Some people might welcome a sluggish appetite as an easy way to cut calories. But when the inability to consume enough food starts affecting your health, it's time to take action.
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There aren't any vitamins that increase appetite, unless you have a deficiency. In that case, taking a supplement and improving your diet can help.
Loss of Appetite
Losing the urge and desire to eat is a good sign that something isn't right. There are several reasons you might experience a short-term reduction in your appetite — stress, hot weather and coming down with a cold or flu are a few common examples. Not wanting to chow down on your favorite foods during these times is perfectly natural.
Any illness can cause a decrease in appetite; if the illness can be treated, your appetite will return. Mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, can cause people to lose their appetites. Additionally, as you age, your appetite may decrease because you aren't as active and you don't need as many calories.
Vitamin deficiencies can also cause loss of appetite. In this case, bringing your blood levels back to normal can help you regain your appetite.
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Vitamin Deficiencies and Appetite
Vitamins are substances found in plants and animals that are required for the normal functioning of all your body's cells. The 13 essential vitamins are all required in adequate amounts for your body to work properly and maintain homeostasis, or physiological equilibrium.
A deficiency in any vitamin can cause you to feel unwell, which will naturally reduce your appetite. However, some vitamin deficiencies are more likely than others to cause a loss of appetite. According to the Mayo Clinic, a deficiency in either vitamin B12 or folate — another B vitamin — can lead to anemia, a condition in which the body is unable to produce sufficient red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body.
A prominent symptom of anemia is decreased appetite. Other symptoms may include:
- Pale skin
- Weight loss
- Smooth and tender tongue
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle weakness
- Numbness or tingling in hands and feet
Low levels of the B vitamin thiamin may also cause loss of appetite, in addition to confusion, short-term memory loss and other mental symptoms, muscle weakness and cardiovascular symptoms, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Mineral deficiencies can also cause loss of appetite. In a review of literature published in the Consultant Pharmacist in May 2016, a lack of zinc can lead to smell and taste alterations that may affect the desire for food. Decreased appetite, weight loss, impaired immune response, poor wound healing and eye and skin lesions are other symptoms of a zinc deficiency. The review authors note that this is especially true in older people over 60 who are more likely to have low blood levels of the nutrient.
Fixing a Deficiency
Your doctor can perform a series of blood tests to reveal any nutrient deficiencies you may have. If your tests do reveal a deficiency in thiamin, folate or B12 — or any other vitamin — your doctor may recommend either short- or long-term supplementation. In addition, it's important to increase your intake of these nutrients through food, even though you might not be very hungry.
The recommended dietary intake (RDI) for B12 is 2.4 micrograms for adults, 2.6 micrograms for pregnant women and 2.8 micrograms for breastfeeding women, according to the National Institutes of Health. One serving of salmon or trout can provide more than your daily requirements. Fortified breakfast cereals, milk and yogurt are other good sources. If you are vegetarian or vegan, you may need to rely on a supplement, as there are no reliable plant sources of B12.
The RDI for folate is 400 micrograms for adults, 600 micrograms for pregnant women and 500 micrograms for women who are breastfeeding. It's crucial for pregnant women to get enough folate to prevent birth defects. Good sources of folate include spinach, asparagus, fortified breakfast cereals, broccoli, avocado and Brussels sprouts.
For thiamin, the RDIs are 1.2 milligrams for men, 1.1 milligrams for women and 1.4 milligrams for both pregnant and breastfeeding women. Some of the best sources of thiamin are fortified breakfast cereals, rice, egg noodles, trout and black beans.
Tips to Increase Appetite
Whether your loss of appetite is caused by a nutrient deficiency or something else, while you are solving the underlying issue, you can take steps to boost your appetite:
- Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center suggests eating smaller meals more often throughout the day instead of three large meals.
- Snack between meals and before bed.
- Exercise for 10 to 15 minutes before meals to stimulate hunger.
- Eat your meals in a pleasant environment, either with nice music playing or with people you enjoy.
- Choose cold or cool food options, which may be more palatable. Examples include cottage cheese, yogurt and chopped salads.
- Stock your fridge and pantry with your favorite foods.
- Set a timer to remind you when it is time to eat. Even if you're not hungry, prepare your meal, sit down and eat as much as you can.
- Eat smoothies and shakes, which are sometimes more appealing than solid foods.
- Plan your meals ahead of time. If preparing meals is difficult for you and a barrier to increasing your food intake, ask someone to help you.
- Place bowls of healthy snacks such as nuts and fruits in areas of the house you use often to encourage between-meal snacking.
- Avoid drinking liquids within one hour before eating.
If you have lost weight, your goal will also be to make the foods you can eat as caloric as possible. Some healthy ways to add calories to your foods include:
- Choosing energy-dense foods such as nuts, avocado, dried fruit, cheese, nut butters and granola.
- Choosing full-fat dairy over low- or nonfat dairy.
- Adding energy-dense ingredients to smoothies, including coconut oil, nut butters and full-fat milk.
- Adding oils, such as olive and coconut oils, liberally when preparing foods.
- Sprinkling meals with crushed nuts.
One mistake to avoid is eating a lot of junk foods when you're trying to increase your appetite and calorie intake. While junk foods are high in calories and often taste good, they're not good for you. They are also not a good source of nutrients, including vitamins, that will help you regain your health and appetite.
- MedlinePlus: "Appetite - Decreased"
- MedlinePlus: "Vitamins"
- Mayo Clinic: "Vitamin Deficiency Anemia"
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Folate-Deficiency Anemia"
- NIH: Thiamin
- Consultant Pharmacist: "Zinc and Taste Disturbances in Older Adults: A Review of the Literature"
- NIH: "B12"
- NIH: "Folate"
- Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center: "Nutrition During Treatment: Tips to Boost Your Appetite"
- Shepherd Center: "Tips for Poor Appetite and Healthful Weight Gain"