energy, fatigue, weakness and sleep disruptions. Iron is the component of red blood cells that carries oxygen to all of the body's tissues. Inadequate intake of iron deprives the muscles, organs and brain of oxygen and may result in anemia, fatigue, weakness and poor concentration. (4)

What Can You Do?

Dietary quick pick-me-ups, such as coffee, cola, or sweets, aggravate fatigue. Instead, eat a healthy diet with several small meals and snacks, starting with breakfast, evenly distributed throughout the day. Drink six to eight glasses of water daily to avoid dehydration, which causes fatigue and weakness. Take a moderate-dose multi-vitamin to ensure optimal intake of all vitamins and minerals. 



1. Ham R: The signs and symptoms of poor nutritional status. Primary Care 1994;21:33-54.

2. Checking nutrition status with hair analysis: Still useless. Tufts University NutritionLetter 2001:March.

3. Hair labs unreliable. Environmental Nutrition 2001;March:3.

Continue Reading

4. Sizer F, Whitney E: Nutrition: Concepts and Controversies, 10th Edition. Thomson Wadsworth, 2006, pp 245-249.

5. Cashman M, Sloan S: Nutrition and nail disease. Clinical Dermatology 2010;28:420-425.

6. Szyszkowska B, Lepecka-Klusek C, Kozlowicz K, et al: The influence of selected ingredients of dietary supplements on skin condition. Postepy Dermatologii ii Alergologii. 2014;31:174-181.

7. Bolander F: Vitamins: Not just for enzymes. Current Opinion in Investigative Drugs 2006;7:912-915.

8. Scheinfeld N, Dahdah M, Scher R: Vitamins and minerals: Their role in nail health and disease. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology 2007;6:782-787.

9. Mangla A, Agarwal N, Yu J, et al: Spooning of the nails and webbing of the esophagus. Clinical Case Reports 2015;3:1054-1055.

10. VERIS: The role of antioxidants in skin care and protection. VERIS 1997;May:1-6.

11. Futoryan T, Gilchrest B: Retinoids and the skin. Nutrition Reviews 1994:299-310.

12. Boelsma E, Hendrikz H, Rosa L: Nutritional skin care: health effects of micronutrients and fatty acids. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2001;73:853-864.

13. Hodges R: How nutrition affects the skin. The Professional Nutritionist. 1979;Fall:1-5.

14. Ryan A, Goldsmith L: Nutrition and the skin. Clinical Dermatology 1996;14:389-406.

15. Hurrell R, Reddy M, Cook J: Inhibition of non-haem iron absorption in man by polyphenolic-containing beverages. British Journal of Nutrition 1999;81:289-295.

16. Chew E, Clemons T, Agron E, et al: Long-term effects of vitamins E and E, beta carotene, and zinc on age-related macular degeneration: AREDS report no. 35. Ophthalmology 2013;120:1604-1611.

17. Chew E: Nutrition effects on ocular disease in the aging eye. Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science 2013;54:(14):ORSF42-7.

18. Chiu C, Change M, Zhang F, et al: The relationship of major American dietary patterns to age-related macular degeneration. American Journal of Ophthalmology 2014;158:118-127.

19. Cohen S, Mauget-Faysse M, Oubraham H, et al: Impact of eating habits on macular pathology assessed by macular pigment optical density measure. Journal of French Ophthalmology 2010;33:234-240.

20. Cui Y, Jing C, Pan H: Association of blood antioxidants and vitamins with risk of age-related cataract. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2013;July 10th.

21. Aslam T, Delcourt C, Silva R, et al: Micronutrients in age-related macular degeneration. Ophthalmologica 2013;229:75-79.

22. Marshall L, Roach J: Prevention and treatment of age-related macular degeneration. The Consultant Pharmacists 2013;28:723-737.

23. Pastor-Valero M: Fruit and vegetable intake and vitamins C and E are associated with a reduced prevalence of cataracts in a Spanish Mediterranean population. BMC Ophthalmology 2013;13:52. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24106773

24. Pinazo-Duran M, Gomex-Ulla F, Arias L, et al: Do nutritional supplements have a role in age macular degeneration prevention? Journal of Ophthalmology 2014;2014:901686.

25. Rasmussen H, Johnson E: Nutrients for the aging eye. Clinical Interventions in Aging 2013;8:741-748. 

26. The Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 Research Group: Lutein + zeaxanthin and omega-3 fatty acids for age-related macular degeneration. Journal of the American Medical Association 2013;309:2005-2015.

27. Arnold C, Winter L, Frohlich K, et al: Macular xanthophylls and omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in age-related macular degeneration. Journal of the American Medical Association: Ophthalmology 2013;March 21:1-9.

28. Dawczynski J, Jentsch S, Schweitzer D, et al: Long term effects of lutein, zeaxanthin and omega-3-LCPUFAs supplementation on optical density of macular pigment in AMD patients: The LUTEGA study. Archives of Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology 2013;251:2711-2723.


29. Garcia-Layana A, Recalde S, Alaman A, et al: Effects of lutein and docosahexaenoic acid supplementation on macular pigment optical density in a randomized controlled trial. Nutrients 2013;5:543-551.

30. Johnson E: A possible role of lutein and zeaxanthin in cognitive function in the elderly. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2012;96:1161S-1165S.

31. Johnson E, Maras J, Rasmussen H, et al: Intake of lutein and zeaxanthin differ with age, sex, and ethnicity. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2010;110:1357-1362.

32. Murray I, Makridaki M, van der Veen R, et al: Lutein supplementation over a one-year period in early AMD might have a mild beneficial effect on visual acuity. Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science 2013;54:1781-1788.

33. Loskutova E, Nolan J, Howard A, et al: Macular pigment and its contribution to vision. Nutrients 2013;5:1962-1969.

Published on

19 May 2017

Recent Posts


Click HERE to download a copy

This site uses cookies to store information on your computer. Learn more

Learn more