Now Reading: Can You Identify Nutritional Deficiencies, Just By Looking At Someone?

Can you identify nutritional deficiencies

Can You Identify Nutritional Deficiencies, Just By Looking At Someone?

Every now and then, we meet a friend for coffee or dinner and we think to ourselves, “Oh, they really don’t look well.” Why is that? What is it about their appearance that makes you think that?

There are a number of visual signs which inform us about someone’s health. Think about what you observed in your friend. Was their skin a bit pale? Dry? Was their hair flat or thinning? Were there any patches of red or spotty skin? Did you notice cracked lips or a white-tongue? Maybe they were telling you how tired they were!

Whether you are caring for a friend, or observing a patient in clinic, the process is the same. We observe. We look at the vitality (energy or life-force) of the person and talk with them to work out what might be out of balance.


Lifestyle and food choices can lead to nutritional deficiencies. By observing the signs of these, we can get an insight into someone’s health. For there to be a visible sign on the person, it is likely that a nutrient has been in short supply for some time.

So, what are some of the signs that someone is deficient in a nutrient? A few are listed below, however keep in mind that for the most accurate analysis, a consultation with a health professional should always be sought out!

9 Ways to Spot Nutritional Deficiency

Physical Sign Possible Deficiency
Pale skin, tired Iron
Red, swollen, sore tongue B Vitamins
Fatigue, or trouble sleeping B Vitamins
Cracked corners of the mouth B Vitamins
Bleeding Gums Vitamin C
Decrease in taste, smell or appetite Zinc
Muscle twitches or cramps Magnesium, Calcium
Coated, white tongue Zinc

(Adapted from Jamison, 2003)


In Australia, nearly three-quarters of women do not meet their calcium needs and our children (aged between 2-8 years) do not meet their requirements for iron (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2015). With time, these nutrient deficiencies may start to contribute to poor health.

Minerals and vitamins have strong relationships with each other and to the foods we consume. If you go to your local chemist or health food store and purchase a supplement, you may find that this doesn’t often fix the problem. A qualified health practitioner will be able to apply their expert knowledge, or perhaps order testing, to ascertain what nutritional deficiencies are present.

Always seek out professional guidance when it comes to your health or for those around you. There are so many contributing factors to what makes up a person’s health and vitality; the food we eat, physical movement, our work, our communities (or lack of), our environment and our attitudes to all these things. Without knowing the context of a person, it’s almost impossible to prescribe a nutrient based on looks alone.


If you think you are the kind of person who enjoys ‘health detective work’, it might be worth looking into the Nutrition Courses we offer here at Torrens. You may already be on your own health journey. Are you ready to take the next step? Explore our Nutrition courses here. 

You can also meet Esther, and our other brilliant lecturers, at our upcoming Health Open Day held across our many health campuses. Esther will be exploring Superfoods, and surprising us with her impressive Salt & Sugar facts!

Find out more at Open Day, Saturday 4th August!

  • Meet inspiring Students, Alumni, Academics & Industry Experts
  • Tour our campuses, labs and clinics
  • Join interactive Nutrition workshops including Food Labelling and Zooming into Superfoods
  • Speak to Course and Career Advisers about online options, entry requirements, FEE-HELP, pathways, more
  • Get advice about career prospects and industry
  • Get help with your enrolment or application – do your application on-site in 15 minutes!



Esther Parker, GCert HumNut, BHSc Naturopathy, Adv Dip Naturopathy

ACNT and Torrens University (Pyrmont Campus), Learning Facilitator for Nutrition


Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2015). 2011-12 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey, retrieved from

Jameson, J. (2003). Clinical Guide to Nutrition and Dietary Supplements in Disease Management. Churchill Livingstone. pp. 142-143

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